Sustainability has always been important, and today more than ever it’s becoming increasingly crucial in business, and our day-to-day lives.
But it’s more than just a buzz-word. It’s a vital consideration for living harmoniously with our planet. And nowhere more so than in the building and construction sector, which is one of the biggest contributors to global carbon emissions.
So how can we promote sustainability in construction projects, and maintain these best practices? Here we look at how building and construction firms can achieve sustainability, with the 2050 net-zero target in mind.
- It’s critical for the building and construction industry to become more sustainable in order to help the UK reach net-zero by 2050. Building regulations have been updated to reflect and promote this, and more government initiatives are set to follow.
- Two of the human challenges to taking sustainability measures are the perception that doing so is expensive, and also greater education and awareness of sustainable practices are needed.
- There are numerous steps which can be taken to improve practices, including becoming more energy efficient, sourcing and using sustainable materials, reducing waste and engaging the local community.
- Finally, it’s useful to undertake a life-cycle analysis (LCA) when undertaking projects.
Why is it important for buildings to be sustainable?
In the UK, the built environment and its construction account for a significant proportion of carbon emissions.
But how much exactly? Well, figures vary depending on who you ask and the methodology employed, but government reports say that the built environment accounts for 25% of the UK’s carbon dioxide emissions, while the UK Green Building Council claims that a further 10% are directly associated with construction. Going further still, the Technology Strategy Board estimates the construction, operation and maintenance of the built environment accounts for as much as 45% of total CO2 emissions.
Whichever way you cut it, buildings and their construction account for a hefty chunk of emissions nationwide. As such, advancing sustainability in building and construction projects is essential to achieving the country’s target of achieving net-zero carbon emissions by 2050.
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What are the challenges to becoming sustainable?
Aside from the practical challenges of how to implement sustainability strategies, there are two notable human challenges to overcome. One of these principal challenges is perception – specifically that going green is often seen as the expensive option, which is paradoxically viewed as unsustainable by some companies.
This is an issue which promises to work itself out over time. Increasing demand for sustainable buildings, coupled with the perception that they’re of greater value, should allow companies to charge a proportionate fee for work and materials.
Plus – as World Green Building Council reports show year on year – using sustainable materials has a habit of reducing operational costs. After all, it’s cheaper to recycle existing materials than it is to source and manufacture new ones.
The second human challenge is education and awareness. Many of us may not have the necessary knowledge or skills to implement sustainable practice in the workplace. So, in order to increase adoption and drive change, environmental skills training is a particularly valuable tool.
Does this sound like it could be beneficial for your business? Look into our IEMA courses on environmental management and sustainability training here.
What steps can be taken to improve practices?
At the very least, it’s important to adhere to building regulations, which play a critical role in achieving net-zero. These set minimum standards to ensure that buildings are safe, energy-efficient and fit for purpose.
Indeed, the government announced changes to building regulations – in effect from June 2022 – that requires new homes to produce 31% lower carbon emissions. And the Future Homes and Buildings Standard – to be published in 2025 – goes further. This aims to cut new homes’ carbon emissions by as much as 75-80% compared with current levels.
But how can these targets be met, or even exceeded? Here are some practical steps building and construction companies could consider.
At all stages it’s worth noting that, the easier something is to do, the more likely people will be to do it. We usually choose the path of least resistance, so – when implementing measures – think about how to make options as easy as possible to choose.
#1. Become more energy efficient
One of the most effective ways of promoting sustainability is by improving energy efficiency. To achieve this, and stay in line with regulations, energy efficiency measures should be integrated into all new buildings. It’s also thought that measures will soon be introduced to retrofit existing buildings with energy-saving features.
Making buildings more energy efficient can mean installing energy-saving features such as solar panels, double or triple-glazed windows, plenty of insulation, energy-efficient lighting, and smart building technologies – such as heating selected zones rather than the whole property.
But being more energy efficient can also extend to workplace practices, such as using high-quality, low-consumption machinery, and keeping it well maintained.
#2. Use sustainable materials
The construction industry is one of the largest consumers of raw materials globally, with the extraction and processing of these materials contributing significantly to carbon emissions.
Promoting the use of sustainable materials in building and construction projects can significantly reduce the environmental impact of the industry – both in terms of CO2 reduction and conserving natural resources. So this means using recycled and reclaimed materials, such as reclaimed wood and recycled metal. Likewise, there should be a focus on sustainably sourced materials, for instance timber from specially managed forests.
Procurement is an important consideration here. Building and construction companies should ideally look to buy exclusively from partners which not only supply sustainably sourced and manufactured materials, but also promote ethical and fair labour practices.
#3. Reduce waste
Construction generates a significant amount of waste, much of which ends up as landfill. So, to promote sustainability during projects, waste reduction must be a key consideration.
This can be achieved by adopting the principles of the circular economy, which focuses on reducing waste by prioritising reuse, repair and recycling. It’s possible to reduce waste by using prefabricated components, recycling construction waste, and designing buildings for deconstruction (DfD) – allowing for the reuse or recycling of materials at the end of a building’s life.
#4. Be water efficient
Water scarcity is an increasingly pressing global issue. As such, promoting water efficiency and reducing consumption in construction projects is a worthwhile practice. Measures such as harvesting rainwater, low-flow fixtures (such as toilets, taps and shower heads) and water-efficient landscaping can significantly reduce water consumption in buildings.
#5. Engage with your community
Promoting sustainability in projects requires the involvement of all stakeholders, including the local community. Community engagement can help raise awareness of sustainable practices, and promote positive behaviours among building occupants – and generate good PR for your company.
So how can building and construction companies do this? Well, it’s possible to engage with the local community by hosting public consultations and workshops, gathering feedback and input on building designs and construction plans.
Companies can also involve the community in the process by providing employment opportunities for local residents. And community reachout can provide education and training programs on sustainable building practices.
#6. Promote sustainable transport
Again, you can stay the right shade of green by encouraging the use of public transport, cycling and walking among building users. This can significantly reduce carbon emissions from transportation. By designing buildings that are easily accessible by public transport – and providing bicycle storage facilities and changing rooms for cyclists – you’re making it easier for users to choose the sustainable option.
You can think about your staff and contractors here too. To incentivise sustainable transport among the workforce, you could provide subsidies for public transport or bicycle use, for example.
#7. Life-cycle assessment (LCA)
Finally, promoting sustainability in construction requires a life-cycle approach to projects. Life-cycle analysis (LCA) is a tool that evaluates the environmental impact of a building throughout its entire life, from raw material extraction to demolition and disposal.
As such, undergoing this type of assessment can be a valuable approach to identifying areas for improvement, contributing to a building’s sustainability across the course of its lifetime.
Some great examples of green buildings
With this in mind, why not take a look at some examples of incredible yet sustainable buildings, to see what it’s possible to achieve? Check out these five green marvels worldwide, which are not only easy on the eye, but built harmoniously with the environment.
If you or your company are looking to upskill in sustainability, take a look at our IEMA Courses in environmental management and sustainability today.