Sustainability means a lot in the construction business. It means ensuring that resources are being used in an efficient way in our projects. It means considering the environmental impacts that are created by the way we source materials and the processes we use to get the job done. It means understanding our projects not just regarding the bottom line and the benefit to our business, but also in terms of the impact on the environment, the community, and the world. The concept of sustainability means asking ourselves the question “If everybody was doing this, what would the end result be?”. This blog explores the importance of sustainability in construction, its major influencers and how it relates to green construction.
What is Sustainable Construction?
The simplest way to understand sustainable construction is concerning who the stakeholders are in a given project. If your firm is hired to construct a building, there are already several stakeholders involved. The client, your firm and the local government that regulates construction in that area are all stakeholders that will influence the process and outcomes of the project. If we want a project to be sustainable, however, there are some other stakeholders that should be considered.
First, we need to think about the community. If we build using a process that we know generates a lot of toxic waste, we need to dispose of that somewhere. The people that live there could be affected by that, so if we view those people as important stakeholders, we have to find a way to construct that acknowledges that.
Second, we need to think about the environment. If our methodologies use excessive amounts of non-renewable energy sources or produce a lot of waste, we may be hurting the environment. If we value environmental preservation, it is crucial that we use methodologies that promote that, or that we pursue other means of offsetting the harm we are doing by creating a benefit some other way. Sustainable construction means that there are more stakeholders at play than just those putting money into the project.
The Role of Construction Firms in Sustainable Construction
This is business, and before anything else, your firm needs to show a profit. That being said, there can be great benefits to investing in sustainable technologies when it comes to construction. The current industry standard for sustainable construction is LEED construction. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design has been the standard for sustainable construction practices since its inception in 1994 – it promotes a system of sustainable construction that goes above and beyond minimum building codes to ensure that new buildings will not only be functional today, they will also be sustainable into the future, energy efficient, and made from responsibly sourced materials.
Builders who invest in the latest sustainable technologies in the construction process can recoup those costs over time in the form of decreased building operation costs as a result of greater energy efficiency. Construction firms today need to recognize that sustainable construction is becoming a greater and greater concern. It is estimated that the buildings in a country consume 40% of the energy consumed there on a yearly basis. As a result, these are huge energetic and efficiency gains to be made as more and more firms buy into the importance of sustainable construction.
The Role of Government in Sustainable Construction
Regulators play a significant role in sustainable construction by creating the right incentives for companies that choose to build in a sustainable way. Firms that do so on their own should be celebrated, and individuals have the opportunity to “vote with their wallet” when it comes to hiring firms that adhere to sustainability principles in projects. At the same time, the government can legislate and create mandates that require firms to build in a sustainable way.
Currently, several states are offering tax incentives or exemptions for construction firms that use sustainable practices. In Nevada, construction materials for buildings that are certified as sustainable through LEED can be purchased with a tax exemption. In Cincinnati, Ohio, property tax exemptions are offered on newly constructed buildings that meet minimum LEED guidelines. These exemptions allow construction firms to invest in creating more sustainable infrastructure and create a net benefit for every stakeholder, including the community and the environment.
Sustainability and Green Construction
Green construction goes a step further than sustainability and asks how we can minimize our environmental impact in the construction process, and in certain cases, how we can offset the impact that we do have. Green construction sets an elevated standard when it comes to sustainability, looking for sustainable construction materials and methods that are carbon-neutral or that engage renewable energy sources now and into the future.
With the changes in governance currently happening in the United States, climate change scientists are fearful that the benefits associated with sustainable construction might be overlooked with an increased emphasis on economic growth. It is more important than ever that state governments take steps to incentivize sustainability in construction, and that firms look to grow and profit in an environmentally and socially responsible way.