What is the Environmental Impact of Construction?
The environmental impact of construction is often overlooked by both the authorities and the general public. Now that the rate of climate change has reached unprecedented levels, it isn’t wrong to say that the world is burning (both literally and figuratively). And while we (the global construction industry) didn’t start the fire, we surely have fanned it over the years.
Research data shows that the construction industry is responsible for over 40% of all air pollution (GHG emissions) and up to 50% of all climate change that the world is facing right now. Further, The U.S Green Building Council (U.S.G.B.C) estimates that the construction industry accounts for 40% of worldwide energy usage. At the current pace, emissions from commercial buildings are expected to grow 1.8% in this decade. This means that the industry is polluting the planet while also using up its currently available resources, much akin to burning a candle on both ends. It is past time to do away with archaic industry practices that severely underestimate the environmental impact of construction.
Traditional construction practices have gone unchecked for decades. Therefore, it is vital to switch to more sustainable methods of construction to mitigate its environmental impact. The Energy Protection Agency (EPA) states that construction activity can “significantly change the surface of a land area.” It also pollutes the nearby ground and surface water reserves which then affects the local flora and fauna. According to EPA’s research, construction activities account for half of all the resources extracted from nature, one-sixth of global freshwater consumption, one-quarter of wood consumption, and one-quarter of global waste.
“By redefining the ultimate frontier, leapfrogging innovations in construction will finally help to address major societal challenges, from mass urbanization to climate change.” – Michael Buehler, Head of Infrastructure and Urban Development at the World Economic Forum.
How do we go about Mitigating Climate Change in the Built Environment?
Sustainable construction methods aim to mitigate climate change rather than adapt to it. While adaptive measures aim to find ways to cope with global warming, mitigation focuses on prevention. In addition, sustainable construction methods use renewable and recycled materials to help cut down on consumption. Traditional buildings usually consume a lot of energy for lighting, heating, cooling, and other purposes. This adds to the environmental impact of construction, making these buildings unsustainable. Sustainable construction methods help reduce consumption by using ingenious designs and materials to provide optimum heating and ventilation.
Mitigation strategies for climate change in sustainable buildings are focused on: saving energy, using alternate sources of energy, and proper management of waste. These buildings are also designed to facilitate the use of alternative methods of transportation that help cut down on vehicular pollution. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is an international body that suggests competent standards for all green buildings. These standards aim to limit and optimize the environmental impact of construction.
According to a recent UC Berkeley study, buildings built according to LEED standards emit up to 50% fewer GHGs (GreenHouse Gases) than traditional buildings.
LEED suggests that all green buildings incorporate the following features:
- Minimal disturbance to landscapes and site condition
- Use of non-toxic and recycled/recyclable material
- Efficient use of water and water recycling
- Use of energy-efficient and eco-friendly equipment
- Use of renewable energy
- Quality of indoor air quality for human safety and comfort
- Adequate controls and building management systems
What are some construction methods that ensure sustainability?
Various engineering organizations worldwide have developed construction methods that ensure minimal waste and highly efficient energy and resources. These methods follow standards suggested by leading international environment protection bodies.
3 Ways to Mitigate the Environmental Impact of Construction
Engineering and architectural firms that are concerned with building green tend to gravitate towards one of these three. But, in reality, a melding of the three is the most advantageous.
A net-zero home/building is an energy-efficient structure that uses a total of zero energy units to power itself (yearly average). Simply put, a net-zero home makes as much energy onsite as it needs for different domestic operations like cooking, heating, cooling, lighting, etc. While you might think that a bunch of solar panels would be enough to create a net-zero home, the actual design for these houses follows a much more comprehensive approach.
- Reduce Thermal Bridging. The architectural design focuses on an efficient building envelope that reduces thermal bridging.
- Positioning. The orientation is taken into account to make the best use of natural resources like wind and incident sunlight.
- Ventilation. An intelligent ventilation system is enforced to ensure a natural heating/cooling effect.
- Energy Efficiency. Alternative energy generation methods are only used to meet the occupants’ surplus energy demands.
Lean construction is a method of streamlining the building process. As a result, it ensures that there is no waste of time or resources when it comes to construction. Lean construction focuses on:
- Eliminating Waste. Waste of labor time and materials is the number one upcost in construction. Rework waste accounts for roughly 50% of overtime and extra materials costs. Lean construction explores alternative methods and materials to minimize or eliminate rework waste.
- Workflow. Putting systems in place that create a continuous, uninterrupted workflow that is reliable and predictable. For example utilizing 3D BIM technology that enables collaboration and communication between owners, designers, and the trades.
- Adaptation and Improvement. Lean construction decentralizes decision-making through transparency and empowerment. This means providing project participants with information about the state of the production systems and empowering them to act. The opportunities for improvement are identified and acted upon during the project and applied to future projects.
Passive house is a design concept that utilizes sustainable materials and engineering to meet stringent energy consumption standards. These houses are built to maximize :
- Comfort. Maintains an ideal ambient temperature.
- Indoor Air Quality. Filters out, pollution, allergies, wildfire smoke, etc.
- Operating Efficiency. Reduces operational energy cost and GHG.
- Tranquility. Increased insulation and reduced air leakage create a quiet and peaceful dwelling.
- Durability. A solid, easily maintained, and sustainable living environment.
How the BamCore Prime Wall supports NetZero, Passive House, and Lean Construction designs.
Our timber bamboo framing solution supports climate positive architectural designs by:
- Sustainable Sourcing: We work with farmers to sustainably grow and harvest timber bamboo.
- Green Engineering: We sustainably manufacture our prime wall system with fast-growing renewable timber bamboo. We do not use any toxins, or water in the process.
- Communication and Collaboration. By using 3D BIM technology, we create an inclusive and collaborative environment throughout the build process.
- Eliminating Waste. We deliver the panels to the job site with every door, window, outlet, and access panel precut to the architectural plan. No onsite job cutting is required.
- Saving Time and Labor. Panels are sequentially numbered with nail patterns and MEPI mapping for fast and easy installation.
- Reducing Thermal Bridging. Our patented nearly hollow wall design eliminates over 80% of the studs, headers, and posts that cause thermal bridging.
- Increasing Comfort and Tranquility. The superior thermal envelope is quieter and helps maintain an ideal ambient temperature.
- Increasing Operating Efficiency. Less air leakage reduces operating energy costs and lowers GHG.
- Durability and Safety. The super-strong timber bamboo panels are up to 51% stronger than conventional walls and can stop a small-caliber bullet.
- Carbon Capture. Timber bamboo, with regular harvests, turned into durable products, sequesters between 4.9 and 6 times the carbon than wood does.
Curious about carbon farming with timber bamboo? We were, too, so we did a multi-species/multi-location growth model to learn more. You can read it here.