As the world turns an eye toward sustainability, construction must follow suit. But what is sustainable construction and how does one transition into a more sustainable method of development?
What Is Sustainable Construction?
Sustainable construction is the practice of creating a healthy environment that’s based on ecological principles. According to Professor Charles J. Kibert, sustainable construction focuses on six principles: “conserve, reuse, recycle/renew, protect nature, create nontoxic and high quality.”
The goal is to reduce the industry’s impact on the environment by utilizing sustainable development practices, employing energy efficiency and taking advantage of green technology.
Although most business sectors are making strides to become more sustainable, the construction sector is unique because it can significantly affect how sustainable practices are applied. This is because of the large amounts of materials and energy that the industry uses.
Sustainable Building Materials
One of the best ways to practice sustainability in construction is through the materials that are used. A new generation of stronger, lighter and revolutionary building materials can help solve many problems in the industry as well as push current practices to be more sustainable.
These materials have the added benefit of protecting the environment by reducing the carbon footprint of the buildings that use these materials. They promote a cleaner Earth and a future of sustainability while also being aesthetically appealing and much more efficient.
Thanks to its renewable and versatile characteristics, bamboo is one of the most sustainable construction materials. Although bamboo is a type of grass, it has strength similar to wood while still being flexible. Construction projects can utilize bamboo in various applications like supporting concrete, scaffolding, roofing and building other structures.
- Fast-growing renewable material
- Cost-effective and eco-friendly to grow and harvest
- Absorbs more CO2 than trees, so a growing demand for bamboo could lead to cleaner air in surrounding environments.
2. Recycled Plastic
In 2021, the total world population created 139 million tons of single-use plastic with the majority of it ending up in landfills or polluting waterways. With new advancements in construction and technology, we can now recycle plastic to create building materials, such as plastic sheets, bricks and lumber.
- Cuts down on waste that ends up in landfills, waterways and other polluted areas
- Recycled plastic does not require the same toxic preservative sealants that lumber needs.
3. Laminated Timber
Also known as mass timber, laminated timber is prefabricated timber that has a higher strength and water resistance than traditional timber. Its strength and water resistance are important factors, as it has the potential to replace steel and concrete. Both steel and concrete produce a much higher carbon footprint than mass timber during their production processes.
Laminated timber can support structures such as beams and columns. You might also see it used in roofing and flooring.
- Makes a smaller carbon footprint during production when compared to steel and other structural materials
- Faster to work with to cut down on CO2 emissions associated with construction.
Stone occurs naturally in the earth and can be used both as a building material and as home furnishings, such as titles and countertops. Stone is both durable and low maintenance and, thanks to its versatility, it produces little to no waste when used in construction projects.
Since it’s a naturally occurring material, it often doesn’t require factory production, which cuts down on CO2 emissions.
- A lifelong investment that won’t need replacing
- Is recyclable for use on other projects or in the making of roadbeds for little to no waste
Cob is a mud mixture made from natural materials such as soil, straw, sand and lime. Cob most frequently appears in the construction of residential buildings or as a replacement for concrete structures.
The making of cob is inexpensive and produces less CO2 than producing concrete. However, the material has a few disadvantages as it takes longer to build with and is more susceptible to mold if humidity levels are too high.
- All-natural and economically-friendly replacement to concrete in smaller structures
- Prevents heat transfer to keep heating and energy costs low and shrink the home’s carbon footprint
Cork is currently common in European construction and is slowly making its way to the United States to insulate homes and other buildings. Cork comes from the cork oak tree. The material is harvested by hand from the tree’s bark and, most importantly, doesn’t require killing the tree.
As a renewable and recyclable resource, cork is an eco-friendly replacement for traditional insulation that requires manufacturing.
- Cork is a renewable resource that doesn’t harm the environment to harvest
- Production creates a smaller carbon footprint than traditional human-made insulating materials
- Has mold-resistant properties
7. Adobe Brick
The use of adobe brick dates back centuries and is popular in the Middle East and in the Americas. Adobe is a mixture of clay and straw that people use to make bricks for the construction of homes and other structures. The main appeal of adobe is that it uses naturally occurring materials from the earth and takes less energy to produce.
- Contains natural insulating properties that keep indoor temperatures consistent for lower energy bills and a smaller carbon footprint
- Adobe is recyclable time and time again, leaving no waste behind.
- Consists of sustainable materials from the earth
8. Reclaimed Wood
Due to its ease of use and natural beauty, wood is the most popular building material out there. Unfortunately, it often goes to waste during a deconstruction project. Reclaimed wood technology can now deconstruct lumber from older structures while preserving its integrity. Contractors and carpenters can use reclaimed wood in new building projects or in home furnishing and decor.
- Reduces the need to cut down and harvest trees for new wood
- An effective step in reducing deforestation
9. Precast Concrete
While concrete tends to be a factor in CO2 emissions created at construction sites, it is still a much-needed material. That’s where precast concrete comes to play. Precast concrete is factory-made in exact measurements and then shipped to the construction site.
While you may not notice the difference between regular and precast concrete, you may see precast concrete featured in structures like bridges, foundations, parking garages and, in some cases, entire buildings.
- Exact-batch technology during the production process leads to less waste
- Can adapt to various climates without cracking or sustaining other damages
Mycelium is the thin fibers from fungi that run underneath the ground as if they are roots. When harvested and dried, mycelium becomes an extremely durable, water, mold and fire-resistant building material.
Dried mycelium can combine with other materials, like sawdust and demolition waste, to create bricks for building structures. While not widely used today, mycelium is an organic and renewable resource capable of revolutionizing the construction industry as we know it.
- Renewable and earth-friendly resource
- Completely compostable and leaves behind no waste
11. Sheeps Wool
Sheep’s wool is a renewable and natural resource that can be harvested and used without hurting the animal. While we typically use wool in the making of clothing and other textiles, it’s also useful to insulate buildings. Unlike human-made insulation, sheep’s wool is natural, non-toxic and mold resistant.
- Lasts longer over time, leading to less waste
- More effective than its man-made counterparts
- Provides more energy savings to those who use it
12. Pollution-Absorbing Brick
With growing environmental concerns, air pollution is one of the main problems that has proved difficult to solve. While other sustainable building materials are effective ways to cut down on C02 emissions, pollution-absorbing brick seeks to neutralize emissions.
These double-layered bricks have porous blocks that allow air to pass through as it filters out pollutant particles — course and fine. While pollution-absorbing bricks are rarely seen in construction today, this futuristic material can be a sustainable, air-filtering alternative to the use of earth brick.
- Self-sustaining ventilation system
- Innovative solution for greener construction materials and practices.
- Growing cities can use this technology to provide cleaner air to its residents
13. 3D-Printed Concrete
We know that concrete is a building material that’s not going anywhere any time soon. While there are a few viable alternatives to concrete, there are also ways to make the production of concrete more sustainable. One of which is the use of 3D printing. 3D-printed concrete allows the contractors to digitally design any shape and use concrete to “print” it.
- Time, energy and money-saving
- The ability to print on demand leaves no waste behind
- Save energy and money on transporting materials
Cordwood is a building method that uses stacked short logs, similar in shape to firewood, to build a wall. Cob or mortar is used between the wooden logs to secure everything together. The cordwood technique is typically seen in homes and provides a rustic cottage look to the overall structure. Cordwood offers natural insulation and can use local materials to save energy and money on transportation.
- Inexpensive and easy to construct
- Saves time and energy on home construction
- The mixture of cob and wood prevents heat transfer for lower energy consumption
15. Recycled Tires
Until recently, rubber tires weren’t recycled and were left cluttering landfills. Thankfully, experts have found that the rubber found in tires provides durability, flexibility and insulation, all of which are important factors in building materials.
Some sustainability-focused homes, known as Earthship homes, use recycled tires filled with sandbags as insulation. Others are working on ways to make rubber masonry blocks with recycled tires that builders can use for new structures.
- A sustainable way to keep tires out of a landfill
- A recycled material that can convert into home insulation
16. Newspaper Wood
Although paper is one of the easiest materials to recycle, paper waste is a growing concern. With new innovations and advances in technology, companies like Newspaper Wood seek to turn paper back into wood. While newspaper wood is not yet usable in construction projects, there are promising results in furniture and home decor.
- Keeps paper waste out of landfills
- Prevents the overconsumption of new lumber
- Slows deforestation
17. Plant-Based Polyurethane Rigid Foam
Rigid foam has been around for a few decades as an effective insulator for homes and commercial buildings. However, a key compound in the original version of rigid foam was found to be harmful to the environment. That’s where rigid foam’s newer, eco-friendly counterpart is helpful.
Plant-based polyurethane rigid foam uses a mixture of bamboo, hemp and kelp that is great wall insulation. This improved rigid is also good for furniture and even surfboards.
- Protects against mold and pests
- Has a longer life span than other traditional insulation methods
- A high-quality thermal insulation that saves energy and money on cooling and heating
18. Straw Bales
The use of straw in construction dates back centuries before our current day, but it still proves to be one of the most sustainable building materials readily available today. Like many of the other materials already mentioned in this article, straw is another renewable resource that works well as insulation.
As long as it is properly protected from moisture, straw bale insulation can last for years on end.
- Improves air quality and absorbs carbon dioxide
- Produces low emissions, especially when compared to human-made insulation
- A fast-growing and all-natural reusable insulation material
- Biodegradable and leaves no waste behind
19. Recycled Glass
Glass is one of the hardest materials to recycle, leaving it discarded in landfills and high-pollution areas. As a step in the right direction, recent studies are finding that construction projects can use waste glass to imitate natural aggregates, like sand, gravel and crushed stone.
Cement makers can also use recycled glass in their mixture. While using recycled glass is not a common practice in construction, this is an exciting new development that could benefit the environment and our landfills.
- Keeps discarded glass from cluttering landfills, waterways and polluted areas
- Provides a replacement for natural resources in construction
20. Recycled Steel
As previously mentioned, producing steel can be harmful to the environment, yet it continues to be necessary for building frameworks and supporting entire structures. One of the best qualities of steel is that it has an unlimited life cycle, which means it can be recycled repeatedly and never lose its quality or durability.
Seeking out recycled steel for new construction projects saves energy while effectively reducing a project’s carbon footprint.
- Slows the production of new steel, which emits large amounts of CO2
- Steel is the easiest material to recycle without losing its quality or value
Sustainable Construction Methods
Sustainable construction goes beyond the materials contractors use in their projects. Certain construction practices and methods are proven to be more earth-friendly and enhance sustainable efforts. Sustainable construction methods include, but are not limited to:
- Using exact measurements to cut and produce materials and minimize waste
- Improving waste management by recycling materials
- Constructing green buildings
- Refurbishing old builds rather than building new ones
- Managing the CO2 transmissions created by construction sites
- Encouraging workers to use eco-friendly practices onsite
- Examples of these practices include recycling food packaging or using reusable containers, not smoking, minimizing paper usage, etc.
- Conserving energy
- Using the sustainable materials above
What Are the Benefits of Sustainable Construction?
Sustainable building isn’t just good for the environment, although that is a fantastic reason to adopt sustainable practices. There are many benefits to adopting eco-friendly methods in the construction industry, such as:
Promotes Healthier Living
Construction projects that develop green buildings aren’t only beneficial to the environment; they also provide many psychological benefits to the people inside them. For example, in an office building, cognitive function scores rose by 61 percent. It was also reported that employees were 44 percent better at making decisions that achieve workplace goals. In green hospital buildings, 56 percent were satisfied with the cheerfulness of the hospital after the green renovations. Plus, Seasonal Affective Disorder was reduced.
The reduction of construction waste is also a beneficial side effect of building more green buildings. By their nature, they already use fewer resources, relying on recycled and renewable materials along with more sustainable construction methods. The use of sustainable materials is also beneficial to overall human health as paint, industrial cleaning products and building materials can be dangerous for human health.
Boosts the Economy
Sustainable construction can also provide many jobs and boost the economy. As climate change devastates the world, efforts to combat its effects have increased, resulting in an increased demand for construction workers and a hike in construction jobs.
Sustainable construction also promotes sustainability and efficient energy use. With renewable energy construction on the rise, coupled with sustainable construction methods, more people are beginning to see the importance and efficiency of using sustainable methods. It also sends a clear message to the industry and everywhere else: sustainability is viable and important.
What Are the Challenges of Sustainable Construction?
While sustainable construction comes with a multitude of benefits, switching to a more sustainable process takes time and preparation to utilize the best practices. Training needs to be implemented in order to start practicing sustainable methods which takes time and money.
Another obstacle that many companies may come across is the actual principal cost of sustainable construction. The general consensus is that sustainable construction comes at a premium, with a higher cost than demand.
Nevertheless, as interest in sustainability continues to rise, construction firms are beginning to make sustainable efforts, which we can see through the rise in green building activity.
Importance of Sustainable Construction
Whether it’s the price tag for the materials, the training that goes behind it or resistance to adapting to new methods (‘why fix if it ain’t broke,” as the old saying goes), there is some pushback on green construction.
Now that the effects of climate change are already felt across the globe. More owners and developers, both public and private, are turning to a greener and more sustainable form of construction, despite pushback.
Sustainability is important for a variety of reasons, including a better quality of life and environmental quality. In order to have thriving and healthy communities, we need to have clean air, natural resources and a non-toxic environment. With advancements in technology and sustainable materials, the construction industry can lead the way for greener projects.
Sustainable construction is developing each and every day, with more demand for cleaner and greener spaces. As the effects of climate change increase, sustainability becomes even more important. While there are challenges, the benefits involved with sustainable construction can create a pathway to a cleaner future.
Rent Equipment for Sustainable Construction Jobs
Large construction companies aren’t the only ones that can change their methods for the betterment of the environment. Regular people working on their own private projects can also focus on utilizing sustainable construction methods. Whether it’s using the right equipment, implementing value engineering to determine sustainable material alternatives or simply doing your best to be energy efficient, anyone can help progress sustainability efforts. No matter your next construction project, having the right resources and equipment is the key to a job well done.
BigRentz offers equipment rentals across the United States, making renting machinery easier than ever before. Whether you’re taking on a green building project or another construction job, BigRentz has the equipment you need to get the job done.