Sustainable Construction: The 2020 Guide

What is sustainable construction and why is it important?

Investments in green building projects are going up. Overall, the construction industry is headed in a sustainable direction. And it makes sense: Green building offers cost and resource-savings, along with a range of other benefits.

What is sustainable construction?

Did you know that the building and construction industry is responsible for 39% of the world’s CO2 emissions? It’s true. 28% come from operational emissions to cool, heat, and light buildings. 11% is “upfront” carbon associated with materials and construction processes throughout the entire building lifecycle.

With these statistics in mind, it’s clear that sustainable construction is needed now more than ever.

But what is sustainable construction? EPA defines green building as “the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction.”

Interest in green building is going up. For example, investments in sustainable construction and development projects are increasing. According to WorldGBC, the rate of survey respondents who reported that they would build 60% or more of their projects green is expected to increase from 27% to 47% by 2021.

But what are the benefits of sustainable construction? Let’s find out.

Benefits of sustainable construction

What benefits do sustainable construction practices have? These are both direct and indirect and they all impact the ROI of a building project. They include:

  • Reduced costs. Green building makes buildings less resource-intensive. For example, according to the US Department of Energy (DOE), buildings can save 5-20% on energy bills with operation and maintenance programs targeting energy efficiency. If these programs are implemented already at the construction phase, the savings can be significant.  Plus, operating a high-performing building requires less maintenance.
  • Healthy buildings. Sustainable buildings are healthier, which makes them more valuable. For example, healthier buildings make occupants more productive.
  • Lower future risk. Studies show that greener building portfolios have better operating performance and they are exposed to less market risk. And as investments in sustainable construction grow, it’s clear that an increasing number of businesses need to rethink the sustainability of their investments to keep up with the market.
  • Easier to bring old buildings up to future standards. Retrofits are one of the best ways to prolong a building’s life cycle. Updating already existing buildings to the latest standards will increase the building’s value and life span.
  • Client demand. Studies show that it’s more attractive to rent or lease green buildings than non-green buildings. Green buildings also command higher sales prices.

Plus, green building can have an impact on brand value. Also, corporate social responsibility can commit companies to sustainable construction projects.

How is a construction project made sustainable?

What makes a construction project sustainable?

Good question. There are different sustainable construction techniques that aim to reduce the environmental impact of constructing new buildings. These include:

Planning ahead

One of the best ways to create a more sustainable construction project is to incorporate sustainability already at the planning and design phase. Services like CxA commissioning and Iterative Energy Modeling can be used at this stage. This will help create greener projects from the start and reduce the need for re-work later on.

Using non-toxic and sustainable construction materials

Using non-toxic materials is good for the environment, but also for human health. The best non-toxic options are natural materials that haven’t been substantially processed. These materials shouldn’t contain chemicals that can release toxic gases.

Reducing and reusing resources

From a cost perspective, one of the main benefits of green building projects is that they aren’t as resource-intensive as other construction projects. Sustainable construction projects aim to reduce the use of resources and reuse those that are already being used.

This can include minimizing the use of resources at the construction phase or designing a building so that it uses fewer resources (such as energy). But it also means that buildings are designed in a way that supports the adaptation, disassembly, and reuse of buildings.

Minimizing waste

Waste management is a big part of sustainable construction projects. Proper waste management means eliminating and minimizing waste and reusing materials that might otherwise end up as waste. Reduction, recycling, and reuse of waste is an essential part of waste management for sustainable construction projects.

Smart buildings and digital solutions

Today, an increasing number of digital solutions are used to create more sustainable buildings. For example, AI, IoT, and sensors can be used to predict and analyze how buildings are managed and how they use resources.

Plus, there are established building tech solutions on the market. Building Information Management (BIM), Life Cycle Analysis (LCA), and on-site renewables are used to make predictions about buildings and in this way make them more sustainable.

Green building certifications

To achieve green building standards, you can use green building certifications. Some of the most well-known are LEED, ASHRAE, Estidama, and Mostadam. Because green building standards help save resources and costs, this can have a big impact on your overall project budget.

Note that to implement these services, you should work with experienced consultants (read more about how to find consultants and work with them here). Thanks to their expertise and experience, you will achieve the best cost-savings and other miscellaneous benefits. With those cost-savings, their fee pays itself back. This is especially the case if you consider the savings that you achieve on a long-term, yearly basis.

The cost of sustainable construction projects

Now, one challenge with sustainable construction projects is cost. But while costs can be a reason companies don’t undertake green building projects, these projects are often less costly than they’re believed to be. Surveys from 2000-2012 show that the estimated cost premium for green buildings is 0.9% to 29%, whereas studies show that the actual cost premium is -0.4% to 12.5%.

And as a Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory study shows, new construction building commissioning costs are 0.4% of the overall construction costs and these projects result in a 13% median whole-building energy savings. The costs for commissioning are amortized on average 4.2 years after a building is built due to energy savings, lower operation costs, and fewer change orders.

Case study: Dubai World Expo 2020

One of the most prominent green building projects right now is the Dubai World Expo 2020. As a World Expo, its agenda can have a big impact on different industries, such as the construction and development industry.

Alpin is the main Design Commissioning Authority for the Dubai World Expo. We are also working with eight different country pavilions, including China, the UK, Germany, Luxembourg, and Austria, to help them achieve their Expo 2020 sustainability KPIs.

How Expo 2020 affects sustainable construction

One of the sub-themes of the Dubai World Expo 2020 is sustainability. The event aims to become one of the most sustainable World Expos ever.

Some of the sustainability KPIs it aims to hit include sustainable transportation, 20% outperformance of the ASHRAE 90.1 standard for building efficiency, 95% of condensate recovered from buildings, and achieving LEED Gold certificate for Expo Building projects.

This shows that green building is more important than ever and not just a trend.

As our Expo 2020 project manager, Nour Mousa, explains: “Expo 2020 will be a role model for other projects and developers as an environmentally responsible development and the message will be delivered to the entire world in the best approach through the Sustainability Pavilion they are constructing as part of Expo 2020 and the sustainability requirements they have followed during the construction phase.”

The challenges of sustainable construction projects

More rigorous sustainability requirements come with their own challenges. One of the roadblocks we have encountered while working on Expo 2020 pavilions?

Each Expo 2020 pavilion has its own sustainability KPI that needs to be tracked and reported on. In this case, waste management is one such KPI. One problem we noticed with some pavilions’ waste management? All of their waste was treated together by mixing it in one area, instead of dividing and recycling it.

This meant that pavilions couldn’t initially achieve their KPIs.

How did we overcome this challenge? As Nour puts it, “After we conducted a sustainability workshop with the construction team and explained the Construction Waste Management requirements, corrective action was taken by the contractor where waste is segregated and transferred to recycling facilities by type.”

Want to learn more?

There you have it. Now you know what sustainable construction is and why it matters.

As you can see, green building is on the rise. An increasing number of investments are made and projects are undertaken in this space. That’s why the industry is positioned to grow fast.

Click here if you want to learn more about our different green building consultancy services.