Sustainability in construction

“Sustainability” is one of the world’s most talked about but least understood words. Its meaning is often clouded by differing interpretations and by a tendency for the subject to be treated superficially. For most companies, countries and individuals who do take the subject seriously the concept of sustainability embraces the preservation of the environment as well as critical development-related issues such as the efficient use of resources, continual social progress, stable economic growth, and the eradication of poverty.

In the world of construction, buildings have the capacity to make a major contribution to a more sustainable future for our planet. The OECD, for instance, estimates that buildings in developed countries account for more than forty percent of energy consumption over their lifetime (incorporating raw material production, construction, operation, maintenance and decommissioning). Add to this the fact that for the first time in human history over half of the world’s population now lives in urban environments and it’s clear that sustainable buildings have become vital cornerstones for securing long-term environmental, economic and social viability.

The pace of change means we don’t have the luxury of time. With urban populations worldwide swelling by around one million people every week, there’s an urgent need to come up with clever ideas that optimize the sustainable performance of the buildings that we live and work in.

Building a sustainable future

Sustainable construction aims to meet present day needs for housing, working environments and infrastructure without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs in times to come. It incorporates elements of economic efficiency, environmental performance and social responsibility – and contributes to the greatest extent when architectural quality, technical innovation and transferability are included.

Sustainable construction involves issues such as the design and management of buildings; materials performance; construction technology and processes; energy and resource efficiency in building, operation and maintenance; robust products and technologies; long-term monitoring; adherence to ethical standards; socially-viable environments; stakeholder participation; occupational health and safety and working conditions; innovative financing models; improvement to existing contextual conditions; interdependencies of landscape, infrastructure, urban fabric and architecture; flexibility in building use, function and change; and the dissemination of knowledge in related academic, technical and social contexts.

Green buildings are designed to reduce the overall impact of the built environment on human health and the natural environment by:

  • Efficiently using energy, water, and other resources.
  • Protecting occupant health and improving employee productivity.
  • Reducing waste, pollution, and environmental degradation.