The growing importance of sustainable materials in construction

In today’s eco-conscious society, we are continually reminded that sustainability should be at the forefront of our thinking. Nowhere is this more so than in construction where, despite advances in technology, we continue to generate huge amounts of waste and use materials that are far from sustainable and costly in the energy used in their production.

Why does sustainability matter?

Sustainability in its global sense is concerned with managing the Earth’s resources for the benefit of everyone on the planet both now and in the future. We are all aware of the damage caused by the exploitation of resources but it’s not always obvious how this relates to our day to day activities.

The construction industry has been, and still is, wasteful of resources. 32% of waste sent to landfill comes from construction sites. 13% of products delivered to construction sites go straight to landfill without ever being used. Clearly, there is scope for the industry to do a lot more to improve sustainability.

Benefits of sustainability

We can all benefit from a sustainable approach to construction. Producing new materials is costly both in financial terms and in the cost to the environment in carbon emissions. Concrete production, for example, uses finite resources and releases large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. Finding alternatives that are less harmful is beneficial to the whole planet.

For clients, insisting on a sustainable approach can provide several benefits. Buildings designed to these principles are generally better to live or work in. Commercial clients often find their staff are healthier and take less time off sick. Over the lifetime of a building, better energy efficiency can result in significant cost savings.

From the contractor’s point of view, there are two reasons for embracing sustainability. Firstly, reducing waste and increasing efficiency cuts costs and increases profits. Secondly, there is an increasing demand from private sector clients for more sustainable construction. Contractors who take sustainability seriously, position themselves as forward-thinking and innovative.

Ways to incorporate sustainability into the industry

Clients and designers have an opportunity at the outset of a project to consider how to minimise its environmental impact. This could be an option to refurbish an existing building instead of demolition, to recycle materials if demolition is unavoidable or to construct using materials that can easily be recycled in the future.

Modular construction has the potential to make a big difference. Designed to be energy efficient, with renewable materials and produced in factory conditions, modular homes, in particular, enable huge savings in energy use, time and cost. When no longer needed they can be refurbished and relocated at a fraction of the cost of a new build.

Contractors may have little control over the design but can still have an impact by the way they manage projects and the culture they foster within their own businesses. Training is key so that managers and operatives are always mindful of using materials efficiently and avoiding unnecessary waste.

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