As we move into the new decade, sustainability is becoming more and more important for construction teams, driven by principally higher expectations from both clients and public. We have seen a steep increase in concern and attention, not just with environmental and sustainability professionals, but across all professions working in construction. It is highly motivating to be part of, to see an industry change and evolve for the better. Business as usual is no longer acceptable. It is crying shame, but no doubt the unprecedented number of recent environmental disasters, such as the devastating fires in Australia, have brought the issue of an unsustainable world to the forefront of public consciousness.
How we will achieve a sustainable world is a contentious and frankly confusing issue. There are many schools of thought, along with a bewildering array of competing environmental tools, methodologies and standards that can easily overwhelm. So, to help simplify, we take a look at what’s available to construction companies to help achieve a sustainable future, starting with green buildings and the certification standards used to measure them.
For a building to be green, it must meet a range of different requirements. There are several different certification schemes, such as BREEAM and LEED, that solidify these requirements and hold construction teams accountable in the process of constructing a green building. In a nutshell, it comes down to using sustainable construction practices and materials as well as ensuring the building can operate sustainably throughout its lifetime.
When you dig a little deeper into the benefits of green buildings, it becomes evident that the rewards are reaped by all those involved, from the designers through to the occupiers. Let’s dive a little deeper…
The business case
Ultimately, it’s all well and good to want to be a pioneer of sustainable construction, however, when it comes down to the commercial reality, it gets trickier. Without a strong business case for green buildings, it isn’t feasible for construction companies to make it a priority. In recent years, it has been consistently reported that green buildings deliver savings in operating costs, have shorter payback periods, and an increased asset value. A growing number of building owners are seeing as much as a 10 percent increase in green building asset value. This alone provides a big incentive for developers and investors to seriously explore green buildings for their portfolios.
As construction technology has matured and the supply chain for green construction materials has become stronger, the design and construction costs of green buildings have been significantly reduced. These two factors alone make a strong business case for construction companies to further explore green buildings as part of their project portfolios.
In the UK construction industry, the available workforce is becoming a problem. The total number of workers over 60 has significantly increased and there has been a huge reduction in construction workers under the age of 30. The question that needs answering is, how do we incentive more young professionals to pursue a career in construction and build upon generations of knowledge and skill? In the younger generation, there has been a massive shift in values. The world’s youth is demanding that things change and the climate is prioritised by the planets leading organisations. It would be naïve to think that this generation will abandon these values as they move into the workforce. In that lies the problem for most big organisations, including construction companies. No organisation can avoid value shifts and yet, this has been the case for many years now. Perhaps they could get by in the short term, however, now that time has passed and the public opinion has changed. If the construction industry wants to recruit a new wave of skilled and motivated workers, it is going to have to adapt to the shift in values across the younger generation. By shifting corporate priorities to sustainability over profit, or at least in harmony with profit, construction companies can get a significant upper hand in capturing a talented workforce.
Construction safety and wellbeing
As mentioned in the intro to this article, green buildings take into account the construction methods and materials sourced for the building as well as the operational efficiency of the building throughout its lifetime. However, green buildings are holistic and should include the health and wellbeing of the occupants of the building as well. By taking this approach in the planning and design stages, the idea of health and wellbeing can be infused in the whole construction process, helping to keep the construction workers healthy and safe throughout the construction phase. With certifications such as the WELL Standard, building occupants health and wellbeing is quantified and measured to ensure the building accommodates the occupants in a healthy way. When constructing green buildings that meet this standard, construction workers are required to use healthy materials that won’t pose a risk to the occupants of the building throughout its lifetime. Consequently, this results in a healthier environment for the workers as they are less exposed to hazardous pollutants than they otherwise might be. Additionally, green buildings take a new form of construction that requires new technology and materials. Due to this uncharted territory, safety measure and reviews are much more likely to be implemented on a more frequent basis to ensure worker safety. Sometimes, uncertainty breeds safety and caution whereas familiarity in the process can result in unnecessary risk and arrogance.
This leaves us with the final point which is self-explanatory, yet still worth highlighting. The energy savings from green buildings are substantial, both in the design and construction stage as well as throughout its lifetime. LEED certified buildings use fewer resources and minimise annual waste production compared to more traditional buildings. To date, LEED certified buildings have diverted more than 80 million tons of waste from landfills. In a review of 22 LEED-certified buildings, it was found that the carbon emissions for these was 34 percent lower than non-certified buildings and the energy consumption throughout the building’s lifetime was reduced by 25 percent. Furthermore, throughout its lifespan, a green building substantially reduces the strain on the local shared resources. As populations increase, particularly in population dense areas, the strain on the local resources increases. The more green buildings that exist in the surrounding area, the lighter the pressure on these resources.
How to start
As with the majority of complex practices in construction, collaboration and knowledge sharing is key to successfully build green buildings. However, the construction industry is notorious for establishing information silos across projects and organisations, therefore relying heavily on the readily accessible knowledge within any given project team. This severely restricts teams from exploring new ideas and can impair companies from taking on green building projects that require a specific set of knowledge and information. As the industry starts shifting to more digital platforms, this problem will slowly but surely start to resolve. However, green buildings require a great deal of new technology that many construction teams aren’t used to using. For that reason, it’s important to take an active role in communicating across teams and organisations, sharing the things you have learned, and enable other teams to design and build more green buildings moving into the future. As we now know, this will benefit all stakeholders involved.