According to the United Nations Environment Program
𝗍𝗁𝖾 𝖼𝗈𝗇𝗌𝗍𝗋𝗎𝖼𝗍𝗂𝗈𝗇 𝗂𝗇𝖽𝗎𝗌𝗍𝗋𝗒 𝗂𝗌 𝖼𝗎𝗋𝗋𝖾𝗇𝗍𝗅𝗒 𝗋𝖾𝗌𝗉𝗈𝗇𝗌𝗂𝖻𝗅𝖾 𝖿𝗈𝗋 𝖺𝗅𝗆𝗈𝗌𝗍 𝟦𝟢% 𝗈𝖿 𝗍𝗁𝖾 𝗐𝗈𝗋𝗅𝖽’𝗌 𝖢𝖮𝟤 𝖾𝗆𝗂𝗌𝗌𝗂𝗈𝗇𝗌 𝖺𝗇𝖽 𝗈𝖿 𝗍𝗁𝗂𝗌 𝗉𝖾𝗋𝖼𝖾𝗇𝗍𝖺𝗀𝖾, 𝟣𝟣% 𝗂𝗌 𝗍𝗁𝖾 𝗋𝖾𝗌𝗎𝗅𝗍 𝗈𝖿 𝗆𝖺𝗇𝗎𝖿𝖺𝖼𝗍𝗎𝗋𝗂𝗇𝗀 𝗆𝖺𝗍𝖾𝗋𝗂𝖺𝗅𝗌 𝗈𝖿 𝖼𝗈𝗇𝗌𝗍𝗋𝗎𝖼𝗍𝗂𝗈𝗇.
From energy usage to emissions, the construction industry has a huge impact on the environment. It is, by its very nature, a big user of natural resources, but with growing concerns over climate change and the finite nature of these resources, there is increasing pressure on construction firms to reduce their environmental impact.
While there are challenges involved in adopting sustainable construction methods, there are also great benefits too. It not only increases a building’s value, but the building is better preserved over time, and this consequently translates into lower energy consumption and a more sustainable and respectful construction process.
So, what does sustainable construction actually mean? It is the use of renewable and recyclable materials for building projects, whilst reducing energy consumption and waste. The primary goal of sustainable construction is to reduce the industry’s impact on the environment by using materials that don’t harm the environment, whether in its production, use or disposal, and that can easily be recycled.
Sustainable materials that are gaining popularity include bamboo for construction, cork as an eco-friendly material in home design that mimics hardwood, natural stone for cladding, Hemp Crete for good thermal acoustic insulation qualities and Terrazzo for flooring.
It also makes sense to consider a move towards eco-friendly choices such as wood, sustainable concrete (alternatives with plastic and recyclables can reduce the carbon dioxide production by almost 50%), alternative brick materials (mud, wool, and even cigarette butts can be used to create bricks that are just as strong without a need for the kiln fires that result in harmful emissions) and, perhaps most surprisingly, plastic. The fact that plastic doesn’t degrade means that its greatest sin against the environment becomes its greatest strength when it is used in construction. As long as plastic is used responsibly, it has a vital part to play in sustainable construction.
However, sustainable construction doesn’t end when the building is complete; the building itself should have a reduced impact on the environment over its lifespan.
Today, sustainable design is the essence of architectural design and must incorporate elements that have an ongoing positive influence on the building’s environmental impact.
These can include proper insulation to prevent heat loss, solar panels (or tiles) to reduce energy consumption, and building materials with a long lifespan.
We talked to Aidan Bell, co-founder of Envirobuild, whose mission is to significantly reduce the carbon footprint of the construction industry by providing high quality products that are consistently the better environmental choice over current traditional products on the market.
What are the benefits of incorporating sustainable building materials in construction?
There is currently almost no legislation forcing people to use lower embodied carbon materials into buildings. It is only done when a client wants to reduce their own impact on the world. The good news is that there are products which have the same performance and price, but with lower embodied carbon. It’s always worth working with your architect and contractor if this is something that interests you. They’ll often know of products, or be happy to advise on products that you’ve found through your own research
For items that work on lowering operational carbon such as heat pumps, extra insulation, grey water harvesting, solar panels etc. there can very often be savings on monthly bills. The initial outlay can be recouped surprisingly quickly, but in almost all instances give greater returns that you’re paying in interest on your mortgage.
What is the future for the construction industry with regards to sustainable building materials?
The future will eventually involve designing then building with deconstruction in mind, so that items can be reused more effectively. Over the next decade there is possibly going to be legislation ensuring an EPC “C” or above for sales or renting out of properties, as proposed by the climate change committee last month.
Would you agree that sustainable design is the essence of architectural design and if so, why?
I absolutely think that sustainability should be at the heart of architectural design because without it we risk losing so much. Historically it hasn’t been high on the list, however times are definitely changingchanging, and architects are usually the most forward thinking within the construction sector and are an extremely important element in educating the industry.
What would you say to potential clients who say using sustainable building materials is too expensive?
There are certain materials that you can switch for lower carbon intensity products without a loss of quality or an increase in price. As a blatant plug, two examples are:
- Sisu luxury vinyl tile flooring that is lower in carbon intensity than any other LVT on the market
- Hyperion composite decking and cladding which are made from recycled plastic and industrial offcuts of wood
It’s always worth remembering that with products or design features that reduce the operational energy of a property the payback can be considerable, especially with the relentless rise in energy prices.
If it can’t be reduced, reused, repaired, rebuilt, refurbished, refinished, resold, recycled or composted, then it should be restricted, redesigned or removed from production.
If clients adopt just one eco-friendly material in their build, what would you recommend?
That’s a difficult question. I would suggest working with your architect to ensure that you don’t have too much solar gain in the summer, as we’ve seen how hot the UK can now get, and ensure there is plenty of insulation for the winter.
There is no doubt that using eco-friendly materials is hugely beneficial in the long run. Building a green home reduces carbon emissions significantly and saves energy, which results in saving money on energy bills.
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