11 Ways Owners Can Make Construction Projects More Sustainable

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  • It’s no secret the construction industry contributes significantly to carbon emissions and waste.
  • With higher demand and legislation for greener construction, more owners are turning to sustainable construction methods.
  • But making projects more sustainable is a complex undertaking. In an effort to provide some clarification, I’ve outlined three green construction initiatives our industry needs to rally around and 11 ways owners can build sustainability into their projects. 

3 Key Sustainability Goals the Construction Industry Needs to Tackle Now

  • Double our retrofitting total. A core component of sustainability is reusing the assets we currently have while reducing new builds. Designing ways to retrofit what we have instead of rebuilding completely new can go a long way toward propelling greener construction. Not only does it help the environment, it reduces waste and costs.
  • Reduce energy use during operation. It’s also important to drive down energy use during construction. That includes embracing smart, low-energy-use appliances and low-carbon heating and cooling. The impact of these changes could be huge.
  • Embrace low-carbon construction. Making moves toward net-zero construction includes reducing toxic carbon emissions. Proactive on-site changes — including using electric vehicles and reducing waste — are critical to long-term success.

11 Ways Owners Can Make Construction Projects More Sustainable

The three key goals might seem overwhelming, but there are several ways owners can help achieve them.

1. Build sustainability into your RFPs. Sustainability starts from the request for proposal (RFP). Build sustainability into your RFPs and work with vendors, architects and contractors who have a history of factoring sustainability into their decisions. By requesting resilience of assets and sustainability, owners have the power to make a difference at the start of each project.

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2. Enact procurement practices that drive emissions cuts through value chains. We need a critical mass of companies in the construction and facility management industries to become true climate leaders. One way we can do this is by driving emission cuts through value chains — from planning stages to completion — and setting an example for others to follow.

3. Allocate funding for sustainable practices. To create change, we must put our money where our goals are. It’s critical we allocate funds based on things like retrofitting and green construction. Earmarking funds for sustainable methods is one of the major drivers for the industry to transition to sustainable practices.

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4. Standardize and scale solutions around the world. To make the largest impact, solutions in the sector should be standardized and scalable around the world. A major problem in the industry is the fragmentation of practices, technology and more. To counteract this, we need to begin standardizing and connecting the solutions at a broader scale. So, how do we scale globally? It starts with policy. Countries, cities and companies need to adopt strong policies and programs to reduce carbon emissions.

5. Align capital planning with sustainable construction policies and frameworks. A sustainable project starts with capital planning that’s in accordance with sustainable construction policies and frameworks. This is already being seen in the EU where they released Level(s), a European framework that helps professionals assess and monitor the sustainability of buildings. Construction is a capital-intensive industry. If the access to capital is tied to sustainability, it could create greener construction worldwide.

6. Incorporate lifecycle asset management into conceptual design. If the industry is going to move toward greater sustainability, greener materials and practices need to be accounted for in the initial design. We need to design based on maximizing available assets instead of expecting demolition and rebuilds. We need to design to maximize the asset lifespan and reuse potential. Using life cycle assessment (LCA) in the design and engineering planning phases lets you select materials based on the lowest carbon impacts. When sustainability is part of our design and construction DNA, it leads to lower maintenance costs, more enjoyable spaces to live and work, as well as extending the life of the building and reuse potential.  

7. Use just-in-time procurement and local sourcing of materials. Just-in-time material procurement aligns raw-material orders from suppliers with construction schedules. It minimizes unused or excessive materials. Sourcing materials locally reduces transport emissions, too. It’s time for construction to join the #buylocal movement.

8. Use BIM to manage assets more effectively so they will last longer. Ultimately, we need to build smarter. That includes embracing technology such as 5D BIM-based projects and construction management to improve overall efficiency and minimize rework. Leveraging BIM across the design, build and operate phases allows for better, more informed decisions. Connecting model-based information from the design to build phases allows for reduced rework and more accurate installs. Using BIM in the operating stage provides the facility management team access to all the information needed to efficiently operate equipment and assets, extending the overall life span and reducing repplacement costs. In the case of heating and cooling equipment, effective operation can reduce carbon emissions as well as overall costs.

9. Utilize modular and prefabricated construction. Modular and prefabricated methodologies have a direct correlation to smarter, more sustainable construction. Designing modular or prefabricated components allows for quicker build times, and reduced rework and materials. When designing modular components, we can also consider the reusability of the components  – will they be adaptable to future demands and changes? Building in bulk with prefab or modular methodologies, when combined with LCA and sustainable materials, can also help to reduce green premiums for lower-carbon alternatives.

10. Minimize embodied carbon during the construction phase. There are several ways to minimize embodied carbon in the construction phase itself: use smarter electric plant equipment, reduce rework by embracing 

BIM and technology as a whole, and construct with mostly modular prefabricated objects when possible.

11. Adopt moonshot thinking. When it comes to technology, we need “moonshot thinking,” a mindset that aims to achieve something others might consider impossible. This motivational way of thinking empowers you to look for solutions instead of roadblocks. This mindset is vital when creating the pathway for our partners and customers to embrace sustainability in a way that’s aligned with the financial benefit for their organization. We need to make it easy for them to make the switch to eco-friendly construction.

Though the construction industry can be slow to change, it has the potential to make a real positive impact on the environment by embracing sustainable practices. Whether you begin by including sustainability in your RFPs or by using more modular components in your projects, you have the power to drive the industry toward a greener future.

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