Towards sustainable construction: How each construction party can help

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Modified on June 15, 2021

Construction is a massive, complex industry and is a major source of pollution. If it continues operating like it does today, achieving sustainability will remain a distant and unattainable goal. Change needs to happen now if we aim for a better construction world tomorrow.

But what can each construction party do to minimise the negative carbon emissions released by the industry?

In this article, we continue the topic “Towards sustainable construction”  – we look at some public initiatives and market drivers towards sustainability and explore how construction actors can contribute themselves to tackle the negative impact on the environment.

Towards sustainability

Specific rating systems and standards towards more sustainable construction

Decarbonising the construction sector is critical to achieving world commitments such as the Paris Agreement and the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs). While many are waiting for legislation to enforce carbon reduction (which has already started happening in some parts of the world), the forward-thinking construction actors are already taking measures and prepare for the construction transformation.

We have already seen some incentives given to companies that choose to build sustainably. Currently, several states in the US offer tax incentives or exemptions to construction firms that participate in sustainable practices.

In Europe, a variety of countries has also taken steps to integrate sustainability parameters in their building regulation. France, Denmark, Germany and the Netherlands follow specific rating systems for sustainable developments. Some of these rating systems include:

Even though local and national governments are trying to use sustainable rating systems that help reduce energy demand and promotes circularity for the lifecycle of structures, the industry is still in a very early adoption stage.

Construction actors making a move towards decarbonising the industry

It is a fact that the primary financial goal of every business is to make a profit. However, investing in sustainable technologies could benefit both the planet and profit margins. It is not just an environmental imperative — there are also sound economic reasons for decarbonising. Aligned with this, the WorldGBC has provided a detailed report on how construction industry actors can minimise the embodied carbon footprint –  a type of CO2 emissions released during the construction of a building asset.

Read more about the types of carbon emissions released by the construction industry in our previous article.

You can also take a deep dive into the environmental performance of construction products in our whitepaper “Construction Products Key Environmental Indicators”.

What can asset owners do?

Building owners have a critical role to play in driving our industry towards net-zero embodied carbon. Owners can bring this issue to the forefront in the design and decision-making process by selecting only low carbon materials to be used and ensure maximum utilisation of existing assets by pursuing circularity. They can also choose designs that consider reducing carbon across the entire asset lifecycle and follow requirements for reducing emissions during construction activities. This would have a positive impact on the project’s profitability as circularity eliminates waste, lowering the organisation’s costs.

What can developers and contractors do?

Developers and contractors often interact with all stakeholders across the construction value chain. Developers can commit to building projects that have net-zero embodied carbon. They can create new contractual obligations that require transparency in the disclosure of embodied carbon data from the supply chain (such as the environmental product declarations, EPDs). Additionally, contractors can require energy efficiency by powering all processes happening on the construction site by renewable energy, as an example we saw in Oslo.  This is a safe, reliable and clean route to more sustainable construction, and it saves from paying higher taxes related to the use of energy.

What can designers do?

Designers of buildings and infrastructure are well placed to challenge traditional approaches too. They have a high potential for reducing emissions of a building or infrastructure project by undertaking whole life carbon thinking at an early design stage and evaluating emissions reduction strategies. Selecting alternative materials with lower carbon intensities, reused or higher recycled content products and materials could save a lot – from a both financial and ecological perspective.

What can manufacturers and suppliers do?

The production of construction materials is among the main contributors to the release of embodied carbon emissions from our sector. Therefore, manufacturers have an important enabling role to play. Through digitising their product data and making this valuable information easily accessible to other actors in the construction supply chain, they can help a lot for minimising the embodied carbon emissions and bringing back the environmental balance. Once the construction data is digitalised, informative decisions could be taken ahead in the construction process. From a financial perspective, digitalising product data means for the manufacturer to stand out from the crowd and attract more environmentally conscious customers who are looking for low-carbon materials in their projects, boosting their sales.

Final words

Even though the good initiatives of many contractors, manufacturers, and other construction parties, it is not possible to minimise the embodied carbon emissions if everyone is acting on their own. As we mentioned in our previous article, we need the unified efforts of the construction demand and supply side. Also, the collaboration and the coordinated actions of all stakeholders, supported by policy frameworks, are necessary prerequisites towards going further ahead.

Even if we are still far behind solving the environmental disbalance it is still not too late to act. Many forward-thinkers have already chosen the direction towards sustainability via digitally transforming their business and making it more efficient, effective and profitable.

Digitalisation, new technologies and growing circular material markets support the efficient use of resources and stand behind this brave new vision for the resilient and sustainable construction industry.

What a better way to grow your profit in a socially responsible and environmentally friendly way.

Cobuilder Collaborate developed with sustainability in mind

Through the digitalisation of the building assets information, Cobuilder Collaborate gives you complete control over the products installed in a building. Having the data about all the construction products, materials and chemicals in a digital format enable construction parties to validate that no harm is caused to the environment, workers on-site and ultimately – the actual users of the building or infrastructure.

Read more about Cobuilder Collaborate or contact us for further details.