Many consider sustainability an attempt to build a better future – for us to leave the world in better condition than we received it. This involves new ways of thinking about problems, including reducing waste, and thus the carbon footprint, of construction.
Most sustainability solutions involve long-term strategies. Those strategies need to tackle the inefficiencies that exist in the industry through collaboration.
A circular “green” economy is built on the concept that what were once considered waste products in construction have the potential to be transformed into value-added products that can be used on another project. A July 2022 article by the EPA explained that asphalt, concrete and rubble are often recycled into aggregate or new asphalt. New building products are already being created from waste such as wood, gypsum, metals, bricks, glass, plastics, and plumbing. The key to reducing waste is to reuse and repurpose construction byproducts that were once hauled to a landfill.
When considering decreasing the construction industry’s carbon footprint, this is both the biggest opportunity and biggest challenge companies face. One way to close the loop on carbon is to capture carbon-dioxide – whether it’s reducing, recycling or repurposing – and transform it into new value-added products.
Companies can benefit economically from decreasing waste and reusing materials. Sustainability and profit are not incompatible. It just requires new ways of thinking out of the box – new solutions for new problems.
New sustainability solutions may require capital, and funding can speed up the process of finding solutions that companies can adopt. The value chain is complex with many participants. The dots can be connected when the right people are involved in the right discussions and work together in a cohesive way.
One way to discover solutions is through the use of data collected on construction projects. You can’t improve something that you can’t measure. That data is needed for useful conversations. Big data needs to be converted to tangible information that can be interpreted. Once interpreted, it can become knowledge. Over time that knowledge can become wisdom. The combination of big data plus information plus knowledge allows us to excel at evaluating problems and improving the current way things are done in the industry.
Design is key to reducing waste and the carbon footprint of a building over its lifetime, which can be 50 years or longer. Design is the phase of the project where stakeholders can make the largest impact. For instance, building information modeling (BIM) allows hundreds of building designs to be made in a short time and their performance analyzed in various stages. The design phase – the earlier the better – is the most economical time to evaluate construction options. During design, for example, the impact of sunshine can influence the HVAC layout. Making adjustments after the project starts is certain to be more expensive. In the name of sustainability, the construction industry needs to reduce waste to efficiently capture, store and reuse carbon. This can be accomplished even more efficiently when sustainable construction materials are sourced.
Check out episode 166 of Bridging the Gap Podcast with Alfredo Carrato for more about sustainability in construction.