The future of business in all industries—and especially construction—rests solely on the strength of sustainability efforts. Achieving sustainability involves everyone. It requires everyone to think differently about our lives, the economy, and the world. It means making a transition in how we view the environment and want to improve our quality of life today and for the future. Sustainability requires innovation, technology, and people.
Merriam-Webster defines sustainable as relating to or being a method of harvesting or using a resource so that the resource is not depleted or permanently damaged. Simply put, I define it as environmentally sound living without compromising the needs of future generations. So, if that is sustainability in general, then sustainable construction is environmentally friendly practices across the project lifecycle.
There are two big ways to be able to do this. For one, builders can make sure the buildings and homes themselves are sustainable, so the building owner or homeowner consumes less energy in the lifecycle of the structure. At the same time, contractors need to ensure processes at the jobsite are as sustainable as possible—something we will explore in-depth throughout this blog.
Today, more than ever there is a growing need for sustainability in construction. We all know C&D (construction and demolition) are some of the biggest contributors to waste in industry. In fact, numbers from the U.S. EPA (Environmental Protection Agency), suggest 600 million tons of C&D debris were generated in the United States in 2018, which is more than twice the amount of generated municipal solid waste.
Further, demolition represents more than 90% of total C&D debris generation, while construction represents less than 10%. Only roughly 455 million tons of debris were directed to next use, while just under 145 million tons were sent to landfills.
Waste is simply one example too. According to the UN Environment Programme 2021 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction, in 2015, the construction and operation of buildings was responsible for 38% of global energy-related CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions. By 2020, CO2 emissions in the sector had fallen an estimated 10%, a level not seen since 2007. This decline was driven largely by reduced energy demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but also by continued efforts to decarbonize the power sector.
Construction companies need to demonstrate a more efficient way in managing risk to be more cost-effective as they digitize their businesses. It will not be a separation of business, but part and parcel of everyday business. Going forward, the construction industry needs to leverage technology to be more sustainable on the jobsite.
Case in point: construction cameras. Capturing and processing data from construction jobsites is one way to improve operational sustainability. Reality capture makes it possible for operations to understand the impact of construction on the surrounding environment and a plan for proper waste management. Consider the example of AI (artificial intelligence), which can track the time difference between entry and exit of the vehicles. Another instance is the integration with BIM (building information modeling), which can enable better, faster, and less wasteful project delivery. And these are just a handful of examples. All in all, technology can reduce energy consumption and waste across the project lifecycle.
Going forward, construction companies will also have to build more sustainable homes and buildings. To help, Project Sustainability: Leveraging Tech to Build a Greener Home is designed to be a model for sustainable, resilient, and efficient residential home building practices.
This individual project will incorporate the most advanced products and systems from leading manufacturers and technology companies to demonstrate and educate both industry and consumers alike about how we can create a sustainable, clean, and green future for all homes and future communities for which we live, thrive, and prosper.
The future is sustainable—and those that realize it now are going to be more successful and profitable in the months ahead.
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Peggy Smedley is an award-winning journalist and technology expert. During her 25-year career she has extensively covered IoT, manufacturing, construction technology, and most recently sustainability, circularity, and resiliency.
She is founder and president of Specialty Publishing Media (SPM); editorial director of Constructech and Connected World; radio host of The Peggy Smedley Show, and author of her most recent book “Sustainable In a Circular World,”which follows her first book, Mending Manufacturing (2004)