Going Green: Transitioning to Sustainable Construction

Green construction

What Exactly Is “Green Construction”?

Green construction can feel like a broad term, with many meanings and understandings. According to the Building Owners & Managers Association (BOMA) of Oakland and East Bay, green construction may be defined as looking “beyond the readily apparent aspects of the office or building to create a space that addresses the comfort, health and broader environmental impacts of the construction/remodeling process.”

Green construction isn’t just a term you can toss on a contract or a marketing brochure, either–a few bodies carefully regulate it. Primarily, points out BOMA, “the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, is the primary certification used to measure and designate green buildings.”

The Impressive Benefits of Green Construction

LEED-certified buildings operate much more efficiently, are worth more from the outset, and have been snapping up market share like there’s no tomorrow. Given the fact that Owners are increasingly trying to manage total facility costs over a project’s lifecycle, investment in green construction is a wise and increasingly popular choice.

Green construction also leads to direct cost savings during the building phase. Understanding LEED certification and other building regulations ensure you won’t lose money to fines for incorrect methods, while Lean construction reduces waste and improves productivity.

Additionally, fully embracing green construction:

  • Improves productivity
  • Makes better use of labor resources
  • Increases your return on investment
  • Gains you government incentives
  • Generates more business

And lastly, green construction is better for the health of workers. For instance, operating in cleaner environments reduces exposure to toxic chemicals and materials. That means they have lower worker compensation claims, can stay active in the workforce longer, and can live healthier, happier lives in general. In the long run, this makes construction a better industry in which to work, which could help solve some of the labor shortages with which building has been plagued for years.

What does that mean for you? When you jump on the bandwagon, you’ll become one of the companies able to serve an increasingly green-motivated commercial sector. Better for the world is also better for business.

Steps to a More Sustainable Future in Construction

Whether you’re new to going green or have already taken a few measures, here are a few steps that will help the world, improve your process and save you big bucks in the long run.

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Step 1: Get Rid of Paper

Getting rid of paper is hands-down one of the best places to begin your environmental transition. Consider how many stacks of blueprints your company prints on an annual basis? Paper uses massive amounts of raw wood, and even the recycled version still requires numerous chemicals and fresh water in the production process.

Plus, paper is expensive. Compared to digital–which includes only the costs of construction software and Wifi, and programs are run on devices your company usually already has on hand–it’s an enormous waste of money.

Finally, paper is unreliable. Using digital resources to track plans, communicate, and keep records is light years faster and more efficient. It means significantly less rework and fewer wasted resources. All in all, adopting construction software to replace paper is a must.

Step 2: Adopt Lean Construction Principles

We referenced Lean construction principles above, but what are they, exactly? According to the Lean Construction Institute, “Lean methods seek to develop and manage a project through relationships, shared knowledge, and common goals. Traditional silos of knowledge, work, and effort are broken down and reorganized for the betterment of the project rather than of individual participants. The result? Significant improvements in the schedule with dramatically reduced waste, particularly on complex, uncertain, and quick projects.”

Lean construction is, in essence, just a different way of thinking about construction–one in which you evaluate your process much more carefully with an eye to where you can maximize efficiency, reduce waste and optimize at every step of the way. Its benefits include less fire-fighting, smoother operations, and improved quality.

Better yet, the environmental benefits of Lean construction have been proven. In fact, Lean construction has resulted in dramatically less of an environmental impact by reducing material waste by 64%.

Step 3: Become LEED Certified

Getting certified to build green is one of the biggest steps forward you can take as a company. While there are some steps involved, it’s a very accessible process, and the U.S. Green Building Council is there to help you out with instructions and tips.

Note that LEED certification applies to buildings, not companies or individuals. That means for each building, you must apply for certification and submit the proper materials. If your project is approved, you can call your building LEED-certified, which increases its value and proves your commitment to the environment. While it might sound like a hassle to do this for each project, the process becomes pretty routine after you’ve done it a few times.

Step 4: Adopt Eco-Friendly Materials, Processes, and Structures

Adopting greener materials and procedures takes a long-term commitment. Overall, there are countless steps and substeps you can take to accomplish this, so don’t expect to knock it out all at once. Instead, keep your eyes open for ways to adopt new environmentally friendly construction materials, processes, and structures. While each adjustment you make may lead only to incremental savings, those will add up significantly over time. Plus, if you discover an area or process with rampant waste, you could potentially save big too.

A few areas to explore include:

  • New, green building materials such as bioconcrete and laminated timber
  • Passive heating and cooling
  • Reduction in the use of toxic materials
  • Rainwater collection
  • Energy-efficient lighting
  • Green roofs
  • Stormwater management
  • Optimizing building systems

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A Sustainable Construction Industry

Even if this year you implement just one of these above tactics, you’re already making significant headway to adopting greener construction practices.

Sustainability is critically important to the future of our environment and our industry. But sustainability doesn’t always have to be about ground-breaking, flagship projects. Every construction firm can do their bit by making incremental changes to building methods and materials.

As public and private sector clients become more environmentally aware, firms that can fulfil these demands will win–and be ready for any future legislative change. Building for the future can benefit everyone, tomorrow, and today.

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Grace Ellis

As Manager of Content Marketing Strategy at Autodesk and Editor in Chief of the Digital Builder Blog, Grace has nearly 15 years of experience creating world-class content for technology firms. She has been working within the construction technology space for the last 6+ years and is passionate about empowering industry professionals with cutting-edge tools and leading strategies that improve the quality of their jobs and lives.