The New Competitive Advantage: A Business Case for Sustainable Construction 

Green construction

Going green pays off for today’s building owners.   

Buildings that implement green or sustainable practices typically see lower energy costs. According to the International Energy Agency, "Building energy management systems have been shown to be able to deliver energy savings of 20% to 30%, arising from installing appliances that are more efficient and offer enhanced monitoring and control of energy use." 

But beyond benefits for owners, green construction practices can reap significant rewards for contractors. Today, governments and private entities are increasingly implementing environmental regulations and incentives that reward companies for adopting sustainable practices. The environmental, social, and governance (ESG) landscape is shifting in that more project owners and financiers are requiring construction companies to report on ESG measures.  

By going green, you're not just complying with these requirements; you're also putting your firm in the best position to win more jobs and potentially receive financial incentives. 

In an article on Ground Break Carolinas, Graycor's Brian Gallagher and Michelle Palys point out that "ESG should be embraced as a competitive advantage as opposed to viewing it as just another 'compliance' requirement." 

We couldn't agree more, and at Autodesk, we've seen firsthand the benefits of sustainable construction practices and how they can positively impact everyone involved—from owners and contractors to end users. 

Here are some ways you can integrate environmentally-friendly practices into your business and gain a competitive edge. 

Build the right culture 

Your eco-friendly efforts must be sustainable—and not just in the environmental sense. In order to win a competitive advantage, your firm must continuously uphold, support, and sustain your initiatives for the long-term. 

Why? Because the path to going green isn't always easy, and you’ll face several challenges along the way. So, the people executing your efforts must possess the right mindset and they need to be committed to your sustainability goals.  

In other words, you must infuse eco-friendly principles into your firm's DNA.  

Construction firms that want to make sustainability their competitive advantage have "got to look at their DNA," says Levi Naas, Director of Real Estate Development at MultiGreen Properties. "What is the DNA of their company? Do they have any sustainability initiatives going on? What is their culture like?" 

Tune in: [PODCAST] 3 Things We Learned About How Owners Are Driving Sustainable Construction

Going green in construction requires more than just implementing eco-friendly procedures. You need to cultivate a culture of sustainability and see to it that your team is dedicated to your goals for the long haul. 

Take control of your carbon impact 

Not only is the construction sector one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse-gas emissions, it's also the largest consumer of raw materials globally. 

"Construction is the number one consumer of raw materials in the world, and much of that material is sadly wasted," says Ben Thompson, Director of Sustainable Business at Autodesk. "The building sector accounts for almost 40% of waste in the developed West. In the US, that's twice the amount that's generated from municipal sources." 

As such, construction firms must strive to lower their emissions—and accomplishing that starts with measuring their carbon impact.  

You can do this by using the Embodied Carbon Calculator (EC3). This free tool can help the construction industry increase transparency and reduce emissions by measuring the embodied carbon in materials going into buildings. Architects, engineers, and contractors can use EC3 to make informed choices and select materials with the lowest climate footprint.  

Once you understand your carbon impact, you can take steps to improve. Depending on your firm and the projects you're taking on, such measures may include: 

  • Tapping into renewable energy sources 
  • Salvaging and reusing building materials 
  • Implementing energy-efficient practices 
  • Minimizing waste 
  • Choosing low-carbon materials 

Embrace reuse 

Construction waste is often sent to landfills, releasing greenhouse gases and other pollutants. That's why firms serious about reducing their environmental impact must make waste reduction a key component of their sustainability efforts.  

This is where material reuse comes in. Salvaging "waste" and using them as building materials can positively impact projects and communities, making them more sustainable, equitable, and resilient.  

For example, when Skanska worked on the Kendeda Building in Georgia, the team used reclaimed materials whenever possible. By working with the Lifecycle Building Center, the project salvaged 25,000 lineal feet of 2X4 lumber from TV and film sets and used those materials as non-structural spacers in the project's nail-laminated timber (NLT) decking panels. 

Plus, the project team prioritized equity by giving job opportunities to those who needed them most. Skanska partnered with a nonprofit called Georgia Works in Atlanta, which helps homeless men and those previously incarcerated find employment. Six men were hired to work on the project, and they used salvaged 2X4s to build 489 NLT panels. One of those workers was even offered a full-time construction job after completing the project. 

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Invest in sustainability tech and innovation  

Here's some good news: numerous technologies currently exist (and there's more tech being developed) to help construction firms be more sustainable. 

Take BIM, which enables architects, engineers, and construction professionals to collaborate virtually and stay on the same page. BIM makes it easy for teams to implement project changes and identify issues before construction begins, thus reducing waste and ensuring that projects are executed right the first time. Solutions like BIM pave the way for smarter decision-making and next-level sustainable practices.  

As Carol Battle, Principal Consultant for Autodesk's Sustainability Practices, puts it, "The technology breakthroughs over the last ten or so years have been around the data accessibility and access to the computing power that will make many of these new methodologies viable, whether it's offsite manufacturing to drive lower waste or design for deconstruction, integrated analysis or optimization, driving convergence,"  

She cites a Swedish study, which found that nearly 50% of emissions can be reduced by 50% using currently-available technologies. "They identified that the largest savings would be from the onsite machinery, transport, and asphalt." 

Carol continues, "And finally, emerging techniques is where companies can get early mover advantage—whether from material sciences and developing products or from integrating across the supply chain for waste and value. There's a significant opportunity available there."  

All to say that the construction industry has numerous sustainable technologies at its disposal that can help reduce waste and increase efficiency. With the availability of these technologies, you have the chance to gain a competitive advantage while also reducing your carbon footprint.  

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Greener Construction, Greener Profits 

If you made it this far, you know being sustainable involves many moving parts and requires committed teams, good processes, and solid technology. It can feel overwhelming, especially if you're early in your sustainability journey.  

Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to reduce your environmental footprint and build a stronger competitive advantage right now. The key is to start somewhere and keep moving forward. 

Todays’ construction professionals need best-in-class solutions to deliver new environments, advancing a sustainable world for today’s communities and future generations. With powerful predictive analytics and seamless workflows Autodesk Construction Cloud empowers innovators to shape a thriving future that is safer, inclusive and diverse

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.