5 Keys to More Sustainable Construction

The terms green” and sus­tain­able” are thrown around a lot, espe­cial­ly in the con­struc­tion industry today. They both describe more efficient, envi­ron­men­tal­ly-respon­si­ble ways of using resources in our industry.

In the past, only specialty builders marketed them­selves as green. Now, around one-third of the U.S. con­struc­tion sector is con­sid­ered green, with the USGBC calling green con­struc­tion a major U.S. economic driver.”

So how can con­trac­tors and builders keep up if green building is playing a massive role in the U.S. con­struc­tion sector?” Builders and con­trac­tors need strate­gies to ensure they’re meeting client demands and keeping up with new standards and regulations.

1. Understand Green Codes and Regulations

Green con­struc­tion is an evolving industry. If a builder or designer is serious about adopting more eco-friendly practices, there are some guide­lines to navigate. There’s a challenge, though, in deter­min­ing which green building standards and codes are relevant.

Because of the growing demand for sus­tain­able con­struc­tion, there are several orga­ni­za­tions that have developed relevant codes and rating systems. There are local, national and inter­na­tion­al programs that all address best practices for sus­tain­able con­struc­tion. Some are simply voluntary programs, but some are mandatory building codes adopted and enforced by local author­i­ties having jurisdiction.

But the Inter­na­tion­al Code Council saw the need for a mandatory baseline of codes that addresses green con­struc­tion. His­tor­i­cal­ly, local and state author­i­ties used sub­sti­tute codes” for these types of con­struc­tion guidelines.

The Inter­na­tion­al Green Con­struc­tion Code (IgCC) was drafted in 2010 to give the building industry a model for building code reg­u­la­tions. These standards encourage sus­tain­able con­struc­tion and work within the framework of the ICC Family of Codes. For example, the City of Dallas Texas adopted the 2015 IgCC with amend­ments in 2017.

By adhering to the most up-to-date codes, archi­tects and builders can ensure they’re designing buildings that are more efficient and have a positive impact on the com­mu­ni­ties they’re built in.

2. Reduce On-site Waste

Con­struc­tion projects produce a sig­nif­i­cant amount of waste. A sus­tain­able con­struc­tion project is one that manages and reduces con­struc­tion waste effectively.

The Whole Building Design Guide provides extensive strate­gies and resources on managing waste at the job site. But, as with any con­struc­tion project, planning and project man­age­ment will ulti­mate­ly dictate whether waste reduction is accom­plished within the estab­lished cost, schedule, and quality parameters.”

You can plan ahead for waste reduction with some of the following strategies:

  • Purchase materials in bulk where possible to avoid waste from indi­vid­ual packaging
  • Use return­able or reusable containers
  • Have sub­con­trac­tors use scrap instead of cutting new materials
  • Recycle any damaged com­po­nents, products, and materials
  • Contract with recycling firms for specific materials
  • Prior to any demo­li­tion on a project, salvage any usable material on site
  • Schedule time into your projects for salvaging materials and managing waste

These kinds of sus­tain­able practices can pay off big in the long run.

In 2008 con­trac­tors from, the Stapleton Project used just over 4.6 million pounds of recycled concrete aggregate from the runways of the former Stapleton Airport in Denver. They used this recycled material to construct several buildings and other projects in the region.

Con­trac­tors on this project noticed little, if any, dif­fer­ence in the recycled material, including the ability to pump and finish, and recorded higher end strengths than found in tra­di­tion­al mix designs.”

3. Off-Site Engineering and Modular Construction

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Sta­tis­tics reports that 57% of activ­i­ties in con­struc­tion are wasteful. More inno­v­a­tive building strate­gies like modular con­struc­tion have been estab­lished to help mitigate this kind of waste.

Modular con­struc­tion helps to speed up the project’s schedule and, because it’s man­u­fac­tured off-site, produces less waste on the site. Modules often use less material, as well, which helps to optimize a project for effi­cien­cy even further.

Marriott Inter­na­tion­al has embraced the use of pre­fab­ri­cat­ed con­struc­tion, and around 10% of its projects in 2017 involved some form of off-site con­struc­tion. The modular design speeds up the con­struc­tion schedule and brings con­sis­ten­cy to the overall design.

Owners can open hotels faster, put asso­ciates to work earlier and generate revenues sooner,” said Eric Jacobs with Marriott.

Not only is modular con­struc­tion a more sus­tain­able solution, it offers project effi­cien­cy: something that’s sure to keep clients happy.

4. Water Conservation and Management

Water is an increas­ing­ly precious resource, and the con­struc­tion industry can do their part by using recycled water or finding ways to reduce how they use it.

During an ongoing drought in 2015, the Western Municipal Water District of Cal­i­for­nia (WMWD) began using recycled water at con­struc­tion sites.

This strategy helped to free up enough drinking water for customers in its service area. WMWD supplied roughly 10 con­struc­tion sites with recycled water, achieving com­pli­ance with California’s stricter water con­ser­va­tion requirements.

Even outside of drought-ridden climates, strate­gies like this can be employed to help conserve water and other resources. The WBDG provides addi­tion­al tips on water con­ser­va­tion and man­age­ment, including:

  • Water system audits
  • Low-flush toilets
  • Water-efficient land­scap­ing
  • Using reclaimed or treated water

5. Plan for the Future

Did you know that Americans are saving on energy costs because they’re spending more time at home?

Studies have shown that Americans spent nearly eight more days at home in 2012 compared to 2003, and even when we allow for displaced energy con­sump­tion — such as the elec­tric­i­ty required to run server farms — they consumed less energy,” states Ashok Sekar and Eric Williams, who published the study.

This is good news,” say Sekar and Williams, but it also raises important concerns about making home energy use more efficient.”

The res­i­den­tial con­struc­tion sector can play a positive role in this growing trend by designing homes that encourage sus­tain­abil­i­ty and minimize energy use. Passive solar design, for instance, can con­tribute to net zero energy use, and using materials that con­tribute to thermal mass can also help home­own­ers save on energy costs.

Green is Not a Trend. It’s the Future.

Demand for green building will only continue to grow as indi­vid­u­als, busi­ness­es and insti­tu­tions continue to pri­or­i­tize sus­tain­able approach­es to the design, con­struc­tion and oper­a­tions of our built envi­ron­ment,” said Rick Fedrizzi with USGBC.

It’s not a luxury anymore: sus­tain­able, func­tion­al homes and buildings are the new standard. And by employing these greener practices, we will only help to move the industry ahead further. Green con­struc­tion gives us more building solutions, more jobs and a brighter future.