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.