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.