6 Methods for a More Sustainable Construction Industry

Equipment efficient

Sustainability is rapidly gaining momentum on a global scale.

More countries have tightened up the regulations that govern the impact of construction on the local environment, from obligatory energy efficiency ratings and life-cycle assessments to transportation costs and the use of renewable materials.

As critical as these changes are to protecting our environment, there’s no denying that meeting modern sustainability requirements presents a challenge to construction companies and building owners alike. Presented with the costs inherent in meeting these new regulations, construction companies are faced with sacrificing profit margin or passing the costs onto building owners.

Building Sustainability Around the Globe

Fortunately, many jurisdictions see this challenge and offer certification programs that provide tax benefits for companies that meet the requirements. Examples include:

In some countries, businesses can achieve different levels of certification, with each level requiring higher levels of compliance. In the UK, for example, the highest levels of the Code for Sustainable Homes program address details down to the type of portable toilet used on the work site.

Sustainable Construction Methods

There are small, incremental changes even the smallest construction company can afford to make. And, taken as a whole, those small changes can make a big impact.

1. Make sustainability an inherent part of your business processes.

When you’ve been doing business the same way for a long time and suddenly have to change course, it’s easy to see those sustainability efforts as an “add-on” item. But it’s much more efficient and cost-effective to start from the very beginning with sustainability in mind.

Think of it like this: Let’s say your doctor tells you to go on a low-fat, low-carb, low-sugar diet. One way to do it would be to stare into your refrigerator before every meal, trying to figure out something you could do with whatever healthy ingredients you have on hand.

On the other hand, you could set yourself up for success by stocking your refrigerator and pantry with healthy ingredients as well as with kitchen tools like non-stick cookware. Instead of trying to cobble something together for each meal, you’d have everything you need for your new, healthy lifestyle on hand.

That same holistic approach is important for success in sustainable construction. One way to start would be by establishing a network of vendors who can provide you with sustainable building materials. You could also change your hiring practices to prioritize employees with experience in sustainable construction — or you could train your existing employees.

Those are just examples. The key is to build sustainability into everything you do rather than trying to force it into and around your existing business processes.

2. Consider the benefits of prefabrication.

There are two primary benefits of switching to a prefabrication model. For one thing, it allows for economies of scale, with employees producing prefabricated components in an assembly-line process, allowing for greater speed and efficiency. You could still easily deliver customized solutions to your customers, but that customization would be accomplished through the way the various components are put together to achieve the final design.

The second benefit is reduced energy consumption. Moving heavy machinery from site to site consumes a lot of fuel. Leaving the equipment at one central location and transporting only the necessary components can save a significant amount of fuel.

3. Standardize processes.

When you approach each construction project differently, you waste a lot of time waiting for employees to get up to speed on what’s needed for that particular project.

When you standardize processes, projects get completed more quickly, more efficiently, and with less waste due to mistakes.

Using prefabricated components is an ideal way to standardize processes. Once employees learn how to build a wall using ICF blocks, for example, that knowledge can be applied across multiple projects and construction sites with no need to “reinvent the wheel.”

4. Prioritize suppliers who source locally.

In addition to streamlining your own transportation costs, you can also consider transportation costs when choosing suppliers.

One way to do that is by choosing suppliers who use materials that are widely available, like concrete. Another way of accomplishing that is by focusing on materials that cost little to transport, like the polystyrene formwork used in ICF blocks.

5. Use equipment efficiently.

Every minute a piece of machinery idles or is used inappropriately increases both energy costs and your project’s carbon footprint. Plan your workday so that each piece of equipment and any required materials are ready when they’re needed.

In the long term, look for ways to reduce the need for heavy machinery and power tools by selecting materials that can be constructed in more environmentally-friendly ways.

6. Minimize waste.

Some construction waste may be inevitable, but a surprising amount can be reduced or even eliminated.

One simple step is to choose materials or suppliers that require little packaging. Using components made from recycled materials is another easy way to minimize construction waste. Another opportunity for waste reduction is to train employees to separate and categorize waste as it’s generated, laying the groundwork for later recycling efforts.

Moving Towards Our Sustainable Future area

When you’re looking at your P&L statement, it can be easy to become resentful of increased environmental legislation.

In the long term, however, the construction industry stands to benefit as much as the environment. Tighter regulations lead to innovation, as businesses adapt their products and processes to meet the new requirements without sacrificing profit.

And as consumers become more aware of the health and environmental benefits of sustainable buildings, the companies with a proven track record in sustainable design will have a competitive advantage that will be hard to beat.