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    Build Better: How Sustainability Plays a Role in the Future of Building Materials

    How Sustainability Plays a Role in the Future of Building Materials

    Sustainable building practices have gained significant momentum in recent years as we all grow increasingly aware of the environmental and economic challenges posed by conventional construction methods and the production and use of some building materials. The built environment has a substantial impact on human lives, accounting for a significant portion of global energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.  

    According to global management consultants McKinsey & Company, the built environment accounts for 14.4 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent of emissions around the world every year. How big is just one gigaton? About twice the mass of all the people in the world, according to Energy Education and NASA. (Please don’t make us do the math for 14.4.) 

    Approximately 26% of all greenhouse gas emissions and 37% of combustion-related emissions come from the construction industry and operation of the built environment. 

    “Emissions come from all phases of the construction process, from carbon-intensive material production processes and suboptimal technology choices to inefficient building designs, construction practices and energy use after projects are completed,” according to McKinsey. “Although many solutions already exist to abate both operational and embodied emissions, the clock is ticking on their implementation. Operational emissions are constantly being released from already-built construction, and once embodied emissions are released, they can only be offset, not abated.” 

    In other words, we can’t abate that bell once it’s rung. 

    In response to these concerns, sustainable building practices have emerged as a critical solution for reducing the environmental footprint of construction while offering a wide range of benefits.  

    Let’s look at six sustainable building benefits that those in the industry should consider for long-term business (and human!) growth. 

    Environmental Stewardship (green construction = less environmental impact) 

    One of the most obvious advantages of sustainable building practices is the reduction of environmental impact. Conventional building processes deplete finite natural resources, emit harmful greenhouse gases and disrupt local ecosystems. In contrast, green construction emphasizes the use of renewable materials, energy-efficient designs and responsible building techniques. 

    Sustainable buildings are designed to be energy-efficient. This can involve using insulation, high quality windows and energy-efficient appliances to reduce energy consumption. Additionally, renewable energy sources, such as solar panels and wind turbines, can be incorporated to generate clean energy and further reduce the carbon footprint. 

    Green buildings prioritize the use of renewable and recycled materials, which decreases the demand for new resources and minimizes waste. Timber from responsibly managed forests (because the impact of deforestation and future growth of trees due to global warming and wildfires is an issue), reclaimed materials and recycled steel are just a few examples of sustainable construction materials. Add to that list other materials, such as hemp and bamboo, and the options for materials that lessen the impact on our environment expand.  

    A good building materials example of wise use of waste products is RISE building products, including high-performing siding that’s sourced using synthetic fibers from the automotive, packaging and insulation industries. These synthetic fibers come from post-consumer and post-industrial recycle and waste streams, which makes RISE siding a preferable alternative to cement, PVC and wood-based products. 

    Green building often involves thoughtful site planning to minimize disturbances to local ecosystems. Preservation of natural vegetation, controlled stormwater management and efforts to reduce soil erosion all contribute to safeguarding the environment. 

    Lower Operating Costs 

    Sustainable buildings are designed with a focus on long-term cost savings for both homeowners and businesses. While the initial investment may be slightly higher than conventional construction, the ongoing operational costs are significantly lower. 

    “Many people still believe that green buildings are significantly more expensive than regular structures, but in reality, they are indeed the opposite of that, according to Smart CRE. “Green buildings cost 2% more to build on average, but they save 14% to 19% in operational expenditures.” 

    Energy savings lies within the category of lower costs. Energy-efficient designs and systems reduce utility bills by consuming less energy. Proper insulation and energy-efficient appliances ensure consistent indoor temperatures, lowering heating and cooling expenses. 

    Almost everyone is familiar with how energy-efficient designs and systems reduce costs by consuming less energy, but what about water efficiency? Green buildings incorporate water-saving fixtures and systems, reducing water consumption and cutting water bills. Rainwater harvesting (not just for homeowners!) and greywater recycling systems further contribute to water conservation. Go here for further economic insights on greywater systems, or here

    Sustainable materials and building techniques often result in lower maintenance costs, as we know. When buildings are designed for longevity, they require fewer repairs and replacement (of course). 

    Improved health for humans, including improved indoor air quality 

    Another reason why sustainability plays such a big role in the future of building materials comes down to the health of our friends and neighbors across the globe.  

    Remember when things like lead pipe and asbestos were frequently used and seemed like a keen idea? Over time, it became clear that these parts of a building could contribute to people becoming ill and dying. And hazardous materials are everywhere. 

    “In addition to paints and varnishes, lead-containing building materials can include window glazing putty; batteries for lighting, exit signs, and security systems; solders and pipes; mortar; acoustic materials; flashing; plastic coloring (wiring and blinds); and ceramic glazes,” according to Terracon, a consulting engineering firm that specializes in environmental, facilities, geotechnical and materials services. 

    Green buildings prioritize indoor air quality, which benefits the health and well-being of the building’s occupants. (Think about how much time people spend in a commercial building. Yes, even after the pandemic and enduring status of remote work.)This is achieved by using effective ventilation systems, humidity control and non-toxic materials, including low or zero-VOC (volatile organic compound) paints, finishes and adhesives. 

    High-quality ventilation systems efficiently exchange indoor and outdoor air, ensuring a constant supply of fresh, clean air and  proper humidity control helps prevent mold growth and maintains a comfortable and healthy indoor environment—whether it’s residential or commercial.  

    (We’re going to slip in information on greener HVAC systems here and here.) 

    Enhanced Structural Resilience 

    Sustainable buildings are often more resilient in the face of natural disasters. Their design and construction can better withstand extreme weather events, such as hurricanes, earthquakes and wildfires. 

    Sustainable buildings are often constructed with robust structural design, which may include more durable materials and better engineering that makes them better equipped to withstand natural disasters, states The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), an agency of the United States Department of Commerce. 

    “As an example of an innovative strategy for enhancing robustness, preliminary NIST research has demonstrated that local debonding of reinforcing bars at critical locations can delay fracture and enhance the capacity of reinforced concrete moment frames by as much as 30%,” according to  NIST. “A key technical idea in support of this work is the robustness index, a metric for structural robustness developed by NIST researchers that represents the ratio between the ultimate capacity of the damaged structural system and the applicable gravity loads acting on the system.” 

    RELATED: Green Building Product Trends

    Sustainable buildings can incorporate fire-resistant materials and designs that reduce the risk of wildfire damage. The 60,000 U.S. communities face-to-face with the threat of wildfire are familiar with resources overseen by the U.S. Fire Administration, a division of FEMA, that regulates codes that include building materials and their compliance in the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI). Building better is not only wise, according to the fire administration, but it’s required by the International Code Council. Those unsure about fire incidence can look at the 

    Federal Fire Occurrence Map Viewer, which provides users with the ability to query, research and download wildland fire occurrence data. 

    Some sustainable building practices include flood-resistant design (flood mitigation) features that help protect against water damage in flood-prone areas. 

    “Flooding is the most common and expensive natural disaster in the United States. Mitigation projects—which encompass a range of preventive solutions—are the most cost-effective strategy for decreasing flood risk. According to research conducted by the National Institute of Building Sciences, for every $1 that the federal government spends on flood mitigation, it saves $6 in avoided costs if a flood were to occur. The amount of community stress and heartbreak these projects prevent is unquantifiable,” according to Headwaters Economics

    Increased Property Value and Better Resale Value 

    In the same way, more buyers want to choose buildings and homes that are environmentally friendly. This means that properties with these types of materials hold their resale value much higher and longer than those that don’t. 

    Simply put, energy efficiency and other similar objectives are essential in the construction industry. If your brand and company isn’t working to be a part of this process, there’s a good chance you’ll be overlooked for a competitor who makes this aspect part of its long-range business. 

    Sustainable buildings have been shown to have higher property values and appeal to a broader range of buyers. Buyers are increasingly interested in energy-efficient, eco-friendly homes, making sustainable properties more desirable on the real estate market. 

    Green buildings often qualify for energy efficiency tax credits, incentives, and rebates, providing a financial advantage to homeowners and businesses, according to Energystar.gov. 

    “The Inflation Reduction Act of 2022 updates and extends the New Energy Efficient Home Credit. For homes and apartments acquired on or after January 1, 2023, the tax credit for home builders is specifically tied to certification to an eligible version of the relevant ENERGY STAR program requirements for single-family, manufactured, and multifamily homes. The tax credit has been extended through 2032.” 

    As environmental awareness grows, so does the demand for sustainable properties. This can translate into increased resale value for such buildings. Curious what the market demand is for green building? Go here

    Enhanced aesthetics can also be a feature of sustainable buildings. Green structures often highlight innovative and attractive designs that can set them apart in the real estate market. 

    Positive Public Perception, aka People Like Products That Are Green 

    Consumers often want to work with companies that put environmental causes at the forefront. This includes when they choose specific brands to work with when building a home or office. When your brand or company is known as a green building company, those who care are much more likely to choose your products over those of your competitors. This is even true if your items are just a little bit higher in terms of price. 

    Green buildings contribute positively to an organization, company’s or individual’s public image. Embracing sustainability demonstrates a commitment to environmental responsibility, which can lead to greater community support and enhanced reputation. (The reason sustainability is becoming such a big part of the building materials industry comes down to society’s increased responsibility for manufacturers. Consumers now demand that these items are safe for people and the environment, which means ensuring your company is paying attention.) 

    For businesses, sustainable building practices demonstrate corporate responsibility, which can attract environmentally conscious customers and partners. Sustainable buildings often involve community engagement and support. This can lead to stronger community ties and a more favorable standing. 

    RELATED: 5 Ways to Boost and Improve Public Relations

    Sustainable building projects can inspire others to follow suit, becoming a beacon of environmental leadership in a community. Maybe it leads to your company or organization featured here or reflected in a status-of-the-industry report like this from McKinsey. And, let’s not forget the U.S. Green Building Council.  

    Sustainable building practices offer a multitude of benefits, ranging from environmental conservation to lower operating costs, improved human health, enhanced resilience, increased property value, and positive public perceptions. As the world faces pressing environmental challenges, embracing sustainability in the built environment is not merely a trend, but a necessity for a more sustainable future.  

    By considering these six sustainable building benefits, individuals, businesses and communities can contribute to a healthier planet while enjoying numerous economic and social advantages. 

    If you’re interested in a deeper conversation about green building, or how to amplify the progress your company or business is making, call or email. We’d love to start a conversation.  


    FAQs

    Why are sustainable building practices important?

    Sustainable building practices are crucial because they reduce environmental impact, lower greenhouse gas emissions, and conserve natural resources.

    How much carbon dioxide equivalent do built environments contribute globally?

    The built environment accounts for 14.4 metric gigatons of carbon dioxide equivalent emissions annually, which is roughly twice the mass of all people on Earth.

    What percentage of greenhouse gas emissions come from the construction industry?

    Approximately 26% of all greenhouse gas emissions and 37% of combustion-related emissions originate from the construction industry and operation of built environments.

    How do sustainable buildings reduce energy consumption?

    Sustainable buildings achieve energy efficiency through insulation, energy-efficient appliances, and the integration of renewable energy sources like solar panels and wind turbines.

    What materials are commonly used in green construction?

    Sustainable construction materials include recycled and renewable resources such as responsibly managed timber, reclaimed materials, recycled steel, hemp, and bamboo.

    About The Author

    Elton Mayfield

    Elton's career spans media, production, digital and building industry expertise. His diverse experience makes him nimble, innovative, and curious – always pushing the envelope to create extraordinary work that delivers real results for our clients.

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