The Construction Industry’s Role In Sustainability

If you live in an urban city, it’s a pretty common sight to see construction cranes dotting the skyline. Every month, it seems like more buildings are towering above us and new homes are taking over our surface area. The construction industry never appears to be out of work, but is it working as smart as it could be? I’m not just talking about business acumen, but rather the idea of sustainability and green initiatives being built directly into the new buildings we are constructing. Sustainability isn’t always top of mind when it comes to construction, which is why the demand needs to begin at home. Prospective property renters, buyers, and managers need to think more innovatively about green architecture, the buildings they choose to inhabit, and the properties they invest in.

When it comes to sustainable building construction, if you demand it, the industry will move towards it. Here are a few reasons why it’s smart to get into the headspace that “design is destiny” – why we need to start having higher ecological and sustainable standards for our buildings.

The Increasing Sustainability Concerns

Think about the construction you see every day: the condos, the office towers, the modern houses. It’s true that you might see solar panels installed, or a lighting system that uses LED bulbs, but on a whole the focus seems to be more on quantity over quality – especially when it comes to sustainability and environmental initiatives. There simply aren’t enough considerations being taken towards creating homes and buildings for the future, rather than the short term.

There’s also the ongoing issue of carbon emissions and waste output, particularly in terms of the huge office buildings that cost a ton of money to operate. You’ve noticed how often many of these buildings are lit up at night when nobody’s there working, right? That’s a big problem in terms of energy use. The same kind of wastefulness can be seen with the amount of garbage and non-recycled materials that’s put out by the businesses occupying these buildings. Although some companies are pushing to adopt green initiatives, the mindset shift hasn’t reached a fever point yet – and time’s running out.

Let’s not forget the ecological impact of construction itself. Given the amount of fuel burned and greenhouse gases released throughout the construction period, the very act of putting up a new building can have a huge carbon footprint. Again, it often feels as though the construction industry is driven by profit and results in the short term, rather than considering what the landscape may look like in the next few decades. Unfortunately, it’s entirely possible that continuous construction could push out green living spaces from urban centers.

However, the strongest voice for change can come from customers, tenants, renters, and investors who decide that they’d rather choose buildings and residences that align with sustainable and ecological values.

The Rise of the WELL Building Standard

A great example of a pioneer in the sustainable construction field is Delos, the company behind the WELL Building Standard of certification. Delos recognized that we customarily spend the majority of our waking lives inside buildings, and the quality and construction of those buildings can have a monumental impact on our health and well-being. According to their official statement, “The WELL Building Standard sets performance requirements in seven categories relevant to occupant health in the built environment – Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort and Mind… WELL Certification is based on performance and requires a passing score in each of the seven categories of the WELL Building Standard.”

This certification is putting the health of citizens and the good of the environment ahead of mass profits and fast construction, which is the direction construction should be headed. By creating this set of core values for other companies and architecture firms to follow, Delos is proving that sustainability isn’t just about operations, it’s about designing with long-term inhabitants in mind. This type of thinking isn’t just wishful, either – we have seen a significant increase in customers who choose to do new construction for their business in addition to simply owning and operating buildings. Many of these customers are ecologically savvy and looking to implement programs like the WELL Building Standard for their new buildings. Sustainability can and should be addressed in the early stages of building planning, and we’re seeing an increasing number of people and organizations adopt that mentality.

The increase of green construction year-over-year is a fact that can’t be ignored. A 2015 article from the U.S. Green Building Council noted the following statistics: “This year it is estimated that 40-48 percent of new nonresidential construction will be green, equating to a $120-145 billion opportunity. 62 percent of firms building new single-family homes report that they are doing more than 15 percent of their projects green. By 2018, that percentage increases to 84 percent.” Now that we’re only two years away from 2018, and more customers are calling out for accountability in environmentally friendly construction, more companies ought to take note: Not only are sustainably built structures good for the environment, but they’re good business for construction companies, too.

Design is Destiny

The notion of corporate eco-responsibility is at an all-time high, particularly when it comes to carbon emissions and other man-made impacts on the environment. While many tend to think of vehicles as the number one culprit, the construction industry holds quite a large share of responsibility as well. Yet as consumers move the needle towards sustainable practices and the desire for green buildings, there’s much more of a chance that construction companies will begin to adopt programs such as the WELL Building Standard. Building companies are going to go where the money is, so consumers need to remember that they have the power to make the greatest change for the environment.

Sustainability in construction needs to take root in the planning stages, rather than simply being a band-aid solution or a facade slapped on top of an aging office building. If we don’t build right in terms of what materials we source, what locations we select, and keeping occupant health and wellness in mind, the building created will never be truly sustainable – irrespective of how many LED bulbs we use or what “green cleaning” service provider we select. It’s time to start demanding more from the buildings we live in – and that starts from the ground up.

How do you feel about the concept of sustainable buildings? Do you think something like the WELL Building Standard will catch on across the construction industry? Let me know what you think in the comments.


Image courtesy of Flickr. Originally published by S&S on July 11, 2016.


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