Insights and Advice for Enabling More Efficient and Sustainable Construction

Sustainable Practices Needed To Meet Climate Change Targets

13 February, 2023
5 mins read

The construction industry, a significant contributor to global carbon emissions, must adopt more sustainable practices, especially if it wants to meet climate change mitigation targets by 2050.

Peter Damhuis, vice-president of RIB MEA, identifies three important aspects that construction firms must consider for a greener construction process and more sustainable industry: Design, supply chain consideration and decarbonising the construction process.

Design, the most critical element

The processing of raw materials for buildings and infrastructure developments and the actual construction processes are the two largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.

“Design is the most critical element in establishing the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions for the lifetime (cradle to grave) of a construction project. The design of a project affects the materials used, as each material has a different carbon footprint that will affect the initial carbon calculations,” he says.

Structural implications

The efficiency of the design can materially impact the energy consumption during the lifetime of the project. Decisions made during the design affect the construction process and the entire lifecycle of the building or infrastructure project and can have a significant impact on emissions for decades to come. 

Questions to ask that can affect the lifecycle costing of a development:

  • What glass is used and how does it affect the heat absorption or retention of the building?
  • Does the glass-to-concrete ratio affect the heating and cooling requirements?
  • Does the design include natural ventilation or evaporative cooling systems, which could result in lower energy requirements in the cooling system?
  • Must the structure be concrete or steel, and how would this impact heating in the winter and cooling in the summer?
  • Does the glass or the roof design include solar-generating capabilities?
  • Does the water system allow for greywater consumption for toilets?

Supply chain consideration

Design is closely followed by the supply chain as the second largest contributor to the carbon calculation. “Let’s consider concrete as an example: If the design calls for a concrete structure, then the project team needs to establish where it is sourcing its aggregates and what the haulage distance is – and determine how these two factors contribute to the carbon calculation.”

Project teams must establish how to maximise efficiency in the mix design by using “cement-free” concrete, which will make a vast difference to the carbon footprint. 

According to Damhuis, a carbon analysis is applicable to most materials, for example, recycled wood or glass. “Using recycled aggregates as part of your concrete or scraping roads to remove and recycle top layers for inclusion into a new asphalt layer is important to supply chain considerations.”

Other aspects that leave a carbon footprint

  • Where does the construction company source its labour?
  • How far must employees travel to the site?
  • What transport are they using?

Decarbonising the construction process

According to Damhuis, efficiency in construction to improve decarbonisation can be divided into three main areas of control:

  1. Wastage: Wastage can be reduced with a maximised supply chain, by ensuring that no materials are procured beyond what is required, and where waste is generated, it should be split and recycled.
  2. Plant utilisation: This includes factors such as using electricity versus fuels.
  3. Planning: Well-planned and executed projects are less resource intensive and are more likely to be completed on time.

Damhuis says the adoption of AEC-specific technology can help empower industry professionals to quantify, measure and track embodied carbon throughout the life of a project. “Technology is key to being able to do so. Pursuing a sustainable future cannot be an academic exercise. The call for more sustainable players grows louder, and the sustainability of construction companies could be seriously impacted if they don’t pursue a decarbonisation agenda.”

Building and Decor