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Decarbonising the construction industry: Opportunities and challenges

Jan 11, 2023

aerial image of sustainable green buildings

The construction industry is a key player driving global emissions. According to a UN report, the construction industry accounts for 37% of all energy-related carbon dioxide emissions, and it’s a major contributor to climate change. However, the industry has been slow to embrace sustainability initiatives because of the assumption that they reduce profits. While this may have been true in the past, recent improvements in material engineering and design have made sustainable construction profitable.

The construction industry is a crucial part of the global economy and has an important role to play in achieving sustainability goals. The industry is often not associated with sustainability, but this looks set to change as the ecosystem (the full life cycle of all buildings and infrastructure, from design and material manufacturing to construction, usage, and demolition) evolves.

Decarbonization initiatives are becoming increasingly more popular worldwide, which presents a significant opportunity for Asia-Pacific construction companies—but only if construction businesses view green building, decarbonisation and environmentally conscious future infrastructure as a strategic chance to collaborate with communities.

Demand for sustainable buildings

Today, many customers demand sustainable buildings. Customers want to know that when they invest in a new building or renovation, they are making smart choices for the future. Sustainable buildings have a lower carbon footprint and are more resilient to climate change. They also provide better indoor environmental quality and can often be designed with community-oriented features or modern aesthetics.

Additionally, many governments have set targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions from new construction activities. These requirements can drive up the cost of non-sustainable projects by potentially adding additional fees or requiring special equipment that may not otherwise be necessary for other types of construction projects.

Sustainability and profits are not necessarily mutually exclusive

While it may be a challenge to understand how sustainability can be profitable, there are many reasons why it can be—and often is. Sustainable construction companies can:

  • Create a smaller carbon footprint on the environment, which means less waste and fewer expenses for your business in terms of health insurance premiums, worker’s compensation claims, and other costs.
  • Cause less harm to human life by reducing exposure to toxic chemicals and implementing safer work environments for employees and contractors alike. This reduces workers’ compensation claims and health insurance premiums for your business.
  • Reduce business impact on the environment by reducing waste and conserving natural or non-renewable resources. This saves money on everything from energy costs to water bills.
  • Build a reputation as a company that cares about the environment and community. This attracts new customers, which increases your business’ revenue.

How can you reduce embodied carbon and remain profitable?

Embodied carbon is the total amount of greenhouse gases produced during building construction. By reducing your embodied carbon, you’re also reducing your negative impact on climate change. It’s possible to profit from reducing embodied carbon while still operating sustainably.

  • Reduce the number of materials used by choosing more efficient construction methods and tools, such as prefabricated elements and offsite manufacturing.
  • Use local materials or recycled or reclaimed building materials wherever possible.
  • Use a modular approach to construction, which allows you to build components offsite and then assemble them on-site. Modular construction can reduce waste and save time compared with traditional on-site building methods.
  • Use high-performance windows and doors to reduce energy loss in your home. For example, choose low-E glass with a high solar heat gain coefficient (SHGC) ratio that reduces energy use in buildings or industries.
  • Use natural ventilation to cool or heat your space without using air conditioning or heating systems.
  • Use digital construction tools to assess, track, and reduce embodied carbon emissions. For example, digital construction management software platforms like PlanRadar allow you to track and access all building-related data that provide detailed insights about your embodied carbon emissions and day-to-day energy usage.

Key decarbonisation initiatives in construction that can reduce costs

To achieve this, the construction industry needs to focus on specific decarbonisation initiatives that reduce costs:

1. Reducing the cost of construction

For example, by using materials with lower embodied carbon or using more efficient methods like prefabrication, it is possible to reduce costs in terms of materials and labour. Similarly, adopting new building technologies such as high-performance insulation can also help cut energy consumption and therefore costs.

2. Reducing the cost of maintenance

By making a building more resilient it will require less maintenance work over its lifetime – for example by installing effective shading devices on façades and windows to keep interiors cooler in summer months. Installing renewable energy systems such as photovoltaic panels. Or installing rainwater harvesting systems for irrigation purposes instead of mains water supply pipes that are vulnerable under frost weather conditions. Such measures will reduce operating expenses by reducing heating bills and reducing energy consumption overall.

3. Improving the quality of life

By making a building more resilient it will also improve the quality of life for those who occupy it. This can be achieved by creating living spaces that are comfortable in all seasons, acting as an effective insulator from both heat and cold, providing natural light and ventilation, and ensuring that there is a good level of security.

4. Improving the environmental performance

By making a building more resilient it will improve its environmental performance. This can be achieved by reducing waste, increasing recycling rates and reuse of materials, reducing energy consumption through efficient design, and reducing carbon emissions through the use of renewable energy sources.

5. Enhancing the economic performance

By making a building more resilient it will enhance its economic value. This can be achieved by ensuring that there is a good level of security, reducing waste and increasing recycling rates through efficient design, reducing energy consumption through effective insulation and ventilation systems, and providing natural light and ventilation.

6. Improving perceived social value

By making a building more resilient it will improve its social value. This can be achieved by creating living spaces that are comfortable in all seasons, acting as an effective insulator from both heat and cold, providing natural light and ventilation, and ensuring that there is a good level of security.

Conclusion

In recent years, sustainability has rapidly become one of the most frequent topics that construction businesses, stakeholders, customers, regulators and communities keep in mind for new construction projects. The need for global cooperation on this issue will likely become more apparent and more universally embraced. Sustainable construction is not a trend, it’s a way of life. By making the right choices in the design, planning, build, construction and operation phases of any construction project, you can help protect our planet and the profitability of your construction business at the same time.

Interested in using digital construction management tools to assess and reduce embodied carbon in your building projects? Start your 30-day free PlanRadar trial here.

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