Sustainable Construction, Beyond a Trend: Benefits and Opportunities to Save Our Planet
In recent years, sustainable construction has evolved significantly, becoming a priority for the construction sector to address the challenges of climate change and the need to move towards a more sustainable world.
Efficiency in energy use, the utilization of sustainable materials, user-centered design, and adherence to certifications and regulations are some of the key trends driving sustainable construction today.
What is Sustainable Construction?
Sustainable construction involves the practice of building structures in a way that minimizes their environmental impact and maximizes energy efficiency. This encompasses the selection of eco-friendly construction materials, the use of sustainable construction practices, and the design of buildings aimed at maximizing energy efficiency while minimizing waste and carbon footprint.
Sustainable construction also considers that buildings are safe and healthy for occupants, providing an improved quality of life. Selection of construction materials that do not emit toxic chemicals, design for resistance to natural disasters, and the use of ventilation and lighting systems promoting occupant health and well-being are crucial aspects.
Benefits of Sustainable Construction
Numerous benefits are attributed to sustainable construction, both from an environmental perspective and for the occupants of the buildings. Key advantages include the reduction of carbon footprint and environmental impact during construction, operation, and maintenance phases. Limiting the use of natural resources and improving energy efficiency contribute to cost savings in operation and maintenance over the life cycle of the building.
Sustainable buildings have been shown to enhance the quality of life for occupants by providing healthy and comfortable environments with better air quality, natural light, and appropriate temperatures. This close ancestral connection between humans and nature is known as biophilia.
Sustainable construction is also a tool that facilitates compliance with new regulations such as the Código Técnico de la Edificación CTE and environmental certifications such as LEED or BREEAM, increasing the value and reputation of buildings and experiencing growing demand from clients, users, and real estate investors.
In general, sustainable construction is a way to contribute to sustainable development by promoting responsible and environmentally friendly practices, fostering a greener and more efficient economy.
Design of Sustainable Buildings
The design phase is a key element of sustainable construction. Sustainable buildings are designed with a highly efficient envelope to maximize energy efficiency and reduce carbon footprint, minimizing energy and water needs. This involves using nature-based or very low-carbon footprint materials and enhancing natural ventilation and lighting.
Advanced technology in digitalization and industrialized construction plays a significant role in this sustainable building design phase, contributing to a significant reduction in construction waste and carbon footprint.
Sustainable Construction Materials
The choice of materials is a critical factor when aiming for constructions with minimal environmental impact and improved well-being for occupants. This involves selecting materials and products with a low environmental impact during production, transportation, use, and disposal. Examples include recycled or recyclable materials, those obtained from renewable sources, and materials with a longer life cycle requiring less maintenance or that can have a second life by being disassembled and reassembled.
Materials such as certified wood (FSC, PEFC) from sustainably managed forests, recycled materials like textiles, wood fiber, or recycled paper and cardboard, and materials from renewable sources like sugarcane, hemp, bamboo, or straw-based boards (wheat, rice) are examples of sustainable construction materials. To be considered sustainable, these materials must ensure safety and health for building occupants, avoiding the emission of toxic chemicals.
Energy Efficiency in Sustainable Construction
Buildings account for 40% of the EU’s energy consumption and 36% of greenhouse gas emissions, primarily generated during their construction, use, renovation, and demolition.
Energy efficiency is a fundamental aspect of sustainable construction, focusing on the use of materials and techniques to reduce the energy consumption of buildings. This includes the use of insulating materials, efficient lighting systems, natural ventilation, and the use of renewable energies such as solar or wind.
As mentioned earlier, the design of these buildings promotes the maximum use of natural light and the use of automated control systems for energy management. Through passive strategies such as building orientation, natural ventilation, and shading elements, sustainable and energy-efficient buildings are achieved.
Certifications for Sustainable Construction
Certifications for sustainable construction are awarded by independent organizations that assess the environmental performance and energy efficiency of buildings. In addition to demonstrating a commitment to sustainability, these certifications provide a competitive advantage in the real estate and construction market, increasing the chances of sales by up to 10%. Hence, there is a growing demand for such certifications from buyers, investors, and end-users.
Internationally renowned certifications include LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Methodology), and WELL, focusing on environmental sustainability, energy performance, and the health and well-being of occupants, respectively.
When granting these credentials, a wide range of aspects is evaluated, from the choice of sustainable materials and the implementation of energy management systems to the monitoring of indoor air quality and other external variables such as proximity to public transportation systems, mobility, modification of natural terrain, water absorption from the ground, and other related issues.
These certifications not only focus on new buildings but can also be applied to existing buildings that have been renovated or upgraded to meet sustainability standards.
Examples and References of Sustainable Construction Projects
There are already many examples of sustainable construction projects worldwide, from commercial buildings to residential structures, proving that sustainable construction is not only possible but also profitable. Examples include Bosco Verticale in Milan, Hyperion Wooden Tower, more modest social housing projects like the 85 social housing units in Cornellá, or projects achieving a zero CO2 footprint such as Entrepatios.
At Woodea, we advocate for efficient, sustainable, and profitable construction based on a model that relies on digitization, industrialization, component-based construction, lean construction methodology to optimize processes, and the choice of sustainable materials such as technical wood.
The Future of Sustainable Construction
As demonstrated throughout this post, sustainable construction is not only necessary to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect the environment but also to improve the quality of life for people by providing healthier, more comfortable, and energy-efficient housing.
With the current carbon footprint of buildings and the carbon budget available to the Spanish construction sector between 2021 and 2050 (751 MtCO2), only 300,000 new homes could be built in that period, equivalent to 10,345 homes per year, compared to the required 160,000 homes, according to Green Building Council Spain (GBCe) sources.
If we want to meet the current demand for housing, it is urgent to adopt a change in approach: by incorporating sustainable practices in construction, we reduce the environmental footprint of our cities and ensure a more sustainable future for generations to come.
Extending sustainable construction is a crucial step towards achieving a better future in our cities and homes. It is a responsibility for all of us to work together to accomplish this goal. Stay tuned for our upcoming steps at Woodea!