Sustainability in construction

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Precise definitions of sustainable construction vary from place to place, and are constantly evolving to encompass varying approaches and priorities. In the United States, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines sustainable construction as "the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building's life-cycle from siting to design, construction, operation, maintenance, renovation and deconstruction."[1] The Netherlands defines sustainable construction as "a way of building which aims at reducing (negative) health and environmental impacts caused by the construction process or by buildings or by the built-up environment."[2] Key concepts include the protection of the natural environment, choice of non-toxic materials, reduction and reuse of resources, waste minimization, and the use of life-cycle cost analysis.

Definition of sustainable construction[edit]

The definition of "Sustainable Construction" is a living concept and varies in different scenarios based on peoples’ needs. Taken as the starting point, the definition above has been reinterpreted and expanded based on different approaches and priorities from country to country. In a study led by the International Council for Research and Innovation in Building and Construction (CIB) and carried out with the collaboration of experts from countries around the world, different definitions were given. For example, in the Netherlands, the government sustainable policy was based on energy, mineral resources, land use and biodiversity, and they defined sustainable construction as "a way of building which aims at reducing (negative) health and environmental impacts caused by the construction process or by buildings or by the built-up environment."[2]

Evolution Path[edit]

In the 1970s, awareness of sustainability emerged, [3] amidst oil crises happened. At that time, people began to realize the necessity and urgency of energy conservation, which is to utilize energy in an efficient way and find alternatives to contemporary sources of energy. Additionally, shortages of other natural resources at that time, such as water, also raised public attention to the importance of sustainability and conservation.[3] In the late 1960s, the construction industry began to explore ecological approaches to construction, aiming to seek harmony with nature.[4]

Sustainable development interconnects three socially concerned systems, environment, society and economy, with systems approach then generates its goal defined by United Nations Development Program.[5]

The construction industry's response to sustainable development is sustainable construction.[2] In 1994, the definition of sustainable construction was given by Professor Charles J. Kibert during the Final Session of the First International Conference of CIB TG 16 on Sustainable Construction as “the creation and responsible management of a healthy built environment based on resource efficient and ecological principles”.[6] According to Professor Charles J. Kibert, compared with the traditional concerns in construction (performance, quality, cost), the criteria of sustainable construction has become resource depletion, environmental degradation and healthy environment,[7] and there were also 6 principles set for sustainable construction:

  • Minimize resource consumption (Conserve)
  • Maximize resource reuse (Reuse)
  • Use renewable or recyclable resources (Renew/Recycle)
  • Protect the natural environment (Protect Nature)
  • Create a healthy, non-toxic environment (Non-Toxics)
  • Pursue quality in creating the built environment (Quality)

Since 1994, much progress to sustainable construction has been made all over the world. In 1995, a study led by International Council for Research and Innovation in Building and Construction (CIB) was carried out with the collaboration of experts from countries around the world. The purpose of it was to study the vision of sustainable construction in the attended countries.[2]

Today, the adoption of sustainable construction is surprising. According to 2015 Green Building Economic Impact Study released by U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), green building industry contributes more than $134.3 billion in labor income to working Americans. The study also found that green construction’s growth rate is rapidly outpacing that of conventional construction and will continue to rise.[8]

Why Encourage Sustainable Construction[edit]

Current State[edit]

According to United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), “the increased construction activities and urbanization will increase waste which will eventually destroy natural resources and wild life habitats over 70% of land surface from now up to 2032.[9] Moreover, construction uses around half of natural resources that humans consume. Production and transport of building materials consumes 25 - 50 percent of all energy used (depending on the country considered).[10] Taking UK as a sample, the construction industry counts for 47% of CO2 emission, of which manufacturing of construction products and materials accounts for the largest amount within the process of construction.[3]


By implementing sustainable construction, benefits such as lower cost, environmental protection, sustainability promotion, and expansion of the market may be achieved during the construction phase.

Potential lower cost[edit]

Sustainable construction might result in higher investment at the construction stage of projects, the competition between contractors, due to the promotion of sustainability in the industry, would encourage the application of sustainable construction technologies, ultimately decreasing the construction cost. Meanwhile, the encouraged cooperation of designer and engineer would bring better design into the construction phase.[11]

Environment Protection[12][edit]

By adopting sustainable construction, contractors would make the construction plan or sustainable site plan to minimize the environmental impact of the project. According to a study took place in Sri Lanka,[13] considerations of sustainability may influence the contractor to choose more sustainable, locally sourced products and materials, and to minimize the amount of waste and water pollution.  Another example is from a case study in Singapore,[14] the construction team implemented rainwater recycling and waste water treatment systems that help achieve a lower environmental impact.

Promoting Sustainability [15][edit]

According to SUSTAINABLE CONSTRUCTION: REDUCING THE IMPACT OF CREATING A BUILDING, the contractor in collaboration with the owner, would deliver the project in a sustainable way. More importantly, the contractor would have known this was a key performance indicator for the client from day one, allowing them the opportunity to not tender for the work, should this not appeal to them. Moreover, “It also sends a clear message to the industry, ‘sustainability is important to us’ and this, especially within the government and public sectors can significantly drive change in the way projects are undertaken, as well as up-skilling the industry to meet this growing demand.

Expand Market [13][edit]

By promoting sustainable methods and products in daily work, the good result directly shows the public the positive effect of sustainable construction. Consequently, there would be potential to expand the market of sustainable concepts or products. According to a report published by USGBC, “The global green building market grew in 2013 to $260 billion, including an estimated 20 percent of all new U.S. commercial real estate construction.”

Sustainable Construction Strategy[edit]

Attempts in sustainable construction has been done all around the world. Below are some examples of good practices of implementation on a national strategic level to promote sustainable construction. Also included are new technologies that could improve the application of sustainable construction.

Strategic Policy and Guide[edit]

  • Creation of a national strategy to improve the development : The Government in Singapore has announced their Sustainable Singapore Blueprint in April 2009 to make a long term strategy of sustainable construction development.[14] Another example is Strategy for sustainable construction in the UK.[16]
  • Investing money on research and education : S$50 million “Research Fund for the Built Environment” was launched in 2007 by Singapore Government to kick-start R&D efforts in sustainable development.[14]
  • Guidance for sustainable application: Government department cooperating with academic institutes to make an industrial guide for workers, for example, the Field Guide for Sustainable Construction published in 2004.[17]

Changing Mindset in the Way of Development[edit]

The Government in Singapore has developed a Sustainable Construction Master Plan with the hope to transform the industrial development path from only focusing on the traditional concerns of "cost, time, quality" to construction products and materials, to reduce natural resource consumption and minimize waste on site.[14]

New Technologies[edit]

The development of efficiency codes has prompted the development of new construction technologies and methods, many pioneered by academic departments of construction management that seek to improve efficiency and performance while reducing construction waste.

New techniques of building construction are being researched, made possible by advances in 3D printing technology. In a form of additive building construction, similar to the additive manufacturing techniques for manufactured parts, building printing is making it possible to flexibly construct small commercial buildings and private habitations in around 20 hours, with built-in plumbing and electrical facilities, in one continuous build, using large 3D printers. Working versions of 3D-printing building technology are already printing 2 metres (6 ft 7 in) of building material per hour as of January 2013, with the next-generation printers capable of 3.5 metres (11 ft) per hour, sufficient to complete a building in a week.[18] Dutch architect Janjaap Ruijssenaars's performative architecture 3D-printed building was scheduled to be built in 2014.[19]

Over the years, the construction industry has seen a trend in IT adoption, something it always found hard to compete with when paired against other fields such as, the manufacturing or healthcare industries. Nowadays, construction is starting to see the full potential of technological advancements, moving on to paperless construction, using the power of automation and adopting BIM, the internet of things, cloud storage and co-working, and mobile apps, implementation of surveying drones, and more.[20][21][better source needed]

In the current trend of sustainable construction, the recent movements of New Urbanism and New Classical architecture promote a sustainable approach towards construction, that appreciates and develops smart growth, architectural tradition and classical design.[22] This is in contrast to modernist and short-lived globally uniform architecture, as well as opposing solitary housing estates and suburban sprawl.[23] Both trends started in the 1980s.

Timber is being introduced as a feasible material for skyscrapers (nicknamed "plyscrapers") thanks to new developments incorporating engineered timber, whose collective name is "mass timber" and includes cross-laminated timber.[24]

Future Development[edit]

Currently, sustainable construction has become mainstream in the construction industry. The increasing drive to adopt a better way of construction, the more strict the industrial standard and the improvement of technologies have driven the cost of applying the concept, according to Business Case For Green Building Report,[11] the cost of sustainable construction nowadays might even be 0.4% lower than normal one.


  1. ^ "Basic Information | Green Building |US EPA". Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  2. ^ a b c d Sustainable Development and the Future of Construction: A comparison of visions from various countries. p. 29. ISBN 978-90-6363-011-9.
  3. ^ a b c "Estimating the Amount of CO2 Emissions that the Construction Industry Can Influence" (PDF). GOV.UK, Department for Business, Energy & Industrial Strategy. Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  4. ^ Leonard R., Bachman (2008). "Architecture and the Four Encounters with Complexities". Architectural Engineering and Design Management. 4: 15–30. doi:10.3763/aedm.2008.s407.
  5. ^ "Sustainable Development Goals". UNDP. Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  6. ^ International Conference of CIB TG 16; Kibert, Charles J; International Council for Building Research, Studies and Documentation; TG 16, eds. (1994). Sustainable construction: proceedings of the First International Conference of CIB TG 16, November 6-9, 1994, Tampa, Florida, U.S.A. Gainesville, Fla.: Center for Construction and Environment, M.E. Rinker Sr. School of Building Construction, College of Architecure, University of Florida. ISBN 9780964388611. OCLC 33013532.
  7. ^ Kibert, Charles J. "Establishing Principles and a Model for Sustainable Construction" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  8. ^ "New Study Finds Green Construction is Major U.S. Economic Driver | U.S. Green Building Council". Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  9. ^ Global Environmental Outlook 3. London: Unite Nation Environment Programmes(UNEP) /Earth scan.
  10. ^ Sattary, Sattar. "Assessment of sustainable construction practices" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  11. ^ a b Pantouvakis, John-Paris; Manoliadis, Odysseus G. (2006). "The Business Case For Green Building". World Green Building Council. 6 (3): 299–309. doi:10.1007/BF02941258.
  12. ^ Manoliadis, Odysseus G.; Pantouvakis, John-Paris (2006-09-01). "A practical approach to resource - constrained project scheduling". Operational Research. 6 (3): 299–309. doi:10.1007/BF02941258. ISSN 1866-1505.
  13. ^ a b "Benefits of Adopting Green Concept for Construction of Building in Sri lanka" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  14. ^ a b c d "Sustainable Building and Construction in Singapore" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  15. ^ "Sustainable Construction: Reducing the Impact of Creating Building". Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  16. ^ "Strategy For Sustainable Construction" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  17. ^ "Field Guide for Sustainable Construction" (PDF). Retrieved 2018-12-11.
  18. ^ Diaz, Jesus (2013-01-31). "This Is What the First Lunar Base Could Really Look Like". Gizmodo. Retrieved 2013-02-01.
  19. ^ "The World's First 3D-Printed Building Will Arrive In 2014". TechCrunch. 2012-01-20. Retrieved 2013-02-08.
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  21. ^ taotiadmin (20 April 2015). "The Charter of the New Urbanism".
  22. ^ Issue Brief: Smart-Growth: Building Livable Communities. American Institute of Architects. Retrieved on 2014-03-23.
  23. ^ Callaghan, Greg (27 August 2016). "New wood: how it will change our skyline". The Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved 6 September 2017.