The construction industry is primed to play a key role in achieving global sustainability goals. As a development and construction consulting company, sustainability is rapidly becoming one of the most frequent topics our clients ask us about. And as more of our clients get serious about sustainability, supporting their efforts to establish their sustainability objectives has rapidly become one of our core priorities.
The built environment and construction sector is one of the largest users of global resources, accounting for 39% of global greenhouse gas emissions. With mounting concerns over the environment, the finite nature of natural resources, and pending commitments to achieve climate targets, the construction industry is facing mounting pressure to minimize its environmental impact.
As a result, sustainability is a growing focus in the construction industry and demand for sustainability planning and green building is on the rise. But what exactly is sustainability in construction and why do you need to consider it in your next project?
In this article, we break down what sustainable construction is, why it’s important, and why your project needs sustainability planning.
What is Sustainability in Building and Construction?
In broad terms, sustainability refers to the practice of preserving natural resources in order to uphold ecological balance. When it comes to sustainable design and construction (also commonly referred to as “green building”) the definition is constantly evolving to encompass shifting approaches and priorities.
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." The General Services Administration (GSA) defines it as way to “reduce negative impacts on the environment, and the health and comfort of building occupants, thereby improving building performance.”
Regardless of the definition used, sustainable design and construction should be viewed as an innovative approach to designing, building, and developing that both minimizes environmental impact and improves the way people live.
Why is Sustainable Construction Important?
The construction sector is one of the largest users of global resources and contributors of pollution. According to the World Green Building Council, the built environment accounts for 39% of global carbon emissions and 50% of all extracted materials. World climate leaders are calling on the construction sector to be a major solution provider to the climate crisis and urging for widespread industry change and more ambitious regulation. At COP26, the recent UN Climate Change Conference, attention was specifically put on the built environment to reduce its carbon emissions and mitigate its impact on climate change in order to achieve climate targets.
What Challenges is Sustainable Construction Facing?
Demand for construction is skyrocketing. The world’s booming, urbanizing population is placing heavy demands on the construction sector, making it all too easy to overlook sustainability planning. Architecture2030 projects global building floor area to double by 2060 in order to accommodate the largest wave of urban growth in history. To put this into perspective, that’s equivalent to adding one New York City to the world, every month, for the next 38 years.
In many ways, the construction industry sits between a rock and a hard place. The sector must balance booming global demand with concerns over the environment and declining natural resources, along with pressure to meet climate targets.
Moreover, the perception remains that sustainable construction is expensive. And while there is some truth to that (sustainability measures often require more time and planning for example), there is also potential for significant cost savings over the life of the project.
Why Should You Consider Sustainability in your Project?
The construction industry is primed to drive significant change on all fronts by reducing material and resource waste during the construction process, and creating buildings that use sustainable materials and operate more efficiently. Indeed, companies that are integrating sustainability programs into their operations are combining efficiencies, cost-effectiveness and environmental benefits in order to cut costs and increase profits. There are also tax credits, financial incentives, and investment opportunities to benefit from.
Let’s take a look at some of the major reasons why you need to consider sustainably in your project, right from the start.
1. Budget and Time Considerations
Incorporating sustainability measures into your project requires time and planning. Various sustainability approaches must be carefully explored, planned, and budgeted for. A long-term strategy must be established. Research indicates that sustainable construction doesn’t necessarily have to cost more, especially when cost strategies, environmental strategies, and program management are integrated into the development process right from the start.
Depending on the scope and size of your project, you may decide to undergo a comprehensive energy audit in order to provide further insight into a building’s current energy use and identify the most cost-effective, energy-saving opportunities. Additionally, you may want to bring in a sustainability consultant in order to provide expert advice on how to optimize energy use, become more socially and environmentally responsible, and navigate regulations, incentives and investment opportunities.
All of these considerations must be carefully examined and planned for. This is why it’s important to consider sustainability measures as early as possible. Ideally, they are tackled right away, during a project’s conception and development phases.
2. Reduced Costs
Although sustainable buildings may command higher upfront costs, investments can typically be recouped through operational cost savings. This is particularly true when sustainability is planned for during the development stages of the project.
In studies, sustainable buildings have been proven to save money through lower energy and water consumption, and decreased long-term operations and maintenance costs. This means that when sustainability is accurately planned for, cost savings can exceed any upfront cost increases related to design and construction within a reasonable payback period.
Moreover, there has been a downward trend in sustainable design and construction costs as building codes become stricter, cost strategies and program management are implemented, supply chains mature, and the green building industry becomes more seasoned.
3. Life Cycle Cost & Energy Modeling
Life cycle cost (LCC) is an approach that assesses the total cost of an asset over its entire life cycle including initial capital costs, maintenance and operating costs, and the asset's residual value at the end of its life.
Particularly within the realm of sustainable construction, life cycle costing is gaining momentum. This is because upfront cost increases in green building can be offset by lower long-term life cycle costs (operations, maintenance, etc.). Utilizing LCC, project teams can more definitively see that expensive initial design and construction measures may be worth it in the long run. According to The World Green Building Council’s report, this is particularly true for sustainable buildings that feature “high-performance facades and energy-efficient building systems.” Overall, life cycle costing can show that the total cost of a sustainable building is less than that of a traditional building over its entire life cycle.
Moreover, energy modeling and other analytics tools can be used to provide high-level energy performance data and information critical in selecting the optimal mix of building systems and equipment. The key to maximizing energy savings is to install measures that are both highly efficient and integrate well with other systems and processes. Maximizing building performance during the early design process is key to designing and building cost-effective, high-performance, sustainable buildings.
4. Asset Value
Data shows that sustainable buildings are worth more than their traditional counterparts, and can be sold for a premium. According to the World Green Building Council, green buildings command a 7% increase in value compared to traditional buildings. Additionally, there is a correlation between the features of green buildings and their ability to more easily draw tenants and demand higher rents or sales prices.
5. Existing Buildings
When we think about sustainable construction, many of us probably envision a brand-new innovative green building. But the built environment is comprised mostly of existing buildings, many of which consume significant amounts of energy. And the reality is, retrofitting an existing building is can be more cost effective than building an entirely new facility.
That’s why it’s critical to consider sustainability measures that can be incorporated into renovations and retrofits of existing buildings—not just new construction. Incorporating sustainable features into existing buildings presents an immense opportunity for the construction sector.
6. LEED & Other Certification Requirements
When considering sustainability measures in their projects, many owners and developers turn to LEED certification, a globally recognized green building rating system. LEED is a third-party sustainable building certification program that provides a framework for healthy, efficient, carbon and cost-saving green buildings.
Meeting the LEED certification requirements is a complex process that requires a great deal of planning. And it comes with a heavy lift on the owner’s side in terms of both time and resources. Moreover, the creation of an Owner’s Project Requirement (OPR), a document that details the functional requirements of a project and the expectations of how it will be used and operated, is generally one of the LEED commissioning requirements.
In addition to LEED, there are numerous other certifications to consider in your project such as WELL Building, Fitwel, Living Building Challenge (LBC), SITES, and Parksmart. Bringing in an experienced sustainability consultant can help you develop the right plan for your project and your sustainability goals.
7. Workplace Wellness and Productivity
There is growing evidence to suggest that the physical features and indoor environments of sustainable buildings directly contribute to worker productivity and occupant health and wellness. According to the World Green Building Council’s report, the characteristics of green buildings, such as improved air quality, increased natural light and the introduction of greenery, can generate bottom line benefits for businesses. These benefits include lower turnover and greater retention, reduced absenteeism, and decreased medical costs.
Moreover, a 2018 survey from the U.S. Green Building Council suggests that employees working in LEED-certified building are happier, healthier, and more productive than in conventional and non-LEED buildings. The survey also reveals that the majority of office workers want to work for businesses that are value-oriented, take stances on key issues like sustainability, and contribute to making a positive impact in the world.
8. Carbon Footprint
The carbon footprint associated with construction is alarming. Currently, the building and construction sector accounts for 39% of global carbon emissions. Of that, 28% is from operational carbon (emissions that come from building energy consumption such as heating, cooling, lighting, etc.) and 11% is from embodied carbon (emissions resulting from the manufacturing, transporting and installing of construction materials for the building itself). It is projected that embodied carbon will be responsible for nearly 50% of new construction emissions between now and 2050.
Incorporating sustainability measures into construction is a way to dramatically reduce the industry’s carbon footprint. The World Green Building Council is calling for the industry to adopt whole-life carbon assessments and set a clear strategy for the reduction of carbon. These strategies include:
- Build nothing: Repurpose or refurbish existing buildings.
- Build less: Build only to meet the needs of communities and cities.
- Build clever: Use sustainable materials or reuse materials, minimize waste, etc.
- Build efficiently: Minimize design loads, maximize material utilization and use efficient forms and grids.
- Minimize waste: Improve construction practices, utilize recycling programs, prefabricate, etc.
9. Investor Considerations
According to the World Green Building Council, efficient buildings are projected to be “one of the biggest investment opportunities worth an estimated $24.7 trillion by 2030.” But in order to accelerate investment in sustainable design and construction, there must be a detailed, concrete understanding of the project’s actual costs and returns. In other words, it needs to make financial sense. To do so, investors must consider the building’s entire life cycle, including long-term operation and maintenance costs that could offset any higher initial costs. ESG reporting is another tool investors use to determine viability of a project.
Furthermore, investors should also take into account other bottom-line benefits realized in green building, such as higher rents and sale prices. There may also be federal or state tax credits and incentives to help unlock further revenue.
10. ESG – It’s Here To Stay!
Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues and reporting are a growing focus in the construction industry, particularly in the field of sustainable design and construction. Indeed, the industry is seeing a rising level of interest in ESG from investors, stakeholders, customers, policymakers and community members.
According to the Green Business Bureau, financial institutions, investors and stakeholders are turning to ESG reporting as a way of identifying projects and companies that are in the best position for viable, long-term performance and are in-line with climate science. In turn, they are basing ESG performance as an indicator for investment decisions and lending criteria.
With mounting concerns over the environment, the finite nature of natural resources, and pending commitments to achieve climate targets, demand for sustainable construction is on the rise. When considering new construction projects or retrofits to existing buildings, it’s important to incorporate sustainability planning into your project. As it stands, the construction industry is primed to pave the way in building a more sustainable future by adapting the latest principles of sustainable design and construction.
For more information on sustainability management services and how our firm can help support your vision and accomplish your goals, contact The Concord Group. We offer an integrated mix of development and construction consulting services such as Owner's Representation, Cost Estimating, Commissioning, Sustainability Consulting, Building Energy Management, Facility Condition Assessments, Energy Modeling/Life Cycle Costs, ESG planning, and more.
About The Concord Group
The Concord Group is a team of highly skilled construction consultants specializing in the fields of Owner’s Representation, Cost Management, Infrastructure Project Management, Cost Segregation, Real Estate Advisory Services and Technical Services (including Sustainability Management, Energy Modeling, Life Cycle Cost and Commissioning).
In response to the growing demand for more efficient, sustainable construction, The Concord Group offers a scope of Sustainable Construction services to help our clients explore sustainability planning, develop de-carbonization strategies and navigate available financial incentives, investment opportunities and carbon offsetting. In partnership with Epsten Group and AEI Consultants, both pioneers for sustainability in the Built Environment, we have launched a Sustainability Leadership Council committed to further championing our sustainability efforts, strategies and innovations.
Headquartered in Chicago and with offices in Milwaukee, Grand Rapids, Columbus, Atlanta and Dublin, The Concord Group has successfully completed over 4,000 projects over the last 26 years. We have built a reputation for delivering high quality, accurate and timely work for governmental agencies, healthcare organizations, institutional clients and architectural/engineering firms along with retail, residential and property development companies.
For more information on how we can help turn your sustainability vision into a reality, contact The Concord Group.