Only when the last tree has died and the last river been poisoned and the last fish been caught will we realise we cannot eat money.

– Cree Indian Proverb

The current extent of Global Warming has sparked widespread investment in sustainability and while supporting our environment will never be a bad thing, it has prompted some rather interesting development within the construction industry.

Recently implemented standards which require projects to have measures in place for dealing with anticipated emergency and societal requirements have played a role in this but the major defining factor in the industry shift has been the end user.

We have seen an increasing demand for features which lower or eliminate environmental impact during construction but there is also growing concern regarding whether a new project is designed to withstand climate change factors which will drastically speed up the deterioration of assets.

Design Intelligence states that “in addition to performance, design must now consider adaptation, mitigation and resilience. Buildings should adapt to local conditions through measures that reduce the vulnerability of natural and human systems against actual or expected climate change effects.”

This has led to the rise of ‘Green Building’, which, according to the EPA, “is the practice of creating structures and using processes that are environmentally responsible and resource-efficient throughout a building’s life-cycle”.

An example of this is the way in which the viability of materials is now measured against factors such as transportation requirements, growth or production processes and how they will react with each other in terms of passive sustainable design rather than the previously dominant criteria of durability vs cost.

While these changes have added further complexity to an already detailed ecosystem, tools have advanced alongside the industry and ratings systems such as NatHERS can significantly increase a project’s ability to easily stay across how they stack up to expectations.

As shown in the above video, while one of the main end goals here is to produce carbon neutral buildings, this, and other key factors in improving sustainability, cannot be achieved purely through the selection of more natural materials. Architects, designers and construction crews will need to work collaboratively in order to devise new ways of doing things which will help reduce emissions from concept through to completion and on into the building’s future.

In her Honors Research Project, “The Importance of Passive Sustainable Design“, Caitlin Raymond states that “Integration of sustainable concepts into sustainable design has two parts. The first type of integration is that which occurs during the design process. This typically happens with a charrette or a large, intensive meeting that includes representatives from each discipline as well as all stakeholders involved in the structure such as the designers, builders, building owners, and trade contractors. During the initial meeting the team establishes the project mission, goals, budget parameters, etc. together to ensure that everyone is aware of what is expected. … Integrating the design of a building or space with the surrounding environment and its natural resources is the second essential part of integration. This site integration allows unique characteristics to heighten the effectiveness of the sustainable concepts used throughout the structure, to limit land usage, and to introduce key aspects of passive sustainable design.”

Essentially this boils down to ensuring that buildings are designed with their surroundings in mind and that all tasks are undertaken in the most eco-friendly way possible but the issue runs far deeper than utilising renewable energies during construction and introducing more more greenery during town planning and landscaping.

At the end of the day, healthier environments equal better quality of life so sustainability should be at the forefront of everyone’s minds. The construction industry is working towards this ideal but there is a long way to go if we wish to rescue the current state of our planet and maintain our lifestyles.