How the built environment can ditch unsustainable practices

Globally, the construction industry accounts for 39% of the world’s carbon emissions. If we’re serious about protecting the environment, this needs to change. Those of us in the built environment need to be setting our sights higher, and starting to cut out unsustainable practices to drastically reduce our enlarged carbon footprint. The UK government has also committed to net zero-carbon emissions by 2050, so the construction industry needs to make changes if it is to successfully help meet this target. Fortunately, with new innovations, this process needn’t be painful. There are plenty of ways to make buildings more sustainable, from using eco-friendly materials to improving a build’s energy efficiency through proper insulation.

Efficiency is Key

The bulk of the construction industry’s emissions are operational. This means energy required to heat and light buildings. An excellent way to cut down on this (and the extra bills!) is by making a build as energy efficient as possible. Using good quality insulation improves efficiency by slowing down the rate of heat transfer through walls and ceilings. There has been a lot of focus on the issue of energy efficiency in recent years, so thankfully there is a wide range of guidelines to help advise on how to make a new build as eco-friendly as possible. For example, the WELL Building Standard and BREEAM issue third-party certifications to assets that fit stringent environmental standards. This is an excellent tool for specifiers who want to make sure they get sustainability right.

It’s not only important for the planet, but it also has economic benefits. According to property company JLL, highly sustainable buildings with a BREEAM rating of ‘Very Good’ or higher, saw rental premiums of 8%. Not only this, but offices with excellent green credentials saw far lower vacancy rates. Given this appetite for eco-friendly buildings, and the good it does for the environment, there really is no excuse for the industry not to ensure every build is made as sustainable as possible!

Reuse, Recycle

In recent years, circular economy principles have encouraged the industry to take greater responsibility in sourcing materials. Part of this is through considering the whole life cycle of materials, recycling where possible to keep carbon footprints low.

The process of creating new materials can be a significant source of carbon emissions. This is why recycling is important, to maximise a material’s useful life, so less ‘virgin’ material will need to be made. Take care when selecting types of building materials as well as paying attention to their source to ensure, where possible, they have been recycled, thus reducing your environmental impact.

Natural and Renewable

Some materials are more environmentally friendly than others. For example, concrete requires an intensive industrial process to create and as such has high carbon emissions. We encourage people to instead look to more natural resources with a smaller carbon footprint that are rapidly renewable, including plant-based ones such as timber and cotton.
These materials can effectively increase the green credentials of a building project by sequestering rich stores of carbon for the life of the structure or application. Of course, where possible, it’s still best to use recycled options. Also, if a product needs adhesives or inks, it’s better to use water-based over solvent-based varieties, as these are much kinder to the environment.

Written by Ben Hancock, Managing Director of Oscar Acoustics