Whenever sustainability is mentioned, most people think of the environment. While environmental protection is a major consideration when selecting sustainable products, there is much more to think of when deciding on which project materials to use. The selected product must be economically viable and also meet other standards in the construction industry.
Other factors like the trends in the construction industry and repurposing of construction products should also be considered. What are the broader perspectives of sustainability and its economic impact on the construction industry? The first consideration is to determine the scope of what is meant by the word sustainable.
What Are Sustainable Building Products?
Sustainability means current use of the available resources does not affect the way future generations will meet their needs1. Sustainable building products, also known as green building materials, preserve the environment, economy, and social aspects of the construction industry. They also slow down environmental degradation.
Selecting sustainable products protects trees, mining resources, and reduces greenhouse gasses. However, the fact that a product fits into the description of a sustainable material does not mean it is sustainable for a construction project. Several other factors must be considered when determining sustainability.
What Is Practical Sustainability?
When selecting a sustainable building product, designers must also consider the economic perspective of using the product. Here are some of the questions that should be answered when deciding the sustainability of the product:
- What is the economic impact of the product?
- Can the product be repurposed after its shelf life in the project expires?
- Does the product meet other standards such as HPD or LEED?
What Qualifies a Product as Environmentally Sustainable?
A product is considered environmentally sustainable if:
It Follows the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Standards1
Although no action is free from environmental impact, environmentally sustainable products minimize the negative effects. Such products are manufactured or extracted using minimal energy, usually green energy. It would beat the sustainability logic if the manufacturing of the product leads to emission of greenhouse gasses. Other than the energy used, the extraction or manufacture of the product also uses minimal water or other scarce ingredients.
The Product Does Not Deplete Natural Resources
Sustainable products are made from renewable resources. These are resources that cannot be depleted and they also do not impact greatly on the ecosystem.
It follows the HPD Guidelines
A Health Product Declaration (HPD) discloses any health impact that could have been caused during extraction/manufacturing of the product. HPD also requires the manufacturer to disclose any health effects of the product when used as a construction material.
What to Consider When Selecting Sustainable Products
Sustainability of building materials should be viewed in three perspectives: pre-construction, construction, and post-construction.2 The pre-contraction phase involves extraction or manufacturing of the product. Sustainable products should be extracted or manufactured in a way that protects the environment. There should be minimal wastage and destruction of the environment.
The construction phase also focuses on prevention of wastage and environmental degradation. Materials on site should be used in a way that does not emit greenhouse gasses or lead to wastage. The pre-construction phase focuses on repurposing or recycling of the product at the end of its shelf-life.
Sustainability would not make sense if the economic factors of the process are not considered. Construction managers and project owners should check the economic impact of any sustainable product used in the project. If the economic impact is not assessed, sustainable products could appear too costly. However, when the overall economic impact is measured, sustainable products become the first option in the construction industry.
Here is an overview of the economic impact of sustainable products:
It is common knowledge that pollution causes costly health impacts on society. Governments and even individual members of society spend a considerable fraction of their health budget dealing with respiratory and waterborne diseases. Pollution is also responsible for the rise of other diseases such as cancer.
Right from the pre-construction to the post-construction phase, sustainable products are geared towards reducing pollution. Pollution reduction at the initial stage of construction cuts down on the cleanup and health costs.
About 30% of construction materials go into waste3. Wastage of the materials increases the construction cost, causing a negative impact on the economy. However, sustainability focuses on waste reduction in all the three construction stages. To get a clear picture of how sustainability reduces wastage, here is a look at some qualifying features of sustainable products:
- The materials are manufactured close to the construction site, which reduces wastage of transport fuel
- Minimal energy and water are used, which reduces wastage of energy and water
- Sustainability also explores various ways of reusing materials, which reduces waste at any other three construction stages
Repurposing, Recycling and Reuse
Construction trends are dynamic. Products that were popular in the 90s may no longer work today. In short, construction products have a fixed shelf-life. However, sustainability focuses on extending the shelf-life of construction products through repurposing and recycling. The Gridd® Adaptive Cabling Distribution® System, a raised flooring system by FreeAxez, is a good example of a sustainable product that can be repurposed.
FreeAxez’ patented flagship product, Gridd, enables installers to distribute power, voice, and data cables in an adaptable, low-profile, all-steel structure right under their feet. This design approach integrates cable distribution technology throughout the entire building infrastructure, ensuring adaptability to technological changes without affecting functionality. Gridd provides a positive economic impact by allowing continuous reconfiguration and technology upgrades and it can be reused for decades as components are made from 100% USA Steel. Gridd allows organizations to change their power and data cabling as technology changes.
Start Creating Sustainable Products Today
Sustainable products not only protect the environment, but also create positive economic impacts whenever they are used. Right from the pre-construction stage, sustainability reduces pollution and wastage of resources. In addition, sustainability enables repurposing of materials and products, which cuts the overall project cost. When selecting sustainable products for a project, organizations can help reduce the cost of cleaning the environment or treating diseases caused by environmental pollution.