What is Sustainable Construction

What is Sustainable Construction

Are you considering switching to take a more sustainable approach in your construction company? Would you rather buy a house done using sustainable construction practices but you don’t know what to expect?Are you curious to understand what is the difference between traditional construction and sustainable construction? If you are looking for answers to those questions, this is the right post to start with! In this post you will learn what is sustainable construction, tools, challenges and benefits and our take on the subject.

When we think of big polluters, the Oil and Gas industry will probably come off the top of your head, but actually, the Construction Industry is not far behind accounting for:

  • 36% of the global energy consumption 
  • 39% of the global greenhouse gas emissions
    • 28% coming from operational emissions to cool, heat, and light buildings. 
    • 11% are embodied carbon associated with materials and construction processes
  • 30% of the global raw materials
  • 30-40% of the global solid waste generation.  

Noting these ground-truth statistics, it is out of question why we need a more sustainable approach in the construction industry. The goals of Sustainable Construction are to reduce the industry’s impact on the environment. Sustainable construction methods include:

  • using renewable and recyclable materials
  • reducing the embodied energy in building materials
  • reducing the energy consumption of the finished building
  • reducing the consumption of other utility resources (specially water)
  • reducing on-site waste and need for landfill
  • protecting the natural habitats during and after the construction phase.



Sustainable Construction means the overall reduction of the embodied carbons through the selection of renewable and recyclable resources and materials, waste minimization at source and reduced energy consumption through appropriate planning and quality execution, as well as ensuring the protection of the natural surrounding environment.

Sustainable Construction starts well at the beginning of the project lifecycle, at the conceptual stage and is part of a fully sustainable building project that, by rights, should culminate in a green, net zero or climate positive building. 

However, in order to culminate with a green building qualification, it is necessary that your project signs-up for a green building certification. There are many different certifications, and your choice will mainly depend on which Country your building is going to be located. However, most of the green building certifications will require qualifying criteria on:

  • energy efficiency 
  • construction materials 
  • energy and natural resources consumption
  • carbon emissions
  • waste generated

Other more holistic approaches to sustainable buildings might also consider:

  • good health and wellbeing
  • sustainable communities and social value
  • sustainable life cycle cost
  • access to nature
  • beauty and spirit
  • climate positive… the limit is the skies!

Pursuing certifications such as BREEAMNZEBGBIPassivHaus or LEED will provide you guidelines and criteria to help you on your green building project and will also give your building a recognition of that characteristic. But if you are ready for a true challenge, the Living Building Challenge dares you design and construct a building that gives back to the world, a Climate Positive Building. Will you pick up the gauntlet?

6 tools to facilitate your sustainable construction projecT

What is sustainable construction? Sustainable Construction is the combination of the selection of sustainable building materials and the implementation of sustainable construction practices, both identified at the planning stage of the execution phase of a project.

Life Cycle Assessment (LCA)

When it comes to plan a sustainable construction project, nothing will be more impactful than the calculation of the embodied carbons in contrast with the operational carbons which will be produced while the building is in use. 

Embodied carbons is the amount of carbon emitted during the construction of a building, which covers the extraction of raw materials, the manufacturing and refinement of materials, transportation, installation and disposal of old supplies can all produce embodied carbon emissions. Whereas operational carbons is the amount of carbon emitted once a building is in use, essentially coming from the heating, cooling, electricity and water consumption, waste generation, and any additional carbon emissions resulting from the required maintenance of the building.

In order to calculate embodied carbons, traceability of materials becomes a requirement and all the supply chain must be able to provide this data and be fully transparent. 

LCA are powerful tools to help you calculate the embodied carbons of your construction project different alternatives and subsequently allowing informative decision-making during planning stage. LCA calculations estimate the carbon impact of each of the final construction materials and processes associated with the foundation, structure, enclosure and interior the project.

For the purpose of calculating embodied carbons, the Living Future Institute requires all projects to be calculated over a standard 50-year lifespan for consistency purposes. There are a fairly good variety of LCA software’s available in the market like SimaPro, Athena Impact Estimator, GaBi LCA, eTool, One Click LCA, Tally, and many more. However if you are looking to getting your building certified, it is recommended that you check the requirements of the certifying body before you decide on the LCA software. 

The selection of sustainable materials with less carbon footprint like hempcrete, bamboo, cork, reclaimed materials like wood beans or steel, recycled gravel, sheep’s wool insulation, ferrock, terrazzo, straw bale, precast or prefab construction modules, and the similar will help you reduce your embodied carbons from extraction, manufacturing and refining of materials, but the transportation of those materials to your site and the installation method will also have an impact on your carbon footprint. Hence, although one material can initially be more sustainable than other, all factors shall be considered in the assessment to make the best choice for your construction project. 

Building Information Modelling (BIM)

BIM is the holistic process of creating and managing information for a built asset. BIM integrates structured, multi-disciplinary data to produce a 3D digital representation of an asset across its lifecycle, from planning and design to construction and operations.

During the design stage, BIM is used to integrate the different portions that are required to complete a functioning building (i.e.: foundations, structure, envelopes, insultations, partitions, electrical, plumbing, sewage, colling, heating, windows, etc) in a unified 3D design environment, allowing architectural and engineering design quality, reducing the risk of “information islands” and “design conflicts”. 

During the construction stage, BIM can also be used to manage the entire construction process dynamically and improve construction quality, enabling “doing it right the 1st time”, reducing the need for later design adjustments, and construction changes that increase the consumption of energy, natural resources and materials, and generate unnecessary waste.

Building Performance Analysis (BPA)

BPA at the design stage involves implementing an iterative process in which you continually assess how your building is performing, what is driving that performance, and what you can do to influence it. BPA is a real-time, multiple-options, results-first decision-making tool that allows design engineers to understand all their options, and make informed decisions.

Hence, BPA empowers architects and engineers to design more energy-efficient buildings with advanced simulation engines and building performance analysis data integrated into or compatible with BIM space.

With BPA design tools during the Value Engineering Process, the BPA team can help the design team determine the impact of adding or removing systems, modelling photovoltaic systems, solar insolation, illuminance studies, lighting analysis, or wind simulations, and showcase cost-to-performance alternatives.  Hence, BPA tools support an seamless iterative design process to achieve net-zero and sustainability goals in the built environment.

LEAN Construction 

Studies have shown that about 70% of the activities performed in the construction industry are non-value add or waste. Learning to see and scope-out waste can significantly improve construction quality leading to a more sustainable construction.

LEAN Construction is a management based approach to project delivery that uses the principles of LEAN thinking. The objectives is to maximize value and minimize waste implementing specific techniques in a new project delivery process, the Integrated Project Delivery. Therefore, LEAN Construction can be applied to design, procurement and construction until the delivery of the facility.

LEAN thinking is based on respect to and interaction of the LEAN team to generate value-flow in the production process while removing waste in a continuous improvement cycle. The 5 stepped principles of LEAN are: 1) Define Value; 2) Map Value Stream; 3) Create flow; 4) Establish a pull system; 5)Pursuit perfection. Alongside the value maximization project delivery, LEAN Construction techniques allow to scope out the 7 types of waste: Transportation, Inventory, Motion, Waiting, Over-Processing, Over-Production, and Defects commonly called TIMWOOD for its initials. 

DMAIC Six Sigma

More than 85% of construction projects experience cost and schedule overrun, averaging a 28% cost increase over budget and accumulating between 10% to 30% of delay time against planning schedule. 

Common causes of cost and schedule impacts include:

  • Inaccurate project estimates / project scope
  • Project design errors
  • Unforeseen project changes
  • Administration errors
  • Poor communication
  • Underestimating the timeline required

The use of Six Sigma as a management tool has its merits in the development of quality culture. DMAIC is a cyclical (loop) Six Sigma process that is commonly used as an integral part of modern total quality systems, and it is typically used to eliminate defects. However, the versatility of this technique in managing change and ensuring continuous quality improvement in the construction industry is becoming a promising tool to achieve sustainable construction.

Internet of Things (IoT)

IoT is the network of physical objects (so-called Things) that are embedded with sensors, software, and other technologies for the purpose of connecting and exchanging data with other devices and systems over the internet without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction. 

Industrial IoT (IIoT) refers to the application of IoT technology in industrial settings, especially with respect to instrumentation and control of sensors and devices that engage cloud technologies. The following are some common uses for IIoT:

  • Smart manufacturing
  • Connected assets and preventive & predictive maintenance
  • Smart power grids
  • Smart cities
  • Connected logistics
  • Smart digital supply chains

Construction firms have now started benefiting from IoT technologies to manage and monitor project sites. By equipping construction vehicles and machinery with smart sensors, managers from any location can see real-time data about the equipment, fuel combustion efficiencies, emissions, driver’s operating behaviour or even if the equipment is idling for long period. Therefore, using this information Site sustainability managers can take action in real time to reduce fuel consumption, emissions, curve behaviours and reduce environmental impact, as well as improve safety, reduce costs, increase efficiency and capitalise the business value from this new revenue stream.

Moreover, having access to emissions data also makes compliance reporting much more manageable.


Once you know what is sustainable construction, there are some challenges that come with this greater goal that should be looked at from an opportunity perspective to improve our approach towards design and construction delivery and the building industry:

  1. Time and Budget: time and budget are currently that constrained that it has become challenging to deliver quality. Sustainable construction might be the answer to return quality and excellence to an industry that needs to re-expand both, planning schedules and budget. 
  2. Competency: The selection of a competent team for the project will drive the work of all of the subsequent trades on the project, through appropriate sustainable supply chain.  
  3. Developer and Constructor’s ESG culture: It is undoubtedly evident that all parties involved in the process of sustainable construction must work in the same page towards the goal of environmental protection, social enhancement and transparent governance. The era of profits at all cost is not longer acceptable, and both customers and end users have started demanding more healthy, energy efficient, quality buildings and more conscious building companies. 


These are both direct and indirect benefits which they all impact the ROI of a building project. They include:

  1. reducing waste, save on fuel costs
  2. reduce your organisation’s impact on the environment.
  3. lower operating costs. Green building makes buildings less resource-intensive.
  4. lower maintenance costs. operating a high-performing building requires less maintenance.
  5. healthy buildings. Sustainable buildings are healthier, which makes them more valuable.
  6. greener building portfolios have better operating performance and they are exposed to less market risk.
  7. updating already existing buildings to the latest standards will increase the building’s value and life span. Retrofits are one of the best ways to prolong a building’s life cycle.
  8. client demand. Studies show that it’s more attractive to rent or lease green buildings than non-green buildings. Green buildings also command higher sales prices.
  9. long term reputational and corporate social responsibility benefits.

There is a growing trend from clients, customers and end users to look for buildings with sustainable characteristics, such as high energy efficiency, healthy living spaces, natural lighting, comfort and connection with nature and beauty. Construction companies able to accommodate these requirements have a better chance of staying and growing in this future industry. 

Making use of specific technologies, software and practices to support a smooth sustainable planning and management of your construction projects will not only allow to accomplish the sustainable goals of the project but also support the attainment of green / sustainable building certification and showcase your achievements in from of clients and customers. 

What is sustainable construction? Sustainable construction is the only way ahead!

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