Sustainability in Commercial Construction: Possibility or Priority?

Sustainability in Commercial Construction: Possibility or Priority?

Construction

As climate changes inches forward, it’s become increasingly important for businesses of all kinds to reduce pollution and waste associated with their fields. It’s no different in commercial construction. At the Schueler Group, constantly striving towards a more sustainable commercial construction process is something we have proudly led the industrial construction sector in.

 We’ve worked on two zero-energy, LEED-certified projects with Melink. These were great creative experiences and new challenges for our commercial contractors at BHC, and they resulted in truly beautiful multi-use campuses that won’t add any harm to the environment.

So, yes, sustainable construction, even in the industrial sector, is a possibility. In fact, it’s already been done. What’s more, using eco-conscious construction methods for commercial and industrial properties sets up the businesses residing in those properties to also operate on a greener level.

Sustainable construction methods are finally becoming more mainstream and accessible. Now we need to do our best moving forward to make it a priority – a benchmark every general contractor needs to meet and wants to surpass. Everyone who can reduce their carbon footprint should. From homeowners to corporate giants, we are all responsible for caring for this planet.

Here’s how we can do it better:

The Three Pillars of Sustainability in Commercial Construction

First, how do we define sustainability? There are three principles necessary for an industrial project to be sustainable:

  1. Social Equity
  2. Economic Viability
  3. Environmental Protection

The term “sustainable” doesn’t mean just one thing; it has several facets. For a project to truly be sustainable, these principles must overlap and support each other. These three principles, apart, are purely theoretical. But together, they make a theoretically-sustainable project a reality: something feasible for a company’s capacity, the political climate, and equitable social development.

Applying Sustainable Principles to the Construction Process

How do we unpack and apply these principles to commercial contracting? Corporate construction projects are largely viewed as wasteful – heavy, gas-guzzling equipment, CO2 and other harmful emissions, exorbitant energy consumption, large amounts of unrecyclable waste. But with a bit of strategy and care, we can change that view. It’s difficult; there are so many moving parts to any construction project. But there are new approaches to take that can make all the difference:

  • Retrofit wherever you can. Does the project need to be a new build? Or can you “upcycle” an existing commercial building with some renovations?
  • Consciously include sustainability in the budget. Consider the cost of environmentally-friendly materials, energy use during the project as well as once the building is up and running, and the construction process itself. Planning is key.
  • Thoughtfully choose the project site. Do you need that beautiful empty acreage that’s going to require major regrading and new utilities run? Or will the predeveloped site just half a mile down the road give you the same benefits with less disruption and energy use?
  • Consider a passive building design. This means planning the blueprint of the building to work with the surrounding environment. Things like fenestration and façade design, south-facing solar panels, and window films that help regulate interior temperature.
  • Use prefabricated and environmentally-friendly materials. Building materials that were already created and cut-to-fit before ever reaching the construction site lessens waste and energy use. You can also choose building materials that are recycled, and consolidate the construction site’s waste transportation.
  • Set up electrical, plumbing and HVAC with reducing energy consumption in mind. Use renewable energy sources like those solar panels, and alternative HVAC systems that heat and cool using water instead of air. A “smart” system can also reduce energy use by turning the heat down when no one is in the building.
  • Get greenery in wherever you can. Not only do rooftop gardens and walls look awesome, but they offset the space the building takes up and help purify the air. Green walls and roofs also help regulate interior temperature, acting as an unofficial form of insulation.

Even things as simple as no-smoking policies on the construction site and using recyclable containers for crew lunches – everything helps. These are just a few of the ways commercial contractors all over the world, including our guys at BHC, are starting to encourage a less harmful, more earth-conscious construction culture.

Benefits of Sustainable Construction in the Commercial Sector

So it sounds like becoming an energy-conscious commercial contractor is more expensive, more complicated, and takes more time than just getting it done like we did in the past. And while all those things may be true for now, sustainable construction with an eye towards the longevity of a new facility has benefits you just can’t get with traditional construction methods:

  • Waste Reduction: Did you know nearly 15% of construction materials just go straight to landfills? And that construction and demolition waste accounts for over 30% of all landfill waste each year?
  • Cost Reduction: Many of these prefabricated, recycled building materials actually cost less than their traditional counterparts. And obviously, if you’ve streamlined the building’s energy systems and added solar panels, future overhead energy costs will stay low.
  • Job Creation: According to the US Green Building Council, green commercial construction contributes over $134 billion in labor income each year.
  • Better Health: Statistics on sustainable work places have shown that people who live or work in green buildings have lower stress levels and better overall quality of life.

Sustainable commercial construction is about forward thinking and innovation. The concept of sustainability works on all levels: you get out what you put in. Maybe upfront costs and processes are different than you’re used to, but once that commercial or industrial building is up and running, those things pale in comparison to the cost reductions from energy usage and building maintenance. The world is moving into a more sustainable future, and by fostering the right culture and networks, commercial and industrial contracting has the opportunity to be at the forefront of those big changes.

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