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Sustainable Building Construction: Looking at the Future

The construction sector is known to be one of the biggest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions accounting for 18.1% of Australia’s total carbon footprint in 2013 alone. But with pressure coming in from a growing global movement and organisations starting to realise the negative effects of climate change, those in the construction industry are starting to adopt sustainable practices as part of their business approach. 

Australia’s Zero Net Emissions Promise by 2050

Being one of the most developed countries in the world, Australia’s population continues to grow, with a forecast that there will be 10 million residential homes around the country in the year 2020. In 2030, it is estimated that the number of people in the country will reach 31 million in 2030, which means that more houses and buildings will be built in the near future. 

Juxtaposed to growth, comes a compromise in the quality of environmental health. As construction projects — planning, material making, building, operation, and maintenance — account for almost 25 per cent of the overall greenhouse gas emissions in Australia, it is crucial for the constituents of the industry to strive for a reduction in their carbon footprint – if we are to do our part as a country and strive towards great environmental conservation. 

Thankfully for Australia, the government signed the Paris Agreement which essentially aims to “... limit global warming to well below 2 degrees Celsius and strive for 1.5 degrees.” According to the United Nations, the Paris Agreement aims to bring “... all nations into a common cause to undertake ambitious efforts to combat climate change and adapt to its effects, with enhanced support to assist developing countries to do so. As such, it charts a new course in the global climate effort.” Through this Agreement, Australia promised to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to zero net by 2050, on a per-person and emissions intensity basis, a move committed to by Federal Energy Minister Angus Taylor on February 10, 2020 ahead of the COP26 meeting at the end of the year. 

The Road to Sustainability: A Legal Compliance, a Social Responsibility Move, or Mere Pressure? 

Admittedly, compared to traditional processes and methods of construction, sustainable buildings are more costly to make. This has meant that the take-up of new technologies has been slower than ideal. However, we expect that now, while some truly care about shifting to eco-friendly practices, some feel obliged due to the rise in pressure from society. But price is not always going to be a factor.

First there’s the growing demand for sustainable building materials. Clients now are more particular about energy-saving and sturdier materials. There’s also expectations within the community for a company to employ sustainable practices in order to preserve local ecology. In fact, the trend (among policy makers and the public) is towards a low-carbon economy around the world. Last but not the least, there’s also the legislative and regulatory requirements that oblige companies to make conscious efforts about the way they do business.
While the National Construction Code of Australia laid out basic requirements for structural energy efficiency, companies can take it a step further through rating systems like Green Star and the National Australian Built Environment Rating System ( NABERS). 

Green Star focusses on assessing how environmentally friendly the design aspect of the buildings are. Awards of up to six stars may be given if a building meets relevant criteria. NABERS, on the other hand, looks at the green performance of structures. It measures a structure’s “... energy efficiency, carbon emissions, as well as the water consumed, the waste produced and compare it to similar buildings.” It also uses a six-star award system, just like the Green Star rating. 

What is the built industry doing to contribute to the Zero Net goal? 

Transitioning from standard building practices to more sustainable solutions is an expensive endeavour, which to date has  discouraged companies from fully embracing the Net Zero movement. It means revisiting budget allocation and execution so as not to affect investor profitability nor compromise capital availability and interrupt operations. But this will, and is changing.

The road to lessening Australia’s built environment’s carbon footprint is a long one but with the promising, long-term benefits that await construction companies,  more and more organisations are making a stand and doing their part to helping achieve what the Australian government promised in the Paris Agreement. 
According to ClimateWorks Australia – one of the main advocates of low-carbon solutions – here are the top three benefits of a greener and more sustainable building: 

  • $27 billion reduction in energy;

  • $12.6 billion cutback in energy network costs; and

  • savings of 78 million tonnes of cumulative emissions.

It is interesting to see the technologies that have emerged lately and currently being used and applied by builders, engineers, architects, and other professionals and groups in the industry. For instance, the installation of green, natural roofing is growing in demand. The product actually can improve air quality and also keep a structure cool, thus lessening cooling costs.
For energy efficiency, there’s the use of solar panels and the replacement of traditional lighting systems to LEDs. For fire protection as well as insulation, there’s natural cork intumescent coating like the range provided by Permax and the  F-Series, that not only provides a good fire protection for steel but also a good heating and cooling solution for your entire structure.
Other notable advancements include self-healing concrete that has zero downtime and the 3D structural printing technologies that lessens manpower, material use, and time consumed in the completion of the project. 

Sustainable Opportunities for Commercial and Industrial Construction Projects 

According to ClimateWorks Australia, the greenhouse gas emissions from buildings are projected to be 35% higher in 2020 than in 2000. Nevertheless, the construction industry has the “... potential to contribute 11 per cent of the total 2020 lowest-cost emissions reduction opportunity for Australia.” Businesses in the construction sector can take advantage of the incentives given to companies that invest in emissions reduction. A carbon tax in place can also motivate organisations to revisit opportunities for reducing carbon emissions that will translate to profitable opportunities for them. 
While there are plenty of construction advancements and new sustainable building materials readily made available today, in Australia, opportunities in emissions reduction can also be found in the heating and lighting systems, appliance use, electricity, and energy consumption, and many others.
The move has begun, but – and with some sense of irony – this is just the tip of the iceberg, so much more can be done. With our externally accredited ISO 14001 Environmental Management System in place for over 10 years, we have been active proponents for change and will continue to ride at the front of the wave looking for new ways to improve what we do.

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