The number of buildings in the world is ever-growing as populations expand in urban areas. In fact, it’s been predicted that the building and construction sector will add 2.4 trillion square feet of new floor area by 2060—that’s equal to building another New York City every month over 40 years. And that only includes new construction. While the sector is working to create new spaces, it’s also retrofitting other spaces to accommodate changing needs from our built environments.
With all this continued construction comes an important realization—our buildings play a significant role in global warming. The industry is responsible for 50% of annual global greenhouse gas emissions, according to a recent report. It’s critical that the building industry begins to address its impact on climate change by investing in sustainable building strategies.
One of the biggest obstacles that we have historically seen when it comes to prioritizing environmentally conscious buildings is how to pair cost with carbon analysis. Fortunately, we’re seeing this evolve as it’s now easier than ever to make carbon and dollar-smart design and procurement decisions. Today, most building products and materials that are cost-effective are also inherently sustainable due to changing codes and requirements. Let’s take a deeper look at what that means for the sector today.
The construction industry is seeing a major shift when it comes to demand and interest in sustainable building strategies across critical stakeholder groups—from policymakers, to building owners, and beyond. Sustainability used to be a nice-to-have, but now it’s a financial risk for companies who aren’t prioritizing low-carbon construction.
Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) efforts and reporting play a significant role in this as companies and building owners are having to share goals, strategies, and progress as related to overall emissions. Buildings and facilities are an important component to meeting company climate objectives. And, as the SEC plans to introduce new regulations related to ESG, being transparent about emission reduction strategies across a company’s operations and building portfolio will be even more critical to performance and financial risk.
Beyond ESG efforts, companies are also setting net-zero goals, and buildings must be included in these efforts for real progress to be made. The result is increased awareness of building emissions and strategies to address both embodied and operational carbon. Companies and owners are now including sustainability requirements more often in RFPs and vendor agreements.
At the same time, players in the architecture, engineering and construction (AEC) industry are prioritizing sustainable design features on their projects as they become more aware of and engaged in efforts to reduce the industry’s climate impact.
BALANCE IN THE SHIFT
With growing demand for low-carbon buildings comes an increasingly important focus on effectively pairing cost and carbon to develop optimized buildings. By doing this, teams can make data-driven decisions that fit their needs for a specific project.
It’s important to note that, in the past, the construction sector has faced concerns surrounding increased costs being an obstacle when it comes to adopting sustainable buildings; however, this is not the case. In fact, it’s been widely reported that while the average new green building costs 9.5% more to build, it will result in an average reduction of 17% in operating costs over its first 5 years and a 9% increase in asset value. The cost of developing green buildings should continue to decrease as sustainable and low-carbon strategies and products continue to become the norm due to changing codes and requirements.
As energy codes continue to become more stringent, manufacturers are producing building components and products that are more efficient and have a lower carbon footprint to meet growing demand in response to changing requirements. An example is high-efficiency water heaters, which have decreased in price due to high demand. The industry is now standardizing optimized and low-carbon buildings—all in all, this means that any building can now be green.
As this shift continues to take place across the building sector, it means that by focusing on costs, you are often choosing the most sustainable material or product available. By leading with efficiency and optimization when thinking about building design and procurement, it becomes easier to make better decisions overall that enable the cheapest material to also have lower carbon and support overall objectives for a project.
This is also an effective strategy in gaining buy-in from skeptics of green buildings—demonstrate the cost and value of these decisions over the long-term and the growing demand for more sustainable built spaces.
DATA & TECH PLAY A ROLE
To make better informed decisions on a project, teams need data and insights to determine what strategies and products check the required boxes and create better buildings. This means that the construction industry must invest in transparency and disclosure efforts to enable data-driven design decisions that help teams select the lowest cost, highest performance design options.
By pairing data with technology, teams can quickly and easily evaluate all the potential materials options they have for a given project and compare the cost premium and energy savings against each other to inform procurement efforts. Companies are already seeing results by using software that enables this kind of thinking, including time reduced by 66%, construction costs reduced by 3%, and profits increased by 6%.
As the sector continues to understand and make strides in reducing its carbon impact, it’s important that all players of the industry invest in the specific actions needed to drive real change. For manufacturers, that might be low-carbon innovation and transparency. For architects, it might be carbon reduction goals and requirements for all projects. And for building owners, it might be emissions reporting and net-zero goals. Through collective buy-in, we can make a positive impact.
About the Author:
Patrick Chopson is chief product officer and co-founder at www.cove.tools.
Modern Contractor Solutions, November 2022
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