Understanding sustainable construction

Defining sustainable construction “Sustainability” is one of the world’s most talked about but least understood words. Its meaning is often clouded by differing interpretations and by a tendency for the subject to be treated superficially. For most companies, countries and individuals who do take the subject seriously the concept of sustainability embraces the preservation of the environment as well as critical development-related issues such as the efficient use of resources, continual social progress, stable economic growth, and the eradication of poverty. In the world of construction, buildings have the capacity to make a major contribution to a more sustainable future for our planet. The OECD, for instance, estimates that buildings in developed countries account for more than forty percent of energy consumption over their lifetime (incorporating raw material production, construction, operation, maintenance and decommissioning). Add to this the fact that for the first time in human history over half of the world’s population now lives in urban environments and it’s clear that sustainable buildings have become vital cornerstones for securing long-term environmental, economic and social viability. The pace of change means we don’t have the luxury of time. With urban populations worldwide swelling by around one million people every week, there’s an urgent need to come up with clever ideas that optimize the sustainable performance of the buildings that we live and work in. Building a sustainable future Sustainable construction aims to meet present day needs for housing, working environments and infrastructure without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs in times to come. It incorporates elements of economic efficiency, environmental performance and social responsibility – and contributes to the greatest extent when architectural quality, technical innovation and transferability are included.  Sustainable construction involves issues such as the design and management of buildings; materials performance; construction technology and processes; energy and resource efficiency in building,  operation and maintenance; robust products and technologies; long-term monitoring; adherence to ethical standards; socially-viable environments; stakeholder participation; occupational health and safety and working conditions; innovative financing models; improvement to existing contextual conditions; interdependencies of landscape, infrastructure, urban fabric and architecture; flexibility in building use, function and change; and the dissemination of knowledge in related academic, technical and social contexts. “Target issues” for sustainable construction Based on this concept and to make sustainable construction easier to understand, evaluate and apply, the LafargeHolcim Foundation and its partner universities have identified a set of five “target issues” for sustainable construction, which serve as the basis for the adjudication process of the LafargeHolcim Awards and as a framework for other activities of the Foundation. Innovation and transferability – Progress Projects must demonstrate innovative approaches to sustainable development, pushing the envelope of practice and exploring new disciplinary frontiers. Breakthroughs and trend-setting discoveries must be transferable to a range of other applications. Innovative concepts regarding design, integration of materials and methods, structure, enclosure and mechanical systems. Outstanding contributions to construction technologies and building processes, operation and maintenance. Advancements in the disciplines of architecture, urban and landscape design, civil, urban and environmental engineering, and other fields involved in the production of the built environment. Long-term monitoring methods to evaluate whether expectations and goals have been met. Dissemination of knowledge, including project documentation, communication, education and training. read more about the definition of “Progress” Ethical standards and social inclusion – People Projects must adhere to the highest ethical standards and promote social inclusion at all stages of construction, from planning and building to use and servicing; to ensure an enduring positive impact on communities. Proposals must demonstrate how they enhance the collective realm. Adherence to ethical standards in all phases of the project. Contributions to the formation of socially-viable environments, strengthening of shared values and empowerment of communities. Participation of stakeholders, including users, clients, neighborhood affiliations, local authorities and non-governmental organizations. Quality of working conditions in the construction industry and including on site; with specific attention given to fair compensation, adequate benefits, safety and gender equality. Political transparency, unbiased processes and commitment to principled interaction, just practices, all in the effort to prevent corruption at every level. read more about the definition of “People” Resource and environmental performance – Planet Projects must exhibit a sensible use and management of natural resources throughout their entire life cycle. Long-term environmental concerns, especially pertaining to stocks and flows of material and energy, should be an integral part of the design philosophy. Minimizing a project’s ecological footprint and maximizing its positive impact on the environment; reduction of harm and increase of beneficial effects. Environmentally-conscious land use strategies and policies that preserve the natural landscape, while taking water and land reclamation into account. Emphasis placed on the use of renewable energy in construction, use and upkeep of the built fabric to reduce CO2 emissions and avoid toxicity. Innovative deployment of material resources in construction with an emphasis on cradle to cradle cycles, mining existing building stocks and reduction of waste. Resilient products, robust construction details, smart interaction of building systems and environmentally sound technologies. read more about the definition of “Planet” Economic viability and compatibility – Prosperity Projects must prove to be economically feasible with regard to channeling and managing financial flows, promoting an economy of means and be compatible with demands across the construction’s lifespan. Integration of the project into larger economic frameworks of local, regional, and global monetary flows that show a positive impact of the economy on society and the environment. Funding sources and profits earned must be legitimate and transparent.  Projects must be affordable and operating costs over a structure’s lifetime determined in reference to returns on investment. Flexibility to adapt to future changes of user needs, ownership, laws, regulations, and economic fluctuations. Innovative economic models are sought that take external costs into consideration. read more about the definition of “Prosperity” Contextual and aesthetic impact – Place  Projects must convey a high standard of architectural quality as a prevalent form of cultural expression. With space, form and aesthetic impact of utmost significance, the material manifestation of the design must make a positive and lasting contribution to the physical, human and cultural environment. Improvement of existing contextual conditions responding to the natural and built environment. Interdependencies of landscape, infrastructure, urban fabric and architecture. Working with the given building stock through sensitive restoration, re-use or re-modeling of the built environment. Inventive programming strategies in terms of use, multiplicity of functions, short-term flexibility and long-term adaptability. Architectural quality and aesthetic impact, specifically concerning space, spatial sequences, movement, tactility of materials, light and ambiance. read more about the definition of “Place” read more about the “target issues“ for sustainable construction