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April 14, 2015 by Elizabeth Skipper
According to a recent article in Popular Science, the earth has been getting greener, “accumulating an additional 4 tons of biomass (vegetation) between 2003 and 2012.” With Earth Day on the horizon, I started to think about what role an increasingly green construction industry might have played.
Here are four important ways the industry improves the environment every day:
1. Decreasing Carbon Footprints
In the U.S., commercial buildings consume 73% of electricity and 13.6% of potable water, and create 38% of CO2 emissions, says the USGBC. But thanks in part to green construction standards such as LEED and Energy Star (and the accompanying tax credits), more and more buildings are energy and water efficient, maximizing resources by using advances like dual-flush toilets and layouts that optimize natural light.
The trend is even moving toward “net-zero energy” buildings, where the total energy used is roughly equal to the renewable energy created.
2. Using Green Construction Practices
The industry is multiplying the benefits of those eco-friendly buildings by limiting the environmental effects of the construction process itself. Significant changes have been made to reduce pollution, soil erosion, water contamination, airborne dust, and more.
Globally, buildings use 3 billion tons of raw materials per year, but designers and builders are increasingly reusing materials and incorporating more durable materials that will need to be replaced less often. Interestingly, according to the AGC, the construction industry recycles more material than any other industry. The USGBC calculated that LEED projects alone keep over 80 million tons of waste from landfills—and that doesn’t even take into account the improvements being made on many other projects.
3. Taking Advantage of Technology
In recent years, the construction industry has adopted new technologies, using them to make daily activities cheaper and more efficient…and, it turns out, more environmentally friendly.
Plan rooms are a perfect example of this trend. Physical plan rooms have gone the way of card catalogs and paper tax returns, giving way to online plan rooms, which save time, money, and paper. Based on current trends, an iSqFt study projected that over 1.6 million trees could be saved over a period of five years, simply because of the project plans being viewed on our site instead of being printed. That’s equivalent to 135 billion sheets of paper, which, if laid end to end, would go around the circumference of the Earth over 940 times!
4. Making Its Own Technological Advances
Despite complaints a few years ago that nothing had changed in the past 50 years, in reality, the construction and design industries are constantly generating ideas, most of which result in saved time, money, and resources.
A perfect example is the “green” concrete I mentioned in the title. For centuries, concrete has been the same—water, cement, and gravel (or another aggregate)—but recent years have put that formula in the mixer. Now we have concrete that dries faster, adds insulation, incorporates recycled materials, and even eats smog. (Not to mention current research into concrete that uses bacteria to heal itself andcan monitor itself for signs of stress!)
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