4 Tips to Reduce Your Carbon Footprints in Construction

Hana Block


Did you know that the building and construction industry currently accounts for 39% of global carbon emissions? And residential and commercial buildings produce about 40% of greenhouse gas emissions each year. Making it one of the largest global polluters.

Within the industry, the total of all greenhouse gas emissions (mostly carbon) results from:

  • The construction lifecycle of a building 
    • Emissions from material extraction and transportation
    • The construction phase itself
    • Building maintenance
    • End of life stage through demolition and material waste disposal

Being one of the largest global polluters means that industry changes can have a vital impact, globally. And could represent the difference between success or failure in our fight against climate change. 

While we will always need to renovate and construct buildings, work is being done to evaluate the causes of emissions and develop sustainable alternatives to traditional construction practices. 

We’re already seeing an upward trend of incentives and requirements for net-zero embodied carbon within the industry.  

Some examples:

  • In 2016, the City of Vancouver published its Zero Emissions Building Plan establishing specific targets and actions for achieving zero emissions in all new buildings by 2030 
  • In 2020, The Buy Clean California Act will require Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) for certain materials being specified for state-building projects
  • MECLA is an organisation funded by the NSW government who is on a mission to help make the materials used in the building and construction of our cities and towns meet Net Zero carbon targets that align with the Paris Agreement. And work to bring different sectors together across the building and construction supply chain.

Adopting sustainable practices has major upsides and can help meet emission targets and avoid fines. In addition, companies in favour of sustainability will gain respected reputations that could lead to more business from consumers who value such efforts.

4 tips to reduce the carbon footprint

  1. Material selection – let your materials save for you
    One area the construction industry can focus on minimizing emissions is through material use. Did you know that just three building materials make up 23% of global greenhouse gas emissions?

    – Concrete produces around 11% of all carbon emissions
    – Steel and aluminum make up the remaining 12% of pollution

    Materials used for a project can help you navigate among cost reduction, premiere finish, and sustainability. Selecting materials with less embodied energy means these materials consume less energy to be processed and made into a usable product. 

    Using locally sourced materials can also help you save on transportation costs and acquiring the labour to work on that material would be easy.

    It’s clear there’s rising industry pressures to focus on implementing materials which are no longer just cost effective, but sustainable and energy efficient. Carefully selecting and resourcing sustainable building materials can provide long-term benefits and lower carbon output for the industry.  

  2. Reuse materials
    Whenever possible, look to reuse materials like brick, metals, wood or concrete.

    Repurposing materials typically has a much lower embodied carbon footprint than newly manufactured materials, since the carbon to manufacture them has already been spent. 

    For example, when reclaiming wood, you’re not only saving the energy that would have been spent in cutting the tree down, transporting and processing it – but the tree you never cut down is still doing the work of sequestering carbon.

  3. Invest in technology
    Technology plays a big role in improving traditional business processes into more sustainable practices.

    For example, we’ve seen how the efficiencies of Building Information Model (BIM) systems help reduce rework by providing data-backed decision making.

    A material tracking softwares can help drive more efficient cross-collaboration and better supply chain visibility. Full visibility and tracking of construction materials drives down risk of theft and unnecessary reorders.

    Overall, technology adoption and the transition away from paper-based workflows need to be escalated.
  4. Minimise Waste
    Construction activities result in the accumulation of huge amounts of solid waste. Embracing innovative construction and adopting alternate construction methods can be an effective way to significantly minimize construction waste from the equation.

    For example, in the case of prefabricated construction, individual modules and components are fabricated in a controlled factory environment. The finished modules get transported to the construction site and assembled. 

    This innovative model leaves minimal wastage of resources, unlike conventional construction building processes.

Heading towards a reduction in carbon

In the race to accommodate more people in more buildings, the increasing pace of development has surpassed our conventional standards that helped ensure a sustainable lifestyle.

The need for sustainability in the design, construction, and operation of buildings is a reality and the conditions will only worsen if the current construction practices aren’t challenged.

An industry that is a major resource guzzler, the future of our environment and economic success relies on the collective efforts the construction industry makes today.  And The good news is we have an opportunity to connect a net-zero strategy to the digital transformation of the construction industry.

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