Environmental Issues in the construction industry

Ever since the dawn of the industrial revolution and the invention of the internal combustion engine in the 19th century, environmental pollution has skyrocketed to unimaginable rates. This is because with the development of the internal combustion engine came a wide range of machinery that has made our lives much easier but has had and is continuing to have detrimental effects on our atmosphere.
The transportation sector was revolutionized by the invention of vehicles and hence road networks. Unfortunately, these road networks are not efficient in taking care of the billions of vehicles that exist on our planet today; the result- unimaginable gridlocks in many major cities like London and New York, leading to more emission of greenhouse gases that ultimately destroys the ozone layer.
Even trains that are being powered by diesel engines or electricity are not free from contributing to this pollution. Aircraft are truly great and it has truly cut travel time to levels unimaginable 130 years ago. However, there has also been ever-increasing pollution from aircraft. Ever since ships stopped using wind has its source of power, it’s a contribution to air pollution has been on a continuous increase. Spillage from oil tankers has also had detrimental effects on both terrestrial and aquatic life.

Environmental Issues

All these and many more sources of pollution has led to a pressing struggle that scientists and architects all over the world are up against: the quest to meet up to the rising energy demands to power our transportation mechanism with clean energy solutions.
Aside from the transport sector, the Industrial sector has also contributed to this environmental degradation that we experience.
Industrial activities have drastically changed our landscape; the invention of steel has helped raise our buildings to unimaginable heights, the demand for raw materials has also spawned an eclectic rise in diverse industries from quarrying operations to level highlands, drilling down great depth to access the black gold, mining operations to obtain limestone and so much more. They have all contributed jointly to all forms of pollution; air pollution from the engines we run, land and water pollution from the waste we dump or oil spillage. The landscape as we know it will never remain the same again.
This article attempts to discuss briefly the Environmental issues in the construction industry.
According to the U.S Green Home Building Council, the construction industry accounts for 40% of worldwide energy usage and is expected to rise in the years to come. This is not hard to believe if you consider the number of buildings that sprout up every day. For a building to come to life, a lot of components is required to make things work out. From excavating for raw materials like limestone to as little as getting water. In fact, everything you see in a building has taken a particular amount of energy to be transformed into its usable form. The result- ever increasing pollution.

Environmental issues in the construction industry - Building design
International communities have realized that to ensure sustainability, building design must allow for smartness and efficiency.
Sustainability is a convoluted concept because various factors have to be put into proper consideration before it can be achieved. However, it has become a necessity if we want the earth to still be habitable in the future. Sustainability as a concept is the proper management of natural resources so as to avoid depletion and ensure ecological balance. For a project to be considered sustainable, it must meet the following criteria:

1) It must be energy efficient
2) Reduced emission
3) Prevent pollution
4) Improved indoor air quality
5) Inexpensive
6) Low maintenance cost
7) Biodegradable after abandonment

Home building experts have begun to consider ways in which buildings can be sustainable. They tackle the problem from a bottom-up approach by isolating all the processes involved in building and looking for ways they can make each of them sustainable. From the building design stage to completion, sustainability is the watchword. However, in current times, a broader eye view is being taken by focusing on global objectives while micro-level integrated decision making is neglected.
As counterintuitive as it may sound, it is sustainability on this micro level that is practically feasible and can add up to make the greater change, by taking a holistic approach to enhance decision making. Although different technologies exist to help in structure design, from Building Research Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM) to Building for Environmental and Economic Sustainability (BEES),
Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). The common goal is to provide building design that will have the least impact on the natural environment and the health of humans.

LEED - Leadership in energy
According to research, by the year 2056, global economic activities will increase by a factor of 5, world population would have increased to about 11 billion and energy demand will be at least tripled. As indicated earlier a reasonable amount of this energy will be taken by building construction. A completed home building project initiated by an architect uses energy for its HVAC system, lighting, power and ventilation systems. Current natural resources are being depleted at an uncontrollable rate and our future depends on making the right decisions now.
It is sad however to know that most of this energy used is wasted in form of emissions and pollutions. Not only is it being wasted, the waste product is also damaging our environment. Now global warming is a worldwide pressing environmental issue due to our depletion of the ozone layer by the emission of carbon monoxide, carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gases.
The principal environmental issues that have been identified in the construction industry are now being discussed.

Energy Conservation

Using energy in today’s world has become a serious environmental issue as buildings consume greater percentage of the energy. Each stage involved in building requires energy including design, construction as well as demolition.  One of the ways to tackle this energy issue is to make our buildings use energy in an efficient manner. Ideally, our homes should be built using a percentage of the present energy requirements of such buildings. This will help to reduce significantly the rate at which our non-renewable energy resources such as oil and coal are depleted. Furthermore, there will be reduction in emission of greenhouse gases emanating from buildings.

Home design - energy efficient

The key to having an energy efficient building is to bring down the operational energy requirement. The energy needed to maintain the internal environment of a building is known as operational energy. It accounts for about 95 percent of the energy used and carbon dioxide emitted from the HVAC devices, according to Thormark’s life cycle. The operational energy of most homes will drop drastically as they become more energy efficient.

Having understood what energy efficient building is all about, the building industry is beginning to buying into this idea presently and more energy efficient buildings are being built to pave way for this innovation. Therefore, the best thing to do is to make our buildings more energy efficient so that the earth will remain a living place for generations yet unborn.

Material Conservation

Building structures require a lot of materials for their construction. In most cases, these materials are non-renewable like limestone and in some cases, they are like trees, however, their depletion is so great that they cannot be sustained. This material usage has an immense impact on the natural bio-diversity thereby affecting the ecosystem. It is therefore imperative that when buildings want to be constructed, the proper analysis is done on how material consumption can be substantially reduced. This can either be through adopting synthetic building materials where applicable.

Design conservation - Building design - Material Conservation
All these should be properly considered in the design phase when discussing with the architect, so as to come up with a very material efficient building with least environmental impact.

Land Conservation

The land is a finite resource i.e. it can be exhausted. All construction is realized on land. Land use, therefore, poses a major challenge as other activities like farming compete for land space. In fact, urban cities are even extending habitable land into the oceans and desserts and architects are being tasked with almost impossible projects. Land reclamation from the ocean on a large scale can greatly affect the aqua system. Even farming lands are being destroyed by increased erosion due to tree felling for construction, groundwater pollution, industrial pollutant and so on. This is destroying our plant life and actions much the taken to restore natural habitats.

Land Conservation- Building design - construction industry - green design - green house
It is therefore important that certain policies be put in place to ensure that our land is used wisely. Zero-expansion policies can be placed on already expanded urban cities, this can be attained by using land occupied by old buildings to construct new structures.
Also, the way in which building arranged on land can be more executed efficiently by increasing the population density to a sustainable amount. For example, a concentration of medical centers, recreational centers, shopping malls in a certain area would ensure settlement within the neighborhood of such centers. This will prevent expansion as the new buildings will have lower access to infrastructures. Another idea is to develop non-arable land for construction purposes and integrate an efficient transportation system.

Environmental Issues in the construction industry

Design conservation

Tweaking design is one of the great ways to be environmentally oriented when the construction of a building is being planned. There are 4 ways to achieve this:

Design conservation - Building design - construction industry - green design - green house
Health Interior Environment

It must be ensured that health-friendly materials are used in buildings. Materials that emit toxic gases should be avoided as they are detrimental to humans. Also, proper ventilation should be planned to ensure proper fresh-air circulation in the building.

Energy Efficiency

Buildings should be constructed in such a way that they use the least amount of energy. Material type and design structure should be properly selected to ensure that the HVAC system consumes a considerably lower amount of energy.

energy-efficiency-Environmental Issues in the construction industry

Ecological Building Materials

Renewable materials should be the first option of consideration in construction before non-renewable materials can be used if its purpose cannot be achieved by a renewable material.

Good Design

A good building should be efficient as well as aesthetically pleasing. Material, structure, and beauty must be integrated in such a way that the resulting building is safe, efficient and lovely. Also, green designs should the guide of architects when designing. From the way the windows are arranged and inclined to the materials used, the goal should be to have a green building while not compromising its look.


Environmental issues are a major concern in today’s world and sustainable buildings is most for the building design industry and other architects to adopt. Sustainable building structures will help achieve that balance between economic, social and environmental performance when implementing constructions. Construction of structures is of high economic value and so it is indispensable. However, with the rising alarm on environmental pollution from construction, a check has to be placed on construction practices and policies to ensure that the new generations of buildings that will be emerging are environmentally friendly. We have seen that to achieve this state of sustainability, three core framework must be upheld; resource efficiency, cost efficiency and proper design. All these will ensure that right from the conceptual stage, all key variables are accounted for to result in a sustainable building.
This framework has the potential to speed up the understanding and execution of sustainable buildings. This framework emphasizes the importance of a holistic approach when tackling the environmental issues associated with buildings. All key components, including material, design and so on are taken into consideration in the design, construction, operation, renovating and demolition stages of a building. This framework is intended to be complementarily used in conjunction with existing assessment systems like BREEAM and LEED.
The requirements for sustainability are intertwined and the challenge is for the designer to look for innovative ways to efficiently account for these requirements in a proportion that will ultimately result in a building with least environmental impact.
Sustainable building designs are the way to go and unless we realize and work toward it, progress will prove difficult.