Construction and the Environment

This is the first post in our new series – where we will look at a number of areas relating to sustainability, architecture and the environment, environmental architecture, renewables and more. 
 

Construction and the environment 

 
The construction industry has a large impact on the natural environment and the planet, it is one of the least sustainable industries in the world. 
 
We are all too aware of the threat of climate change, and the effects this is already having on global warming. Higher temperatures are raising sea levels, causing increased evaporation and creating more volatile and unpredictable weather patterns. This is in part as a result of excessive use of fossil fuels, where the burning of these fuels creates greenhouse gases, CO2 in particular. The CO2 emissions are too great to be naturally absorbed by natural means which results in excess greenhouse gases that are effecting climate change.
 
construction and the environment
 
A vast amount of the fossil fuels that are burned are to produce energy. 
Data suggests that the main sources of CO2 emissions in the UK are approximately:
  • 50% heating, lighting and ventilating buildings
  • 25% transportation of goods and people
  • 20% industry and agriculture
  • 5% building construction activities
 
It could be argued that all of these areas could be improved by the construction industry. Not only does the building industry use fossil fuels to source and manufacture materials for buildings, they are then used in the transportation of materials, during the construction of buildings and finally when the building is in use in the form of energy resource for heating, lighting and ventilating.
 
Much of the construction process employs very energy intensive operations during the life cycle of a building project:
  • The extraction of minerals and materials
  • Processing and refinement of materials
  • Off site fabrication of building elements
  • Transportation and distribution of goods
  • On site construction of buildings
  • Operation of the building after construction
  • Decommissioning and recycling
  • Or refurbishment of the building

 

Energy

Improving the performance of our buildings will in turn reduce the requirements for energy for lighting, heating, ventilation and cooling. Areas to consider are the discovery and development of new materials and technologies that will provide an increased energy performance. The reduction of carbon emissions from building operations should also be considered when approaching design.

 

Materials

 

There are a finite amount of raw materials on the planet. We must endeavour to control the use of raw materials by engaging in a more comprehensive approach to material selection and use. 

 

When dealing with the issue of waste material we must consider the following:

  • Making sure a design avoids using unnecessary material
  • Where possible reuse any materials without having to send them back through the manufacturing process
  • If materials can’t be reused they are recycled into new products
  • If waste cannot be recycled energy can be extracted from incineration

construction and the environment

Other areas to consider with the specification of materials is to ensure they originate from sustainable sources. This is known as a chain of custody, where the entire supply chain is checked and monitored to ensure the materials have come from the original supplier through the distribution network, with certificates to authenticate. 

Water

 

As the problem of global warming progresses, water scarcity is becoming an increasing issue. Much can be done as designers to implement water saving schemes, along with flood reduction schemes. 

 

Environment

 

Sustainable design also looks at creating healthy spaces that are sensitive to social needs. It also looks at creating a balance between the needs of the humans and the wider surrounding environment. 

construction and the environment

Conclusion

 

Architects have a key role in helping to manage climate change. They can play an active role in reducing the consumption of energy in existing buildings and helping to develop buildings of the future with the design choices they make. 

 

While I won’t go into the intricate details and data associated with environmental science in architecture (there are many books you can turn to for that)  – we will look at a selection of relevant issues that will try to simplify and inform, to allow for a more sustainable approach for architectural design. Over the coming series of articles, we are going to look at many of the factors relating to environmental architectural design, sustainability, green architecture, and much more.  These topics range from materials, renewable energy, internal environment, site planning and more. 

My favourite Tools and Resources

I have curated a list of some of the tools and resources I would strongly recommend for anyone studying or working in Architecture.