green construction building

The Grass Is Greener, But What About the Concrete?

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.

 

According to @AGCofA, the #construction industry recycles more than any other industry. Click To Tweet

 

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!

 

In next 5 years, our online plan rooms could save enough paper to go around Earth 940 times! Click To Tweet

 

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 and can monitor itself for signs of stress!)

 

Concrete is getting greener - it dries faster, adds insulation, and even eats smog! #construction Click To Tweet

 

Did I miss anything? What changes have you made in the past few years to be greener?

 

24 replies
  1. Douglas Brown
    Douglas Brown says:

    Of course I have heard of the phrase “the grass is greener” but never thought it could apply to concrete. I suppose that with all the advancements in practically every field of development, it makes sense that concrete has made strides as well. Of the traits listed about concrete today, the fact that it can “eat smog” is an interesting idea, one that I hoped maybe you could expand on a little? Thanks for the post!

    Reply
  2. Elizabeth Skipper
    Elizabeth Skipper says:

    Thanks, Douglas! I was so amazed when I started researching all the advances in construction-related green technologies, especially with concrete!

    Boral’s smog-eating concrete roof tile removes nitrogen oxides from the atmosphere to improve air quality. It won a Breakthrough Award from Popular Mechanics in 2011 – you can read more about it here. So cool!

    Reply
    • Elizabeth Skipper
      Elizabeth Skipper says:

      Agreed, Stephen! Hopefully all of these enviro-friendly concretes will start being used in new construction.

      Reply
  3. Jason Scott
    Jason Scott says:

    The technological advances that we have made in the construction field are amazing. Not only are construction practices greener, but new materials take it to a whole new level. For example, the green concrete that you talk bout. I would never have thought that you could make a concrete that will absorb smog. These types of technologies will help us to save ourselves.

    Reply
    • Elizabeth Skipper
      Elizabeth Skipper says:

      I am amazed by the advances too, Jason! It gives me hope to see that so much effort is being put toward technologies that will make construction greener and improve the environment.

      Reply
  4. Meagan
    Meagan says:

    This is amazing to know that there are construction options to be greener. That seems to be one of the biggest concerns of the world and construction is always going to be around. It is really nice to see the worlds combining!

    Reply
    • Kendall Jones
      Kendall Jones says:

      Thanks for the comment, Meagan. Green and sustainable are definitely here to stay. New building techniques and materials along with net-zero energy buildings will further the adoption of green construction.

      Reply
  5. Pete Eremija
    Pete Eremija says:

    Interesting article re concrete absorbing smog and becoming greener!. Improving our environment is certainly on the minds of everyone and it is great to hear that the construction business is establishing the same mindset by improving technology to reduce air pollution, water contamination and dust.

    Reply
    • Kendall Jones
      Kendall Jones says:

      Thanks for the comment, Pete. Green and sustainable construction along with developments in more eco-friendly building materials has gone mainstream over the last few years.

      Reply
  6. Ken McGiboney
    Ken McGiboney says:

    Interesting, never knew about this. I see a lot of artificial turf being used for green grass replacement and can see how it saves a lot of water. Had never thought of concrete as being green. Here is the desert water for irrigation goes quickly.

    Having concrete with increased R values will certainly make a difference also. Interesting and helpful article.

    Reply
    • Kendall Jones
      Kendall Jones says:

      Thanks for the comment, Ken. There’s a surprising amount of research being done to make concrete more eco-friendly like capturing the CO2 used to manufacture it and pump it back to capture it in the concrete.

      Reply
  7. Dallas
    Dallas says:

    “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.”

    This trend needs to continue! Thank you for this article!

    Reply
  8. Gary
    Gary says:

    Nice article. It great to hear that the construction industry is making inroads to reducing our carbon footprint. With the human populations expanding, we must be smart with our resources.

    Reply
  9. Chris W
    Chris W says:

    Nice article, thanks for the information. Just like everything else as we expand and new techniques and procedures come out it is important to learn and make things safer for ourselves and the environment. This is something I never thought about, so thanks for sharing

    Reply
  10. LNWeaver
    LNWeaver says:

    That’s really cool that concrete is becoming greener overtime. The fact that come concrete can be recycled is a great boon to reusing materials. I bet construction projects could even offset costs with materials that can be recyclable.

    Reply
  11. Doyle
    Doyle says:

    I like hearing this kind of news. I used to work in concrete construction many years ago so to learn about efforts like this is so cool! Thanks!

    Reply

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