Despite the growing awareness regarding conservation of the ecosystem, the actions being taken to remedy the loss in biodiversity is still far from being adequate. Products made from renewable resources like green construction materials and plantation-grown woods help mitigate the stress that human consumption places on the global ecosystem. ‘Green building’ is a trend, which is here to stay. The challenge to the environment is posed by usage of generic prototypes for building construction, which leads to consumption of 40 percent of raw stone, gravel and sand. In addition, an equal share of other processed material such as steel adds to landscape destruction, toxic run-off from mines and tailings.
Estimates reveal that twentyfive percent of virgin wood is used for construction leading to deforestation, flooding, biological and cultural diversity losses. Forty percent of the total energy used leads to local air pollution, acid rains, damming of rivers and nuclear waste, which increases the risk of global warming. Sixteen percent of total water withdrawal leads to water pollution and it also competes with agriculture and ecosystems for water. Municipal solid waste generation adds to landfill problems, such as leaching of heavy metals and water pollution. Poor air quality from new and renovated buildings contributes to a higher incidence of sickness-lost productivity in big numbers.
With the investments in new commercial construction increasing annually, the burden imposed on the environment by the construction and operation will continue to rise. Therefore, a new model for design that takes into account environmental impact over the life of the building is necessary. Sustainable designs evaluate every design decision in order to evaluate potential impact on the environment, occupant health and comfort, among others. Fortunately, it is quite possible that many of the concepts and technologies that may be employed to reduce environmental impact in construction and operation could be implemented at no extra cost. Life-cycle cost accounting that looks at long-term cost and return on investment, as well as environmental costs makes design options look more attractive once they are evaluated. Sustainable material is a result of innovative research, understanding of consumer needs and its responsibility towards the environment.
There is a dire need and increasing pressure on the construction industry to look at alternative materials at every stage, right from the pre-construction to post construction usage. The product focus on aesthetic appeal, exceptional functionality and extreme durability should be parallel to concerns about dwindling natural resources, global warming and hazardous ill effects on the eco-system. At the preconstruction stage, pre-cast and pre-fabricated structures made out of recycled material, which are recyclable, can replace conventional construction materials like stone and gravel. Moreover, the usage of recyclable materials also reduces the usage of cement. Over the years, the technology put into the making of pre-cast blocks has changed and advanced considerably in the construction and development domain. Composite materials made out of waste and the bi-products reinforced with natural fibres can bring about an effective green revolution and can be cost-effective too.
Pollution prevention measures taken during the manufacturing process can contribute significantly to environmental sustainability. It is imperative to select materials manufactured by environmentally responsible companies to encourage efforts at pollution prevention. In addition, making use of natural materials should be fostered during the manufacturing process. Natural materials are more eco-friendly than synthetic materials. Also biodegradable products when incorporated into construction, can lead to a more sustainable output. Two major advantages of using sustainable materials in the construction industry, are the efficiency brought in, along with the conversation of energy and resources. Recyclable products should be used during construction; these include products aimed at reducing energy consumption, waste and emission of greenhouse gases. Sustainable products include usage of materials and products that are energy efficient. Construction entities should make use of products that help reduce energy consumption. Efficient use of resources and energy is of critical importance as it not only reduces the future cost incurred for the maintenance of the building, but also contributes to an eco-friendly environment.
The application of composite light-weight structures for construction of bridges, sky-walks elevated corridors is proven and already in use. New composite technology can introduce structural members which can be highly load bearing and can replace conventional materials. These materials may have a higher initial cost, but if the total life-cycle cost and maintenance is taken into consideration, then the design usage turns out to be very cost-effective. In addition, these materials will have an added advantage, as they are not only safe but also earthquake resistant. They are also energy efficient, as most of these materials have low heat conductivity and are acoustically insulated. These materials do not corrode, require virtually no maintenance and are also aesthetically appealing. Material scientists have been working to find new materials composites, and designing fabrication techniques for a newer world that will be greener, safer and will reduce the burden on our current existing ecological imbalance. Manufacturing and utilising sustainable building materials in construction helps conserve natural resources and preserve the environment for our coming generations. They are sustainable, affordable and it is time for the industry to take a serious look at the various options and participate in making it a reality.
Mukul Gupta is MD, Eco Earth Solutions