Earlier this year, the NBS global technology platform published its Sustainable Futures Report. The report is a summary of responses to an online survey conducted with 608 construction industry professionals in the fourth quarter of 2021. It reflected responses from Canada, USA, Brazil, Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Poland, China, Japan, India, Nigeria, Australia, and others which totaled 29%, plus UK at 71%.
The report related that many people consider sustainability to be about striking a balance between the resources we use to live our lives and the welfare of the environment. It follows that sustainable construction might be characterized as creating a built environment that is positive for both the planet and society as a whole continuing into the future. “Sustainability,” the report said, “cannot be a bolt on.”
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With the omnipresence of environmental issues permeating the news and social media, it isn’t unexpected that sustainable construction methods are increasingly voluntary. According to an online Forbes article, 77% of people want to learn how to live more sustainably. The NBS report says that legislation is having less of an impact on sustainable construction. In fact, the report said there is generally a lack of legislation forcing sustainable practices upon the construction industry. Reportedly, voluntary efforts are so strong that government intervention is actually decreasing.
The survey findings were that those involved in sustainable projects are likely to be driven by personal beliefs and values. There is also a trend for companies to lead by example with a sustainable approach. Apparently, in many companies sustainability is a regular topic of discussion. Although fewer than half of the responding companies employ someone to ensure that sustainable outcomes are achieved on projects, 42% have made a commitment to sustainability on at least some of their projects.
Besides personal beliefs, the greatest impetus for that commitment is the customer. The report stated that 87% of clients realize the need to consider sustainability in the earliest stages of a project, when the parameters are being defined. Secondarily architects and engineers have influence on the sustainability highlights of a project. While the general contractor, subcontractors and suppliers have less impact, they all play a part, particularly when they collaborate on the project.
The ways they might collaborate together to affect the sustainability of a project include building eco-friendly aspects of the project into RFPs, specifying “green” building materials, using standardized solutions, considering the entire lifecycle of a building in the initial design, sourcing materials locally, and using building information modeling (BIM) to build smarter and minimize rework.
In a deliberate, change-resistant industry like construction, which has seen its share of ups and downs, fads and fashions, it’s no wonder there is a wide variety of feelings about sustainability. Those include concerns about the up-front costs to make a project fit the description of sustainable. However, the report points out that many respondents felt the initial planning and investment costs required by sustainable construction methods should be weighed against the benefits. As an article in Nature pointed out, economic interests and environmental interests are not necessarily in conflict.