Conserving the environment through sustainable construction

Image Credit: JBAD

Located 17 kilometers from Abu Dhabi capital is Masdar City - which also goes by the names Zero Carbon Ark and Desert Utopia. Regarded as the model of future cities, it sits on six-square-kilometers of land underneath which is 100 billion barrels of oil but it won't be consuming even a drop of it to achieve its zero carbon emission target. The desert temperature is around 40 to 50 degrees Celcius but inside the city it is only about 20 degrees, thanks to its indigenous design. 80% of the city's energy supply will come from solar. A 10 megawatt solar power array is already powering the construction of a mega power supply for the city. The eco city is a perfect example of sustainable construction and smart transportation solutions; The proposed transportation system is a driverless, point-to-point personal rapid transit system, electric vehicle system, electric buses and automated public transportation network. These will help the city become a zero carbon utopia.

Buildings have the capacity to contribute to environmental conservation given that they account for more than 40% of energy consumption. There is no doubt that sustainable construction is the way of the future given that about a half of the world's population currently live in urban centres.

With that in mind, countries are beginning to implement innovative construction to include environmentally sensitive procedures and materials, without compromising the quality and safety of buildings. And so green buildings and sustainable construction techniques continue to gain ground in developing worlds, with South Africa leading the way according to reports. Not only are green buildings more energy efficient - with the incorporation of renewable energy - but also have a smaller carbon footprint.

However, such sustainable construction methods must prove to be economically viable if they are to be accepted in society, and that is coming to pass too. There is no doubt that incorporating sustainable construction techniques help reduce final costs while many alternative environmental-friendly alternative building methods are actually cheaper than conventional methods today.

Sustainable construction ideologies

Reduction of water and energy usage during and after construction process are some of the techniques being pursued to achieve sustainable construction, although the ideas do not stop there. Another strategy is marketplace innovation, where environmental and energy sensitive products are filling construction markets every single day. Modern smart cities are also being planned with environmental conservation in mind. 

Image Credit: Earth Untouched

Energy conservation: First, a lot of energy is used during the actual construction of buildings and during their operational phase. In addition, the manufacture of building materials also consumes a lot of energy. Thoughtful planning and design of buildings can help reduce energy consumption during and after the construction process. Increasing the use of renewable energy during the construction and operation phase is another way of cutting down on CO2 emissions related to construction, and which helps conserve energy. The region is already experiencing an increase in the number of buildings termed as energy-efficient, with research by Investment Property Databank (IPD) and the Green Building Council of South Africa showing they are worth the investment. Some governments are also, through special bodies, supporting these initiatives by awarding star ratings on green building investments.

After construction, a number of mechanisms are employed to reduce energy consumption. A simple example is the use of LED and CFL bulbs. From a normal day-to-day perspective, energy efficiency in buildings can help consumers counter high electricity bills. Use of solar hot water heaters can reduce energy consumption and the use of double glazed/ tinted windows also increases the energy efficiency rating of buildings. 

Material innovation: Use of locally available and natural materials, recycled materials and durable materials is the way to environmentally-sensitive sustainable building. In addition, one of the key issues is resource efficiency. Environmentally sustainable materials, from recycled glass, reclaimed lumber, composite materials, recycled plastic and natural products such as bamboo, cork and linoleum are being employed. These materials replace or reduce the use of environmentally-harmful materials such as synthetic chemicals, which are largely utilized during construction, and which contribute to a number of gaseous pollutants. Modern engineered materials give strong and durable structures although many people still have negative attitudes against them. Already, developing nations are seeing the entry of several companies that manufacture eco-products for construction into the market. 

Water conservation: Water conservation in all industries is becoming the norm given the scarcity of water as a resource globally. Some of the techniques being adopted include rainwater harvesting. Use of low flow faucets, showerheads and dual flush toilets can help customers realize lower water bills in the long run.

In conclusion, sustainable construction in developing worlds will not only help lower carbon emissions, but also lower the cost of living by reducing the cost of house units and energy bills. It also presents a good opportunity for recycling initiavies, which helps create additional job opportunities. The future of green building seems bright in developing countries as related systems and products become more acceptable to people. Thus these technologies hold a promise towards reducing housing shortage amidst rising urbanization rates. Overcoming negative attitude towards these technologies and lack of knowledge of them, among other challenges, will determine, to a great extent, the success of green building in the region. Many still need be convinced that the sustainable building materials can render strong and durable structures like traditional concrete buildings.