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Building a Sustainable Environment

The world is changing faster than any time in human history, with the population projected to increase by one billion over the next 12 years. These changes will increase carbon emissions and energy consumption around the world. 

Over the past 50 years, the U.S. has seen progress in sustainability, thanks in large part to the efforts of citizens like us. When various industries work together to practice sustainability efforts, we can ensure a positive environmental, economic, and social impact.

That’s why we believe that sustainability must be at the forefront of our operations. Those of us in the building and construction industry need to collaborate to prepare for the coming changes and to make a sustainable built environment for generations to come.

Start here to learn about how you can incorporate sustainability in your building projects.

sustainability quote

As the built environment expands, population grows, and resource consumption inevitably increases, construction industry professionals like us must shift our focus to sustainability. Sustainability is the avoidance of the depletion of natural resources in order to maintain an ecological balance. 

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), “to pursue sustainability is to create and maintain the conditions under which humans and nature can exist in productive harmony to support present and future generations.”

“Green construction” is a growing trend due to the public’s increased awareness of environmental impacts during building and construction. All parties involved with a construction project can practice green construction through material selection, recycling and reuse, location siting, sustainable design, energy efficiency, lifecycle planning, and more.

Sustainability isn’t just something you can practice to feel like a good citizen – it’s often mandatory for many construction projects including new buildings, infrastructure, building retrofits, and more.

"Over the next twenty years, an area equal to 3.5 times the entire built environment of the U.S. will be redesigned, reshape, and rebuilt globally"

Architecture 2030

There are state, local, and jurisdictional regulations and laws that guide you, your designers, and builders on numerous activities including, but not limited to: stormwater runoff management, pollutant reduction, product selection, waste management, land use planning, and more.

There are also several standards in the works that seek to make energy efficient buildings a requirement, such as Vision 2030, ASHRAE 90.1, and the International Energy Conservation Code.

In addition, there are best practices and green building certification systems that offer discretionary guidelines to encourage greener building and development. 

LEED Program

In 1993, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) was developed, followed closely by its Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) program. Over the next 20 years, the LEED program grew from a single standard for new construction to one of the leading building rating systems in the world for design, construction, operations, and maintenance. LEED uses a point system to score buildings in the following areas:

  1. Sustainable Sites
  2. Water Efficiency
  3. Energy and Atmosphere
  4. Materials and Resources
  5. Indoor Environmental Quality

The program has shaped how we think of sustainability and has opened the door for other more integrative systems that evaluate the built environment from different perspectives.

WELL Building Standard

Another system for certifying green buildings is the WELL Building Standard which was launched in 2014 by the International WELL Building Institute. This newer standard integrates building design with scientific and medical research to identify ways to improve human well-being. This certification program tests and measures several environmental elements, including:

  • Air quality and the volume of organic and inorganic gases
  • Water quality, including dissolved chemical and suspended solids
  • The color quality and intensity of lights and spectral power distribution
  • Thermal considerations such as ambient and radiant temperature, air speed, and humidity
  • Acoustic reverberation and decibel levels elements

In the long run, green building can enhance asset value, improve life cycle performance, and reduce operating costs – all of key importance to owners and developers. Sustainably-designed buildings often use natural resources more efficiently, which can lower both utility bills and the impact on the environment. Additionally, the USGBC notes that green construction is contributing to $75.6 billion in wages and will contribute 1.1 million jobs to the economy.

A sustainable project can begin as an idea or goal as early as the planning phase. Regardless of the type of project, it’s the way it is designed and constructed that can leave a lasting impact on the environment. Sustainable design considers the economic and social aspects of the design in addition to the environmental impacts. It is a holistic look at the entire building process. The design should include environmental considerations for energy efficiency, site selection, material selection, and indoor air quality, if applicable, from the start.

Site Planning and Infrastructure

Environmentally responsive site planning is a key component in sustainable design. Whether your project is a highway or a large commercial development, the site selection, site disturbance, stormwater management, and the effect of a structure on its surroundings needs to be considered.

One of the biggest challenges for developers is dealing with stormwater management, yet it is necessary to protect water quality, wildlife habitats, and to prevent erosion. Stormwater management is a major driver for project cost as regulatory bodies mandate low impact development and encourage the use of dispersed landscape solutions.

Stormwater Runoff
There are two ways to reduce stormwater runoff. Depending on your project, the local municipality, and best management practices (BMPs), you can:

  1. Capture runoff and control the release back into the ground or storm drain system.
  2. Harvest the stormwater and reuse it for landscape irrigation, toilet flushing, and cooling towers, as examples.

Stormwater Pollutant Reduction
Regardless of the type of project you are building, 
you need to make sure your projects have minimal impact on the surrounding environment. Stormwater from our paved streets, parking lots, and roofs carry with it pollution, debris, oils, and grease that can negatively affect water quality. There are a variety of methods that can be used in your project's infrastructure that will treat stormwater runoff. Examples include inlet trash capture devices, hydrodynamic separators, media filters, and bioretention and biofiltration methods.

Methods for Managing Stormwater

Whether you are capturing, conveying, treating, or harvesting water, CRH has a full line of products that can help solve your project's challenges all while meeting local BMPs. Here are just a few:


Building Structures

For the building structure and envelope, you should be familiar with the elements of an energy efficient build. These elements include, but are not limited to, the building envelope (and its thermal properties), windows, and water use.

Envelope
A key component in sustainable design is an energy efficient building envelope. Whether you are using glass or masonry, designing the envelope to be thermally efficient (and prevent heat loss in the winter and heat gain in the summer) is imperative. Designers should consider both the thermal mass of the materials as well as the insulating value. Thermal mass helps to reduce indoor temperature swings and often leads to reduction in the size of mechanical heating and cooling (HVAC) systems, which is one of the biggest sources of energy use and cost. Additionally, thermal breaks separate the interior from the exterior and prevent heat/cold transfer.

Using a thermal glazing system or high-performance wall system, such as EnduraMax®, can create an extra layer of thermal protection that building owners can benefit from and will help meet or even exceed today’s demanding energy codes. With EnduraMax, insulation panels are integrated directly into the wall system and then topped with thin veneer stones and sealed with a pumpable mortar. The final envelope maintains continuous insulation, and, because of the variety of veneers that it can be finished with, it can match any aesthetic.

Interiors
The interior of a building should be designed with environmental and acoustic quality at top-of-mind. By following building science methods, you can deliver spaces that are optimized for their climate and the type of materials used to build them. Look for a volatile organic compound (VOC)-free finishes to ensure a safe indoor environment for your occupants, and incorporate products made from recycled materials such as post-consumer glass, slag cement, or recycled aggregate into your masonry.

Windows
Use environmentally friendly windows that keep UV heat and noise outside, such as those made from double pane, low-emissivity (low-e) glass. Thermal products such as glass entrances, windows, and curtain walls that use insulated glazing can help meet thermal performance requirements and offer potential energy savings. Sun controls can also be incorporated to help reduce energy consumption and increase interior comfort.

Also, keep in mind the reflective properties of glass and how it can appear translucent to birds, causing them to fly right into it. Etched glass, facades, and louvers are just a few solutions available to meet new requirements to protect wildlife.

Water Harvesting and Reuse
As water becomes more scarce, using it responsibly within a building becomes even more important.

A sustainable option for water reuse – especially in high-drought areas – is rainwater harvesting. Water harvesting systems allow water to be collected, stored, and reused for various applications such as landscaping irrigation or toilet flushing for the building occupants. Some systems can be put underground which leaves the land above to be used for parking and other purposes, maximizing development on expensive real estate. Additionally,  water harvesting systems leverage across-the-board efficiencies in water use by reducing the impact on the municipal water supply, land footprint, system maintenance time, and budgetary concerns.

Green Building Envelope Solutions

We offer a variety of thermally-efficient building products to minimize energy use and help you meet sustainability goals. Some of our envelope systems include:

Sustainability is not just in design; it’s also how the products you select are manufactured and sourced. Architects can select sustainable products, and building owners and developers should know how the products in their projects are manufactured. Particulate and CO2 emissions, raw material usage, and proximity to the project site are all factors that should be considered when choosing products.

Below are products that are manufactured in a sustainable manner to consider for your next project.

Prefabricated and Modular Products

One way that owners and developers can choose sustainability is by using prefab and modular products. As opposed to traditional construction methods that send a considerable amount of waste to the landfill, prefab products are made in the factory, where the extra materials can then be reused.  

Also, because prefab often has more precise measurements, there’s less waste and tighter joints, resulting in better wall insulation and air efficiency. There are also many other benefits to using prefab products and systems in construction. Below are examples:

Precast Building Systems
A precast building system can include a variety of components designed to work together. Components can include floor and roof planks, wall panels, beams and columns, stairs, and more. There is reduced construction site disruption when such a system is built offsite in a weather-independent environment. Plus, most precast products are produced locally which means shorter travel distance and less fuel consumption.

Prefabricated Bathrooms
Designed using 3D modeling, prefabricated bathroom pods are complete rooms assembled in a factory that are installed and connected to mechanical, engineering, and plumbing services within hours on the project site. One example is bathroom pods by Oldcastle SurePods®, a CRH Company, that are used in hotels, hospitals, military barracks, and multi-family residential projects. Benefits of using SurePods include reduced waste and an accelerated schedule since all steps of the build are automated and done in a controlled assembly environment.

Unitized Curtain Wall Systems
These type of curtain wall systems are assembled and glazed within a factory, and then shipped by elevation to simplify installation. Due to the speed of installation, unitized curtain wall systems are well suited for large projects. 

Precast Concrete

A totally inert, emission-free substance, precast does not emit any gases, toxic compounds, or VOCs. Precast products do not contribute to “sick building syndrome,” and they leave a smaller environmental footprint than other building methods thanks to increased recycling and reuse. Additionally, they can be made from plentiful, local materials that come from natural and recycled sources which are widely available. Precast concrete building products correlate with at least four categories of LEED certification.

Plus, in projects where there are environmental considerations, precast concrete minimizes impact to the surrounding area because the precast structures are manufactured away from the project site without any formwork.

Recycled Materials

When you use recycled materials, it makes more of a positive impact on the environment than you might initially think. Selecting recycled materials not only reduces waste but also reduces the overall economic impact of a project.

One way recycled materials can be incorporated into your project is during the sitework phase. Rubble generated by the demolition of existing buildings, roads and other projects can be incorporated into new aggregate. By choosing recycled concrete, there is a reduced need for new material to be produced, which reduces both the environmental impact of the aggregate extraction process and the transportation requirements for the project. Additionally, recycled materials – such as post-consumer glass and slag cement – used in concrete masonry units can contribute to green and sustainable design.

If you are developing a commercial or residential space, there are recycled building products that can be incorporated into the interior such as salvaged wood, countertops made from recycled glass or plastic, terrazzo flooring, and gypsum drywall.

Asphalt

Asphalt is a 100-percent reusable building material that often includes byproducts from other industries. Rubber from tires, glass, reclaimed asphalt pavement, asphalt shingles, and more can be incorporated. The materials are combined with asphalt binder and aggregate in a batch or drum plant using high production temperatures.

Warm-mix asphalt (WMA) uses a variety of materials and methods to reduce the temperatures at which the pavement material is produced. By reducing the temperature between 50-100 degrees Fahrenheit, WMA can help reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions.

Owners, developers, and architects can help reduce pollution by selecting products made close to the project. We recommend using locally sourced and locally available materials whenever possible.

Materials that are not produced locally will incur costs from shipping or trucking long distances, which can also negatively impact air quality. By minimizing hauling distance, you can reduce idling and fuel consumption during material transport from the site, between the plant and the site, and the construction operations themselves. You’ll also minimize traffic delays, congestion, and noise emissions.

In addition to requesting that your contractor use locally sourced materials, you can select a product manufacturer that also helps restore natural resources. For example, for nearly all of its 1,400+ quarries and pits, CRH has restoration plans in place that ensure areas are restored and to protect and enhance biodiversity. 

Restoration planning processes should be carefully coordinated and take into account the needs and concerns of local communities. It’s an excellent opportunity to develop and preserve a variety of habitats, as well as provide open spaces for the community.

What can we do to pursue more sustainable manufacturing practices? CRH is committed to investing in a wide range of environmental improvements across all of its activities and countries of operation. Plant upgrades typically include process yield optimization, increased recycling, waste reduction, energy efficiency, and emission reduction.

Make Sustainability a Priority

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