How to reduce carbon emissions in construction

As the environmental impact of the construction sector is increasingly acknowledged, the question of ‘how to reduce carbon emissions in construction’ is becoming more and more present across a number of fields. 

The construction sector accounts for approximately 25% of global CO2 emissions, a percentage that scales up to 40% when the operational environmental impact of buildings that already exist is considered.

Fortunately, construction projects can minimize their environmental impact by adopting sustainable practices in terms of reducing waste, conserving energy and water, and protecting natural resources. In fact, research has indicated that proceedings that target carbon reduction in construction could minimize carbon emissions by 40% with currently available technologies and practices. This percentage could be even bigger with the foreseeable employment of certain technologies that will be available in the near future.

Want to learn more about how to reduce carbon emissions in construction? Keep reading to find out.

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The measure of the environmental impact of construction

The first step in learning how to reduce carbon emissions in construction is to understand where the environmental impact of construction comes from. 

Generally speaking, the construction system can be considered a major contributor to environmental issues such as greenhouse gas emissions, resource depletion, waste generation, and land-use changes. This fact emerges from two causes: firstly, the impact of the extraction, processing and transportation of construction materials; secondly, the energy used during the construction process and the operation of buildings.

As such, the calculation of the environmental impact of the construction sector must acknowledge the emissions that occur during the manufacturing, transportation and construction processes themselves, as well as the operational and end-of-life phases of built projects.

When it comes to construction processes themselves, the following causes should be taken into account: 

  • Use of fossil fuels: in equipment and vehicles enabling the construction processes
  • Electricity use: this is particularly important as many electricity power plants still rely on fossil fuels, thus generating unsustainable practices
  • Resource depletion: the use of certain materials for construction, as well as water and other natural resources, when not sourced adequately, qualifies as yet another negative environmental impact of construction processes
  • Waste management: sending construction debris to a landfill and the lack of recycling processes increases the environmental impact of construction

Additionally, the impact of the constructed projects themselves must also be acknowledged.


Carbon reduction in construction: the strategies for less harmful construction projects

The road for how to reduce carbon emissions in construction is paved with a number of strategies that directly affect a number of processes across the construction supply chain.

In fact, the entire supply chain must be closely observed in order to find opportunities to minimize the carbon emissions related to construction processes. This also means all actors must collaborate in achieving this goal, including material producers, engineers, procurers, clients, and architects.

The following strategies include some crucial steps that are being taken for the reduction carbon footprint in construction:

  • Use of sustainable materials: this includes measures to include materials that are sourced responsibly, which require low energy or which can be reused or recycled easily 
  • Optimization of logistics and transport distances 
  • Use of greener vehicles, including green fuels or improving load efficiency
  • Electrification of construction equipment
  • Adoption of green building standards such as LEED or BREEAM to ensure that the building materials used are environmentally friendly and sustainable. 
  • Waste reduction measures 
  • Use of renewable energy sources such as solar or wind power to provide energy for construction sites
  • Water use management
  • Land protection and natural resource protection, including keeping forests, wetlands, and wildlife habitats safe 
  • Procedures to monitor environmental impact, in order to access intelligence about opportunities to optimize
  • Generate green buildings. Construction processes that envision projects that improve energy efficiency are a way to guarantee carbon impact of construction is minimized. This includes the incorporation of efficient HVAC equipment, LED lighting and daylighting, as well as district heating initiatives, which as part of energy planning efforts are enabling a reduction of the carbon footprint associated with urban centers.

District heating initiatives: a counterbalance for the reduction carbon footprint in construction

District heating energy systems remain a key ingredient in the pursuit of decarbonised cities, as they help optimize urban heating solutions with the aim of reducing carbon emissions in construction and, ultimately, fighting climate change. 

District heating describes urban-scale heating energy models where heat is centrally produced and then distributed through pipe systems, making energy available to end consumers.

As part of innovative construction and urban planning, they help counterbalancing the operational energy demand of construction projects, thus remaining a key sustainable choice  that is pushing modern cities’ efforts in decarbonizing goals.

In fact, district heating models can lead to significant reductions in greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional heating systems. The following are some of the reasons:

  • Energy efficiency: district heating systems can be more energy-efficient than individual heating systems for a number of reasons, including the use of industrial heat pumps. or the use of waste heat from power generation or industrial processes.
  • Reduced reliance on fossil fuels: many district heating systems are powered by renewable or low-carbon energy sources such as geothermal, biomass, or solar thermal. 
  • Reduced energy waste: district heating systems are designed to be highly efficient and can reduce energy waste by as much as 30%. 
  • Scalability: district heating systems are highly scalable and can be designed to serve a wide range of buildings, from individual homes to large commercial and industrial complexes. This makes them a flexible and cost-effective solution for reducing greenhouse gas emissions in urban areas and generally reduces the impact of construction processes on the operational side.

Learn more about how to reduce carbon emissions in construction by downloading our free guide about district heating or getting in touch with our team.

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