It is a fact that the construction sector has a massive impact on the environment, despite the sector having come a long way in recent years to minimize carbon emissions.
It is estimated that buildings contribute to nearly 40% of CO2 emissions. This is more than a third of the global emissions. Out of these, building operations contribute to 28%, while the remaining percentage is from building materials and construction. Most of these emissions come from lighting, heating, cooling, and electricity, while the rest mostly comes from steel, concrete, and aluminum – the most used construction materials.
To reach the net-zero target set out by the International Energy Agency (IEA), civil engineers must strive to minimize all emissions to be within the pre-industrial levels limit of 2°C (or ideally a 1.5°C target) by 2040. That simply means a fall of 6% yearly if we are to get to net zero by 2050.
Civil engineers have it within their power to make significant improvements to reduce carbon emissions, especially since the demand for infrastructure is not slowing down in the foreseeable future.
There is no arguing that this calls for a totally new wave of sustainable thinking and prompt implementation. So here are a few environmental considerations civil engineers can make to reduce the effects of construction on the environment.
Increase Energy Efficiency
The construction industry consumes vast amounts of energy. In the U.S. alone, 40% of the total energy consumption is from building and construction. This is according to statistics provided by the U.S. Department of Energy.
And it’s easy to see why.
Every stage of the construction process requires energy, from the extraction of building materials, transportation of the materials, operation of tools and equipment, installations of materials, and even disposal of construction wastes – basically the entire building cycle. The amount of energy is so huge that it contributes to nearly 6% of building costs.
While it is nearly impossible to predict how much energy will be consumed during the entire construction cycle, energy efficiency in every phase of construction, especially of non-renewable sources of energy like oil and gas, has to be a top priority to every civil engineer.
Some of the ways civil engineers can reduce the amount of energy consumed or wasted during the construction phase include:
- Keeping machines and equipment updated and repairing them as soon as possible. Using outdated, old, or broken tools and equipment requires way more energy which slows down construction. The slower the construction is done, the more energy is used up.
- Building energy-efficient homes.
- Using building designs and techniques that require lower energy consumption.
- Use energy-efficient heavy equipment and construction vehicles that are designed to be high-performing while consuming less energy. For example, choosing a wheeled excavator over a tracked excavator because they are more fuel-efficient.
- Installing energy-efficient lighting fixtures, HVsystemstem, and other utilities.
- Retro Commission of the buildings to improve the efficiency and operation of the building systems.
- Using and installing renewable sources of energy.
Reduce Construction Waste
According to new research, the construction industry contributes to 50% of landfill waste. This is a massive amount of waste. This is evident that there is a need for proper planning as well as tracking and monitoring of the resources so that there is minimal waste. These wastes not only harm the environment but also mean faster depletion of resources.
There is so much that civil engineers can do to minimize construction waste and, therefore, significantly reduce the amount of waste that ends up in landfills.
First, ensure that a proper waste management plan is in place before any construction begins.
Secondly, consider setting up waste reduction goals to be met by all stakeholders. In addition to identifying ways to reuse and recycle the construction materials as well as maximize the use of some of the materials.
Other ways include:
- Minimizing the scrap heap with careful planning on the construction sites. This means everything should be measured and cut out correctly, ordered in the right quantities, and in right sizes.
- Storing materials properly so that you don’t end up repurchasing materials due to damage and theft.
- Implementing alternative building methods that use durable materials to encourage recycling and reusing. For instance, you could use modular metal form systems that can be reused instead of plywood or lumber formwork.
- Choosing products with minimal packaging or eco-friendly packings so that you have less waste to dispose of.
- Sourcing building materials from suppliers who accept returns or those who buy back unused materials.
Using Green Materials
Sustainable building means integrating green materials in all stages of construction from design, extraction of materials, construction, and operation. Green materials are renewable resources whose impact on the environment has been well thought of over the course of the material’s life.
Besides being environmentally friendly, these materials are also cost-effective, and given that the cost of materials is going up by day, civil engineers may just need to consider going green.
Green materials help conserve energy. They also reduce the costs of maintaining the buildings as well as reduce environmental impacts that come with the construction up to the disposal stage.
Given that the building and global construction industry consumes nearly 3 billion tons of raw materials annually, green materials will greatly reduce this figure.
Green materials that can be considered for both commercial and residential buildings include bamboo trees, precast slab concrete, straw bells, recyclable plastic, reclaimed steel, reclaimed wood, hempcrete, rammed earth, and others.
Instead of putting all their focus and energy on decarbonization, civil engineers can consider safely capturing the carbon emitted during construction – an effective and more practical way to decarbonize.
Carbon Capture, Use, and Storage (CCUS) utilize different technologies to capture carbon and store it permanently so that it does not find its way into the atmosphere. This practice has been done by the oil and gas industries for decades but is also being adopted by other sectors.
There is a huge opportunity for carbon capture and storage in construction, and it is thought that through this method, at least 20% of the carbon emitted can be reduced.
The carbon captured from building materials is transported through shipping or via pipeline if in large quantities. Carbon storage options include deep in the ocean, in geological formations, or are stored in the form of mineral carbonates.
Nearly Zero-Energy Buildings
Nearly zero-energy buildings (NZEBs) is a newer term. Fortunately, the concept has caught on really fast. The concept was conceived in Europe and recently just spread into the American construction marketplace and looks like it’s here to stay for quite a long while.
The nearly zero is an advanced concept that basically means that buildings are to be designed and built with a low energy cost that is nearly equal to that of the renewable energy that’s produced on the site.
This means that the building will leave a smaller carbon footprint than a traditional building.
Clearly, the construction industry contributes to a lot of pollution in the water, air, and soil. All these pollutants can create a real environmental challenge, and failing to put in place proper controls and measures could lead to serious environmental effects. Civil engineers have an opportunity to design and construct buildings that are more sustainable without compounding the existing environmental pollution. With these considerations in mind, you will be helping create a better future with a cleaner environment.
I hope this article will help you to understand 5 Important Environmental Considerations for Civil Engineers. You may also want to see my other post from my Blog. If I have missed anything here, please let me know about that in the comment below this post.
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Dustin Johnson is the marketing manager of FortisHD and an enthusiast in construction and heavy equipment. Construction has been an integral part of his life, and he is proud to be able to continue to build his future in such an exciting industry. Throughout his career, he has been fortunate enough to be involved with many engaging projects and is appreciated and valued for his work with the contracting team.