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Green Construction

Looking at the Big Picture:
Life Cycle Thinking for the Building and Construction Sector



Hari Srinivas
Emerging Trends Series E-033. June 2015.


The breadth of meaning of the term ‘building and construction’ and the links which this implies with other major industries make the subject a complex one. The different stages of a building's life cycle are handled by different stakeholders with disjointed, short-term and incomplete links to each other. Long term sustainability obviously suffers as a result, leading to increased negative effects on the environment.

For example: Architects, civil engineers and developers, who play a key role in the design and construction of a building, very rarely have anything to do in the use and maintenance of a building and much less in its deconstruction and demolition.

The term ‘building and construction’ covers a wide variety of technologies and practices, on varying scales, but the activity can nevertheless be viewed as an industrial process. As in most industries, raw materials are obtained, there is a transformation process, energy is consumed, waste is produced and ultimately, the finished product has to be disposed. It is important to note a distinction here: Different stakeholders are involved in each of the stages, and there is little if any interaction among them.

Traditionally, buildings have been analysed according to their individual components and optimised separately. The inter-linkages between each stage - DESIGN, CONSTRUCTION, USE, MAINTENANCE, DEMOLITION, and the broader, collective effect of these components is often not considered, nor are their upstream and/or downstream impacts.

Sustainability within the building and construction sector is important. To achieve this, we need to move beyond the current model of just disjointed resource savings or using recycled materials or planting greenery. We need to take up a broader life-cycle perspective where cost, investor expectations, building function and flexibility, security, occupant productivity and health, environment and social impacts are all considered collectively, and in the long-term.

There is a need for lifecycle thinking as a primary approach to sustainability in the building and construction sector. What this means? Every action taken with respect to a building--purchase decisions; using equipment or materials; making investments--triggers a chain of events and impacts within the building, in the surrounding community and beyond that has real consequences on the well-being of people, land, air and water, plants and animals, and generations to come. These in turn have consequences on the future of the building itself.

Some examples of life cycle thinking include:

  • Comparing various types of products which offer the same service.
  • Identifying the processes or life stages of a product or service which show inefficiencies in the use of materials and energy, consequently allowing economic savings.
  • Identifying and quantify greenhouse gas emissions (GHG).
  • Conceiving new products, processes or services in agreement with the principles of sustainable development (that is, designing for the environment).
  • Supplying information for a scientific and objective basis for impact analyses.
  • Instituting a green procurement policy.
  • Use of materials that have green label certification
  • Instituting an environmental management system for proper maintenance of buildings to ensure minimal impact on the environment.
Design
One way sustainability can be achieved within this stage is by using material and design specifications that use green and recycled products
A feature or idea that will enable sustainability in another stage is by using fixtures and construction methods that enable easy replacement if necessary, with minimal destruction or demolition.
Construction
One way sustainability can be achieved within this stage is by using construction methods that reduces wastes, and uses water efficiency
A feature or idea that will enable sustainability in another stage is by ensuring high quality of construction that will reduce/minimize the amount of maintenance
Use
One way sustainability can be achieved within this stage is by instituting conscious policies and behaviour patterns that ensure energy efficiency (switch off lights, use less water; reduced heating/cooling)
A feature or idea that will enable sustainability in another stage is by ensuring proper use and preservation enabling building components so that it can be reused after decommissioning.
Maintenance
One way sustainability can be achieved within this stage is through proper care of heating/cooling machinery and equipment to ensure maximum energy efficiency
A feature or idea that will enable sustainability in another stage is by redirecting waste heat sources to indoor heating
Demolition
One way sustainability can be achieved within this stage is by deconstructing buildings so that materials and components (such as doors and windows) can be reused/recycled
A feature or idea that will enable sustainability in another stage is through pulverized wooden items from a deconstructed building used as ground cover to reduce ambient temperatures and heating/cooling needs.
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Contact: Hari Srinivas - hsrinivas@gdrc.org