Is repurposing old products the key to sustainability in construction?

Reusing materials in new construction projects could significantly reduce the industry’s carbon emissions, as well as having a positive impact on company spend. 

Here, we look at how the circular economy is helping the US construction industry to continue with its mission of sustainability in new developments.

Why is sustainability important in the construction industry?

Approximately 27% of emissions from the built environment are operational, meaning they are produced by processes such as cooling, heating or illumination. 

The remainder of emissions are found in the structures through the extraction, manufacturing and transport of building materials.

The main goal of a sustainable approach to construction is, partially, to strategically design new construction projects to reduce the amount of waste produced. 

Worldwide construction projects, particularly in the US, have been reusing various materials for a number of years now to meet sustainability goals – but the latest innovation is to eliminate waste at the source (design stage) to be one step ahead.

Now, as we approach 2023, those who design new build construction projects usually use five main principles in their design strategy:

  • Design for material reuse 
  • Design for offsite construction
  • Design for optimizing materials 
  • Design for waste-efficient procurement  
  • Design for deconstruction and flexibility

Why is reusing materials and buildings so crucial?

In his keynote speech at the AJ100, BBM Sustainable Design Co-Founder Duncan Baker-Brown discussed how architects and those working in the US construction industry  need to stop digging up materials, and alternatively, use what is already locally above ground and readily available. 

When discussing how construction can make sustainable changes, he said: 

“We need to mine the Anthropocene: rework the already-produced stuff. The human layer of stuff, whether it’s ocean plastic, landfill, existing buildings and re-wild our natural world.”

Given that the reuse of materials is now considered in the design stages of the construction process demonstrates the importance of sustainability and carbon footprints to organizations across the US. 

For example, the design for reuse of material components (or even entire buildings) has significant potential to minimize the environmental impact from construction. 

By repurposing old materials, their lifecycle is extended – plus, it’s also preferable to recycling, where additional processes are involved. 

As opposed to constantly designing and building new structures from scratch, it can sometimes make more sense to extend the life of existing structures. Not only does it make them more efficient, but it shortens the development timeframe for organizations, meaning less overall waste is accrued and less money is spent on materials and labor.

Are business owners aware of their environmental impact?

For anyone outside of the construction industry, it may be a foreign knowledge when it comes to understanding the importance of sustainability in built environments. 

However, for those who are working and hiring in the industry, it is crucial to understand from a budget and economical point of view what sustainability and reuse of materials can mean for their organization.

Luckily, an increasing number of company owners and directors in the US construction industry are now hiring sustainability experts as part of their leadership team, to ensure that all projects going forward are beneficial to the environment.

Get in touch

If your organization is hiring construction staff, or you are looking for construction jobs, get in touch with PRS USA.

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