The Complete Guide to Sustainable Construction Materials and How They are Changing the Building Industry

"The best way to predict the future is to design it"—Buckminster Fuller

In the times of extreme climate changes, rough monsoons, destructive forest fires and other natural catastrophes, we stand to see that the only hope for the future of the planet is sustainability. Designing this sustainable future calls for a significant aid from the building industry—sustainable construction materials, efficient techniques, environmentally-responsive designs and more come together in painting the cities green, not by colour, but by character.

"Go green or go back in time"

Introduction: What are Sustainable Construction Materials?

Sustainable construction materials are the building blocks of a green building. These materials aid in green construction practices by leaving lesser carbon footprint on the planet, given their renewable nature. Sustainable construction materials differ from the eco-friendly materials in the way that they are sourced from materials already existing as waste/debris or by-product sand cycled back to use. This minimises the carbon emissions by bringing down the operational energy consumption, thereby achieving carbon neutrality at its best.

The building industry contributes to 38% of total greenhouse gas emissions in the world

Sustainable construction materials introduce solutions to these global issues with different material variants, some of which possess the quality to absorb atmospheric carbon dioxide and harmful gases etc. by nature or with the help of carbon capture technologies that make the concept of sustainability more achievable.

Environmental Building Demands a Major Shift in Material Adoption

Eco-friendly building materials and their part in green construction is seen as the one key solution to revolutionizing the world into a carbon-free society. The continued use of these materials can support the rise of architectural concepts and smart city plans that have high building performance, least consumption of active energy and a positive impact on the environment. This change is demanded now more than ever, given the depletion of natural resources, pollution of all elements of nature including air, water and soil, poor climatic conditions and damaged natural habitats.

On the other hand, the economy of the world of construction is benefited by low operational cost + high value generated by the use of the eco-friendly building materials since their standout characteristics such as insulation or passive cooling tendencies reduce the cost of electricity and other artificial support systems found in regular buildings. Zero-energy or net-zero structures in particular, function completely on their own, without aid from external energy sources e.g. independent residential structures designed to function based on renewable energy systems or large-scale commercial structures operated by energy from solar panelled facades or fenestrations etc. Such climate change buildings align the interests of both construction professionals and the common population along the eco-friendly angle, whilst providing opportunities for improvement at both social and financial levels.

Benefits of Sustainable Construction Materials

Sustainable construction materials are more a way of spreading eco-consciousnessthey are an environmentally friendly building's route to efficiency in terms of cost, time and energy that impacts a building's complete lifecycle to a larger extent. From production to performance, these sustainable materials change the way the processes take placethe procurement, transportation, installation, function, maintenance and more are streamlined to meet the needs of modern-day green construction. The new approach to construction enables the materials to extend an array of benefits that include:

  • Energy efficiency that comes as a result of materials that utilise low energy for production or reduce the energy consumption of the building e.g. plant-fibre composites, low-E glass etc.
"Everytime steel is repurposed, almost 75% of energy is saved."
  • Waste minimization that results from the reuse and recycling of the existing waste for production or biodegradation of natural material waste during construction.
  • Long-term cost control that comes as a result of reduced maintenance and energy bills (cooling, heating and air-conditioning costs) from the use of insulating materials with high R value.
  • Optimal built environment that results from the organic nature of the material. Structures built with non-toxic, eco-friendly materials are known to improve air quality, boost health and even increase the productivity of the inmates.
  • Smarter approach to future that comes as the impact of the green buildings on the living conditions and growth of the cities of tomorrow.

Apart from the above set of benefits, sustainable building materials are also believed to be one of the first few methods introducing a healthy work environment for the labour workforce. This takes the construction practices to the next levela level that assures betterment for all.

What Eco-Friendly Building Materials are Currently Available?

Sustainable architecture is a broad term that encompasses the materials, tool and techniques employed in the erection of green buildings. The vast yet crucial subject throws special focus on using eco-friendly materials for construction as the first and foremost step in creating a green building. With number of materials available in the market, there is scope for newer material innovations that showcase the potential to alleviate one or more environmental issueswhichever possible with the power of construction. 

Some of the evergreen eco-friendly materials include:

  • Rammed earth, the combination of soil and binder that possesses high thermal storage
  • Straw bale, the agricultural waste that has high insulation and high fire resistance
  • Bamboo, the plant-sourced material that is renewable and performs as carbon sink
  • Brick, the locally-sourced material that is cost-effective, better used in combination with waste as fly-ash brick etc.
  • Wood, the plant sourced material that is renewable, found more sustainable as reclaimed wood made from wood waste or scraps

In addition to the above, a range of hybrid, new-age materials support the green cause in mutiple ways. It includes:

  • Mycelium particle board, an innovative material sourced from fungal mushrooms, known for strong compression and high insulation
  • Papercrete, a combination of cement and paper known as lightweight and strong alternative for regular concrete
  • Solar tiles, an innovative material that captures solar energy, known for easy installation and providing passive energy source
  • Structural Insulated Panels, a composite material that has high thermal resistance and low energy used for production

While most of the materials are certified, a part of them is still tried and tested to prove their sustainability claim. Side with the other experts in the industry and be one of the foremost to get the hands on new materials and successfully evolve a green building!

Conclusion and Summary

"Green building is not about buildings-it is about people" Sandy Wiggins

The best construction practices respond to needs of the peopletheir need from the building, their need from the environment and the need from their own actions resulting from the spatial design of the building. When a building adopts sustainable construction materials it is believed to infuse the eco-consciousness into the people amidst creating a protective shield around itself and the environment. One such building shall inspire the nextthe next shall inspire a 100—a 100 to a 1000 and more until all cities in the world go green. 

A material is thus believed to change an entire practice and all of the fraternity around it.

Change your material and join the revolution.

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