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Taking a more earth-friendly approach in construction projects is a priority for many in the industry for a host of reasons: increasing energy efficiency, reducing the building’s impact on the environment, improving indoor air quality and chipping away at the total cost of ownership are all worthwhile motives. Rising CO2 emissions are also cause for concern—Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction reports CO2 emissions in the building sector reached their highest level yet at approximately 10 GtCO2 in 2019, accounting for 28% of total global energy-related CO2 emissions.

Even with the overall goal of a greener building in mind, it’s natural for decision-makers to question what eco-friendly steps will be most effective in getting there. Of course, every project is different, and working with professionals at the top of their game will limit hiccups and make the final product sing. Viewing the project with a holistic lens and incorporating as many of the following recommendations as is realistic for the team, region and budget will benefit all parties involved.

1. Take a Multidisciplinary Approach

The more collective experience in the room (or on Zoom), the better—this is true across industries since it brings a balance between the macro and micro levels. Doing so also can help reduce miscommunication and bolster enthusiasm for the project. There will be team members who know what does (and doesn’t) work from first-hand experience, others with a fresh interpretation or idea, and still more who specialize in green technology. Harnessing their expertise and channeling their energy will result in a more environmentally friendly final product.

2. Aim to Source Materials Locally

It doesn’t make sense to source material from across the world when something similar is available in the region. Important questions include: “What makes the most sense regionally and what is the effect of the building on the environment?” Moving product from one location to another, especially further than 500 miles, works against the planet and hinders LEED points. Those who cannot locate the desired materials regionally may find success in working with a manufacturer/distributor to have them manufactured in the 500 mile radius. Understand there are distinct differences between a building material being renewable versus sustainable. Studying the impacts of each material and making an environmentally responsible decision is vital. In some cases, recycled metal can mean a longer-lasting result with lower time and labor costs compared to wood.

3. Choose Multi-Function, Eco-Friendly Products and Materials

Eco-friendly versions of go-to products are often available and will help to reduce criteria pollutants. A few places to start include:

  1. Environmentally compatible early application moisture protection and high moisture multi-purpose flooring adhesives;
  2. High content recycled cementitious leveling, patch or concrete mixtures; and
  3. Antimicrobial epoxy systems that are VOC compliant, LEED-certified and free of hazardous materials.

Not only are these kinds of powerhouse solutions better for the environment, they can lower the cost of flooring now and in the future, as well as eliminate moisture issues down the road. Recycled versions of popular materials are becoming more widely available, such as recycled cementitious leveling/skim coats, recycled rubber flooring and recycled barn wood. Salvage and reclaimed materials are other exciting categories. Construction executives should evaluate the cost and benefits of eco-friendly alternatives, floor to ceiling, inside and out.

4. Understand Building Usage

Being aware of use and capacity from day one translates into fewer surprises (and jumps) in water, sewer and HVAC usage, to name a few. When usage isn’t clear from the start, systems may not be able to handle the needs of the building and its occupants. Additionally, HVAC systems often account for a large portion of the total energy use of the building; optimizing for energy efficiency keeps costs down and lowers the environmental impact.

5. Factor in Ongoing Maintenance

A significant value-add for shareholders and stakeholders is an eco-friendly building with lower ongoing maintenance. This means keeping systems running efficiently, maintaining healthy air quality and ensuring materials function as they should. Select surfaces that don’t require extra steps (and products) to keep them in working condition down the road. One example of surface maintainability is brands who are incorporating a naturally rusting material in their design aesthetic. Especially when the goal is a carbon-neutral building, minimizing greenhouse gas emissions throughout the process, from manufacturing to construction and long-term, is critical.

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