Sustainability is rapidly becoming the basic licence to trade.
However it is defined, the concept of sustainability has been the topic of much discussion over the last few years. Lately it has evolved to include environmental wellbeing, economic health and social equity, and is rapidly becoming the basic licence to trade.
Although somewhat slow, the adaptation of sustainable development principles is starting to take centre stage, with ground-breaking innovative solutions reported around the world. With opportunities for change, the construction industry is also gradually embracing the green development concept and taking steps towards transformation.
Critical to achieving sustainable development is the incorporation of environmentally-friendly methods and resource-efficient practices. Sustainable design, energy-efficiency, waste management and recycling are some of the critical areas that design teams, architects, engineers, builders and others involved have to consider.
It is widely accepted that the initial design of a project plays a critical role in influencing sustainable development, together with thorough exploration of all options available from the time construction starts right through the entire lifespan of the structure. Due consideration is given to energy- and water-efficiency, reduced waste and reduced use of natural resources. The aim is to ensure that the structure yields long-term benefits for all.
In South Africa green design is still in its infancy, with a high percentage of home building projects not yet adhering to the principles of sustainable construction. However, in the corporate and commercial world, there has been a noticeable shift towards green construction. With the government now enforcing some of the green principles into law, with time, we are likely to see a positive trend.
As consumers become more aware, the demand for sustainable design is also expected to grow. The construction industry has the perfect opportunity to pioneer the green movement at the design stage, followed by good practices throughout the project execution phases.
In South Africa, energy is mainly derived from the burning of fossil fuels at power-generating plants. Besides the large quantities of natural resources that are used in the form of coal reserves, this act is responsible for huge amounts of carbon emissions. As a developing nation, South Africa is characterised by heavy industry, which by its nature, is energy-intensive and expensive. While the situation may seem hopeless, energy-efficiency is gaining stature and presents plenty of opportunities to find better ways of meeting the demands of sustainable development.
The South African government also recognises its role in conserving energy and is introducing new building regulations and leading by example, phasing in energy-efficiency systems in government buildings. The largest potential for saving energy is in industry at large. It has been proven that energy-efficiency can lead to significantly reduced costs and thereby contribute to economic profit.
Management of waste
Whether generated from new building sites, renovations of existing buildings or demolition of old structures, waste poses environmental challenges that need to be addressed through effective prevention and management strategies. Construction waste includes items such as insulation materials, nails, electrical wiring, packaging materials and rebar, as well as waste generated from site preparation such as dredging material, tree stumps and rubble.
Some waste materials are hazardous as they contain contaminants such as led and asbestos and have to be disposed of in a special way. Through legislation and the introduction of waste management strategies, the government regulates the way in which companies have to deal with the waste they generate. On the other hand, environmental bodies continually lobby for industry-wide awareness and cooperation.
Waste management comprises of reducing waste to a minimum, proper disposal and the recycling of materials that would otherwise end up in landfills.
Recent technological developments have made it possible to convert a number of waste materials into reusable construction materials, including some of the harder to dispose of materials. Items such as used timber, rubber, glass and plastic can be successfully given new life and reused, immediately saving on raw materials.
Leading cement manufacturers, for example, make use of by-products from other industries to produce composite cements that are more durable and offer advantages over pure cements. Typically, these include ground-granulated, blast-furnace slag (GGBFS) from the steel manufacturing industry, pulverised fly-ash (PFA) from coal-powered stations and silica fume, a by-product of silicon and ferrosilicon alloy production. Not only does this reduce the use of natural resources, but it also plays a huge role in limiting greenhouse gas emissions characteristic of pure cement production.
It is clear that we cannot afford to miss any opportunity to save our environment if we have any chance of reversing the effects of global warming.
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