In recent years, lots has been made about the environmental impact of the global construction industry. Not only does it account for a large proportion of the extraction of raw materials, but it’s also one of the world’s most polluting industries.
Fortunately, the biggest names in construction aren’t turning a blind eye to these facts. Instead, with green energy becoming more accessible than ever, many businesses are putting new sustainability measures in place to protect the long-term future of both the planet and the construction industry.
Utilising renewable energies is one way the industry can become more sustainable, instead of relying on the depleting reserves of fossil fuels. But what would this look like in the day-to-day operations of construction companies? Here are three ways they can incorporate renewable energy, to help make significant changes to the industry’s impact going forward.
Inefficient and polluting diesel generators have been used on construction sites across the world for many years. However, new technologies are being developed to replace these machines with a more efficient, greener source of energy, in the form of hydrogen fuel cells. Hydrogen is a readily available, renewable resource, with the only byproducts of these fuel cells being heat and water. But how can this technology be used in the industry?
Hydrogen fuel cells can be used to power equipment, lights and any other appliances that are needed to carry out on-site work. What’s more, the nature of this technology means that it isn’t weather dependent, unlike other green sources, which means construction projects won’t be held up for this reason.
It’s worth noting that extracting the hydrogen that’s used in fuel cells can be a labour-intensive and polluting process. But innovators are developing ways to make this process far more efficient, so ‘green hydrogen’ will be more readily available in the future.
Manufacturing companies are making strides in developing battery-powered vehicles and equipment that can replace the more environmentally-damaging tools that are used in the industry worldwide. For example, Volvo is developing electric compact excavators and compact wheel loaders that run on battery power rather than fossil fuels, and can be charged using solar energy.
Whilst the technology isn’t widely available yet, it’s predicted that innovations like these will completely replace traditional models in the future, as the industry looks to more sustainable alternatives. Not only will this protect the environment by limiting the industry’s use of fossil fuels, but it can also save money on non-renewable resources like oil.
There is considered to be a burgeoning relationship between the construction and solar industries, with each benefitting from the other. For construction companies, using solar can cut operating costs, whilst helping to position themselves as pioneers in making the industry more sustainable. Meanwhile, with solar energy being available on such a vast scale, the opportunities to use it in construction projects are seemingly endless. This can help to create more jobs within the industry, and ultimately make the technology even more accessible.
Beyond making their own processes more sustainable, construction companies can also look to factor in eco-friendly changes to the design process. This entails things like positioning windows to allow for more natural light, and installing rooftop solar panels. By considering more sustainable designs for buildings and homes, companies will be seen to be helping future generations to reach long-term environmental goals.
Global construction giants MACE adopted this approach when taking on the ‘Sky Central’ project, a rebuild of the centrepiece of Sky’s headquarters. The project achieved a BREEAM rating of ‘Excellent’, due to the significant environmental considerations that guided the design and construction process. As well as installing state-of-the-art high-efficiency lighting, the campus’ centrepiece also features a rainwater harvesting system, solar panels, and a green roof.
Companies should also look to incorporate ways to extend the building’s lifespan during the construction process. This could be achieved by using more long-lasting materials, or using modern structural designs which promote longevity. Doing these things will limit the future environmental costs associated with buildings that are deteriorating or no longer fit for purpose, such as demolition and/or rebuilding work.
To sum up
Shockingly, SMEs currently contribute to 6% of the total UK’s annual carbon emissions. Even simple changes like suggesting the use of LEDs in buildings, using electric vehicles in manufacturing, or swapping to a renewable energy provider can help to reduce the impact you’re having. In the future, as this technology becomes more accessible, it will become easier for companies to make a difference, and include sustainability in every aspect of their operations.
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