As society turns its attention toward our evolving climate crises and its effects on a global scale, architects and construction managers have evolved their practices with it. To reduce waste and protect the environment, there is now a higher value on sustainable and green building methods. There are even highly desired certifications like LEED that honor the design, construction, operations, and maintenance of resource-efficient, high-performing, healthy, and cost-effective buildings. With the new advances in technologies, materials, and practices, designing and constructing has never been more focused on sustainable methods. Here are 15 ways that architects and construction managers have turned the tide on environmentally friendly and sustainable construction.

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©Paper Art Style Of Landscape With Eco Green City

1. Prefabricating Materials in Controlled Environments

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©Advantages of Hiring Building Information Modeling Services

Constructing as much of a structure in a controlled environment as possible has been proven to improve the quality of buildings and results in less trash. Mechanical contractors have opted to use Building Information Management (BIM) systems that accurately cut sheet metal for ductwork in controlled environments rather than constructing the materials needed on site. Due to this innovation, external factors like cold or hot weather can no longer create shape-changing problems on the sheet or other damage. With precise cutting systems, it also allows contractors to use wood framing for buildings as high as five stories because the cuts are more accurate and in turn, can support more weight. 

2. Construction Waste Management

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©Waste: Construction Waste

In a construction site, there are multiple different types of materials being used at a time. Much of these materials get dumped in landfills and never used again. Rather than throwing away usable materials like concrete and structural steel into landfills, they can be recycled for other construction jobs. Carpet, flooring, and ceiling materials can also be reused and in turn, create a substantial saving opportunity for other sites. Companies that reuse materials and sustainable materials can also avoid the additional costs of disposing toxic materials from the site. The process of throwing away waste has also significantly changed. Job sites now use one trash bin for all types of waste, and use haulers with pickers to separate materials and determine what can be reused or not. 

3. Passive Solar Design

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Passive Solar Heating for Survival ©Self-Reliance Association

A construction method that optimizes solar energy use for its building is following the passive solar concept. Passive solar design works with the sun’s heat energy to heat the building while also blocking the sun in the hotter summer months and keeping the building cool. Due to the sun rising in the east and set in the west, if a structure has windows on the southern facing side of any building, it can potentially reach the sun’s heat energy throughout the day. The passive solar design utilizes energy from the sun, using its predictable movements through the seasons to heat and cool a building without any additional mechanical devices.

4. Environmentally-Friendly Insulation Materials

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Eco-Friendly Insulation Alternatives For A Green Home ©Miller, P. 7

Insulation materials are used to retain heat during the winter by restricting airflow, and also reduces the cost of heating and cooling throughout the year. A majority of buildings use insulation materials that can contain toxic chemicals such as petrochemicals and toxic adhesives. There are now sustainable insulation materials that present a range of safe, natural, and readily available materials. Construction companies argue that these materials are more costly, but some are more affordable than their commercial counterparts. A few examples of green insulation materials include sheep wool, recycled cotton from shreds of discarded clothing, Icynene, and cellulose, made from recycled newsprint and other paper. 

5. Active Solar Power

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Tesla roof tiles turn solar shingles into a complete solar roof ©Elemental Green

In addition to passive solar energy, active solar power is the use of functional solar systems that absorb the sun’s radiation to cater for heating and electricity provision. It reduces the need for the use of electricity or gas. There are many advances in solar technologies than the generic rectangular square we’ve grown accustomed to. Solar roof shingles are small, custom shingles designed to blend in almost unnoticeably with traditional roof tiles. Not only are these shingles aesthetically appealing, but they function both as solar panels and as durable roof tiles, protecting roofs from the natural elements as it absorbs sunlight for energy use.

6. Electric Smart Glass

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Halio is a smart glass that can darken on demand within 3 minutes ©Hardwarezone

Electronic Smart Glass is one of the latest technologies in sustainable construction. The electronic smart glass shuts out the harsh heat of solar radiation, reflecting approximately 98% of sun rays. The smart glass uses tiny electric signals to charge the windows, changing the amount of solar radiation it reflects. It is incorporated into the building’s control system, allowing users to choose the amount of solar radiation to block. The glass simply changes from light to dark (clear to opaque) at the push of a button, optimizing user compatibility. With this technology, any type of building can save a lot on heating, ventilating, and air conditioning costs. 

7. Using Locally Sourced Materials

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Rickenbacker welcomes weekly Asiana Cargo flights ©AIR CARGO WEEK

Depending on the project, materials are sometimes transported over long distances, spending a lot of energy and money in the transportation phase to get the material to the site. With green construction, there is an emphasis on the use of locally-sourced materials. This is meant to reduce the carbon footprint of transportation and creates a far more efficient construction process. Moreover, using materials that are available in any given city or town, construction companies can help support and grow local businesses by buying materials from them. Aesthetically speaking, using locally found materials also better integrate into the surrounding environment. 

8. Water Efficient Graywater Recycling System

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Allegheny County Eyes Code Update for Home Gray Water Systems ©The Allegheny Front

Construction companies can also use water-efficient technologies as part of their sustainable construction projects. One of these is the Graywater recycling system, which is the process of reusing water that has already been used in instances like laundry or bathwater and has it serve another purpose such as garden irrigation, toilet flushing, and car washing. These new technologies can re-use and enhance efficient water supply systems. The Graywater system could lower water and sewage bills, reduce overall water consumption, and help deal with combined sewer overflow issues.

9. Water Efficient Dual Plumbing System

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Out When Facing Plumbing Problems In Kutztown Pennsylvania, Contact Robinson Plumbing ©Plumbing Pipes Wearing

There are other water-efficient technologies that construction teams can use as part of their sustainable construction. One of these includes dual plumbing, a system designed to run potable water and reclaimed water through the building in separate piping systems. The two types of water never meet. Potable water, water used for drinking and washing is properly sanitized and filtered for the safety of the residents. Reclaimed water, such as toilet and irrigation water, is also filtered to avoid developing any harmful bacteria. Through dual plumbing, no water is wasted in the sewer system.

10. Using Biodegradable Materials

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A guide to eco and natural paints ©Pinterest

The use of biodegradable materials is an environmentally friendly means of developing sustainable construction projects. A majority of traditional construction methods lead to the accumulation of waste products and toxic chemicals, which can take hundreds of years to degrade. Biodegradable materials such as organic paints, therefore, can help reduce the negative impacts on the environment as they easily breakdown without releasing toxins or other harmful substances. There are other biodegradable materials available for building foundation, walls, and insulators that are also part of sustainable construction technologies and can reduce a project’s harm to the environment.

11. Rammed Earth Material

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©Elemental Green: 10 Eco Building Materials Revolutionizing Home Construction

Rammed earth brick is an ancient building material that can be dated back to early man-made constructions and can now be found in luxury homes as dramatic and durable walls that resemble sedimentary rock. This low-carbon technique uses soil and binder, placing them together in layers and then applying pressure to create a hard and durable surface. Because it uses sustainably sourced raw materials, it is a green alternative to conventional concrete masonry. Rammed earth walls or floors can be used as thermal storage, absorbing sunlight during the day and releasing the warmth in the colder evenings.  

12. Increased Green and Multiuse Space

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©Curbed, 8 Ways Cities Are Transforming Urban Rooftops

With space in cities increasingly limited, developers and architects must plan to optimize green space and create more multipurpose areas. Instead of building a commercial area solely with one purpose, it would be more proactive to apply a multipurpose, and a mixed-use approach to that space. Green spaces on rooftops or in other parts of a building can also add on to this mixed-use approach. This not only provides a multi use space for users but also helps to improve the air quality in any given building. Now, even with the limited space, the structure can serve multiple uses instead of having to be built individually, reducing materials and environmental disruption. 

13. Proper Site Selection

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©The Allegheny Front, In The Rush To Build Gas Pipelines, Are Wetlands Being Overlooked?

Proper site selection and prevention of pollution on the construction site can be a decisive factor in determining how environmentally conscious a project will be. Developers and designers should avoid constructing on prime farmland, in a flood plain, on threatened animal habitat, and on areas close to wetlands. Doing so can help the environment by being as minimally disruptive as possible during the construction process, avoiding pollution and waste to inhabit those areas, and eventually when the project is complete. 

14. Harnessing Wind Power

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©Inhabitat, 10 MW Dubai Skyscraper 10X More Renewable Energy Than It Needs

Self-powered buildings are one of the main goals in sustainable design. These buildings are built in a way they are able to generate sufficient power to support their own energy needs and redirect surplus power back into the power grid, Wind power is clean and renewable energy that can be used in skyscrapers where wind turbines are attached to the rooftops, using the heavy air currents at that higher altitude to generate power. Wind turbines are easy to manage, needing very little maintenance after it is installed, and it can help maintain indoor air quality and reduce utility investments. 

15. Durable Wood Materials

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Stunning Curved Accoya Wood Cladding and Shading In The Netherlands ©Pinterest

The wood material is appearing in construction in never before seen ways. Wood bark comes from trees that have already been cut. Previously, tree bark would be discarded as debris or burned. But now, it can be used as a highly durable, economical, and sustainable option for siding and shingling. Another example of highly durable wood material is wood that has been treated with acetylation. Acetylation creates a product resistant to rot, improved in thermal insulation with better dimensional stability, and a longer lifespan. It results in a beautiful and certified non-toxic material that can reduce costs in insulation and material costs as well as safety concerns. 



Filled with a passion for architecture, traveling, journalism, athletics, and the environment, Emely Acobo is an architecture graduate student at Florida International University, with an aspiration to further develop green architecture as well as enhance her writing and research skills in journalism.