Tech That's Driving Sustainability in the Construction Industry
The drive to operate more sustainably is changing nearly every industry. Consumers have demonstrated they want companies to be more environmentally conscious, which means green businesses attract more customers. In many cases, businesses have also found going green can reduce the costs of their operations.
Some construction companies may be hesitant about changing their practices to be more eco-friendly, for fear it will be expensive or require new processes that are difficult to implement.
Companies that go green, though, often find it is in fact feasible and has benefits for the company and its customers as well. Technology plays a vital role in enabling companies to clean up their operations and be more environmentally friendly. Here are five of those possibilities.
1. Cleaner Vehicles
Construction vehicles and machinery typically run on diesel, which is a dirty fuel that releases greenhouse gases into the atmosphere. New technologies can make this equipment more fuel-efficient. Equipment that uses less fuel releases fewer pollutants and also saves its operators money.
For example, when replacing worm gearboxes with direct-drive motors, construction companies can improve the operating efficiency of their equipment by 60 to 90 percent. Permanent-magnet servomotors also require around 25 percent less power than induction motors do at a range of different speeds.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has implemented standards that apply to new construction equipment and also offers funding for projects to reduce emissions from existing equipment. Keeping up with maintenance can also help existing machinery run more efficiently and cleanlier. Low-tech changes, like reducing idle time, can also make a difference.
2. Green Materials
The construction industry is also experimenting with various types of more eco-friendly materials to create innovations with resources people have used for centuries.
One such new material is mycelium, which is made from the root structure of fungi. You can grow mycelium around materials such as corn stalks and ground-up straw placed in molds over a few days. Once it grows, you can dry it to create durable, but lightweight, bricks of building material. Construction companies don’t yet use this material, but they have tested it.
Another material currently being researched is ferrock. It’s made with recycled materials, including steel dust, and absorbs carbon dioxide as part of its hardening process. Once it does harden, it’s stronger than concrete.
3. Recycling Technologies
New technologies in the area of recycling construction waste are developing, and companies are adopting it to reduce the environmental impact of construction projects and to save money.
Traditionally, most construction and demolition waste get disposed of in landfills. Now, more firms are finding ways to salvage, reuse and recycle materials. It’s also essential that construction companies reduce the amount of waste they create.
Construction waste recycling companies can, for instance, recycle concrete and asphalt into gravel or aggregate for new concrete. Crusher plants can also turn broken concrete into a uniform material for use in underfloors.
Recycled wood can find a second life in consumer products such as furniture, as well as mulch or biomass fuel.
Technology for sorting mixed construction waste is also improving. Sorting plants use a near-infrared scanner, sorting conveyors and sieves to increase the portion of waste that gets recycled.
4. Internet of Things
Construction firms are now using Internet of Things technologies to manage and monitor project sites. By equipping construction vehicles and machinery with smart sensors, managers can see real-time data about the equipment, even from remote locations. They can use this information to reduce environmental impact, as well as improve safety, reduce costs and increase efficiency.
By creating a network of smart sensors for use on a construction site, they can monitor its location, the amount of fuel it’s burning, the emissions it’s producing and how workers are using it. If they see a particular piece of equipment sitting idle for a long period, for example, they may request that a worker shut it down until it’s necessary.
Doing so would reduce fuel consumption, emissions and costs. Having access to emissions data also makes compliance reporting much more manageable.
5. Green Buildings
By following green building practices, construction companies can help reduce the environmental impact of buildings long into the future.
The concept of green building includes construction, but also comprises planning, design and operation. It encourages thinking about the building’s impact on the environment at all these phases. It involves material selection, energy usage, water usage, indoor air quality and other environmental considerations.
Green building construction may include using recycled materials, orienting windows to allow for passive solar heating and installing solar panels on the roof of a building.
Can Construction Become a Green Industry?
The construction industry, like so many other sectors, is becoming more sustainability-minded. Technology is playing a vital part in enabling this transition, which, in addition to protecting the environment, can also save construction firms and their companies money and result in more efficient worksites.