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Sustainable Construction

From the smallest cottage to the tallest skyscraper, buildings pose large-scale challenges. In developed economies(1) , the building sector accounts for up to 40% of total energy use, 30% of raw material use, almost 40% of greenhouse gas emissions and up to 40% of solid waste generation.

Traditional buildings, be they residential, commercial or public, are greedy consumers of energy. The enormous waste of energy associated with the majority of Europe’s building stock also has a hugely detrimental effect on our environment. But it doesn’t have to be this way.

As the concept of sustainable development(2) has gained political traction there has been a growing realisation that the classical approach to building design - based on short-term economic considerations, utility and durability - needs to be broadened.

A sustainable approach to construction places a greater focus on long-term affordability, quality and efficiency. It’s about minimising the environmental impact of the raw materials we use and maximising the energy efficiency of our offices, factories and homes.

When applied to construction, sustainable development requires an integrated and innovative approach - from design and building, to occupation, maintenance and renovation, all the way through to deconstruction(3)

Sustainable construction dramatically reduces the environmental impact of a building over its entire lifetime, while providing healthier and more comfortable living and working environments.

Investing in sustainable construction is a shrewd economic move and climate friendly energy efficiency measures such as mineral wool insulation guarantee a very impressive return on investment. Yet barriers remain and Europeans are being prevented from fully realising the economic benefits which flow from slashing operating costs over a building’s lifetime.

The World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) found that sustainable construction is being held back by building sector professionals’ overestimation of the real cost of green building. Sustainable construction is associated with marginally higher start-up costs but these costs are falling fast. The operating costs of traditional buildings are substantially higher due to their highly energy inefficient structures.

Because the roll-out of sustainable construction is being inhibited by short-sighted views regarding construction costs, it means that  we are constructing buildings which are less climate friendly and less cost-effective over the long-term.

As policymakers seek answers to the big challenges ahead, it is clear that Europe’s building sector professionals need to be encouraged to give greater consideration to the materials used in the construction process and to how buildings will consume energy. Best-in-class materials, i.e. components which are produced responsibly and dramatically improve energy efficiency, are critical for the sustainable construction sector. Mineral wool insulation in particular has an integral role to play in making sure that our homes, offices and public building are not leaving a burdensome legacy for future generations.

(1) Source: OECD figures http://www.oecd.org/
(2) The notion of sustainable development was coined by the report of the UN’s Brundtland Commission of the United Nations on March 20, 1987: “sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs
(3) Source: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (October 28, 2009). Green Building Basic Information. Retrieved December 10, 2009, from http://www.epa.gov/greenbuilding/pubs/about.htm