The New Definition of Sustainability

November 27, 2017 9:10 pm

By: Andrew Clendenen

A decade ago when I started with C1S, my primary role was to help the company serve clients seeking LEED Certification. For those who don’t know, it’s an honor awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council. Based on a points system, it is earned through design, construction and operations that reduce things like energy and water use. It also recognizes responsible disposable of waste, and even efforts to transport employees to work in a “greener” way.

As a young company, it was a nice niche to have and provided more than enough work to keep me busy from 8-5 and beyond from 2008-2011, as we handled around 20 of these projects.

Fast forward to 2017. C1S still manages LEED projects (we recently helped PepsiCo earn a Platinum Certification at its New York headquarters), but it has become a smaller part of what we do. That’s not because it isn’t important and the certification isn’t valuable. Companies that meet the requirements get more than a nice plaque, but also save a few bucks on their utility bills and can also qualify for a number of tax breaks.

The change in course has more to do with the fact that as a company, our definition of a major industry buzzword has changed somewhat, which has in turn, changed our focus as a company.

What is Sustainability?

It’s a word synonymous with the recycling programs and efforts to reduce energy and water usage mentioned above. When you think of sustainability, you might think of things like installing bike racks allowing employees to ride to work, thus decreasing carbon emission by taking cars off the road.

Everything mentioned above is great and as an industry, we must always work to reduce our environmental footprint. But here’s a way to think about sustainability that might not immediately come to mind. Let me throw a statistic at you.

According to the Hague Center for Strategic Studies, 70% of the buildings that will be occupied 30 years from now already exist today.

What does this mean for engineering and construction firms? At C1S, it is a statistic that has guided our focus as a company towards being a go-to in the renovation of existing buildings. When we think sustainability and sustainable construction, our greatest focus is considering what it is going to take to deliver projects that will last 50, 60, 70 years and beyond.

Technology and Sustainable Construction Materials are key to long lasting projects.

These days, engineers, designers, and maintenance professionals have a wealth of software and technology that makes it easier than ever to draw up designs that are more cost effective, stronger, and durable than ever before, and maintain them when problems arise.

For example, let’s start with Revit. The computer program allows designers to create 3D models and see how a building will perform before construction begins. On the maintenance side, consider the fact that modern HVAC systems can now self-monitor and let maintenance workers know in advance when a repair will need to be made. In the past, maintenance was mostly reactive as workers were first alerted to problems when the breakdown had already occurred.

When it comes to materials, a minor example of how far we have come as an industry can be found with LED light bulbs. In the days when fluorescent bulbs illuminated warehouses across the country, maintenance required taking out a lift and hoisting someone 35 feet in the air, potentially multiple times a year.  Furthermore, entire closets dedicated simply to light bulbs had to be kept due to the need for frequent changes. LED bulbs have essentially eliminated this headache as they last 2-4 times longer, operate on far less electricity, and shine brighter than ever before.

That’s not all. These days, construction materials are getting lighter and stronger.  Foam insulation is leaps and bounds better than its predecessor. Heck, even paint is better. Ten years ago, many clients didn’t know there was paint that didn’t include dangerous VOC solvents. Today, it’s standard.

As engineers and construction professionals, we must continue to familiarize ourselves with the latest technology and materials that are more durable, will require less maintenance, and will help our clients cut down on costs.

New Technology Will Continue to Shape How We Deliver Long-Lasting Projects

I don’t have a crystal ball, but in the future, I can only imagine that technology will continue to drive the way we renovate buildings and help them last longer than ever. The consensus is that technology like augmented reality will be introduced to the industry, which could allow construction professionals to scan a job site with a few clicks on their smart phones to make sure standards of work are being met and identify issues that could arise in the future.

Sustainability is a popular word in the industry, but one that tends to take on a different definition depending on who you ask.

How do you define it? In what ways do you see sustainability evolving in the future? Feel free to let us know!