Sustainable Buildings and Infrastructure
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Sustainable Buildings and Infrastructure

Paths to the Future

Annie R. Pearce, Yong Han Ahn, Ltd HanmiGlobal Co

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eBook - ePub

Sustainable Buildings and Infrastructure

Paths to the Future

Annie R. Pearce, Yong Han Ahn, Ltd HanmiGlobal Co

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About This Book

The second edition of Sustainable Buildings and Infrastructure continues to provide students with an introduction to the principles and practices of sustainability as they apply to the construction sector, including both buildings and infrastructure systems. As a textbook, it is aimed at students taking courses in construction management and the built environment, but it is also designed to be a useful reference for practitioners involved in implementing sustainability in their projects or firms. Case studies, best practices and highlights of cutting edge research are included throughout, making the book both a core reference and a practical guide.

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Chapter 1
Drivers and definitions of sustainability in the built environment

The concept of sustainability has gained popular momentum over the last 30 years. The goals of sustainability are to enable all people to meet their basic needs and improve their quality of life, while ensuring that the natural systems, resources and diversity upon which they depend are maintained and enhanced, for both their benefit and that of future generations. The construction industry is beginning to adopt the concept of sustainability in all construction activities and has significant opportunity to mitigate environmental problems associated with construction activities while contributing to a high quality of life for its clients. This chapter presents drivers and definitions of sustainability in the built environment by describing how construction activities affect the natural environment, the economy and society.

Construction and its impacts

Construction is one of the most significant industries in the world. It provides critical civil infrastructure including bridges, roads, rail, water and wastewater treatment, plants for the production and transmission of energy, and facility assets such as office buildings and the houses in which we live, work and play (Russell et al. 2007). The economic activities of the global construction industry are worth around $8.5 trillion U.S. dollars annually, or 13 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP) worldwide (CIC 2015).
In the United States, the construction industry is a major player in the nation’s economy, contributing over $1.1 trillion including $851 billion of private construction and $282.5 billion in the public sector as of June 2016 (US Census 2016). In addition, the construction industry accounts for around 4 per cent of the US national GDP (BEA 2015). The U.S. construction industry employs about 6.5 million people annually. Within the U.S. industry, approximately 1.4 million people worked for building construction contractors, over 950,000 worked in heavy and civil engineering construction or highway construction and nearly 4.2 million worked for speciality trade contractors (DOL 2016).
Due to their cumulative magnitude, construction activities have a major impact on physical development, government policies, community activities and welfare programmes. Construction projects can improve social welfare, well-being and quality of life. Construction activities including the construction, operation, maintenance and demolition of built facilities are also connected with the broader problems and issues affecting the environment, including climate change, ozone depletion, soil erosion, desertification, deforestation, eutrophication, acidification, loss of bio diversity, land pollution, water pollution, air pollution, depletion of fisheries and consumption of valuable resources such as fossil fuels, minerals and aggregates. In addition to these ecological and resource impacts, built facilities also significantly impact human health, comfort and productivity.

Energy use

A great amount of energy is consumed by construction activities, mainly the operation of buildings. The building sector, including both residential and commercial buildings, accounts for 20.1 per cent of total delivered energy consumed worldwide (EIA 2016a). In the United States, about 43 per cent of all energy is consumed by buildings (EIA 2016b). Trends in building energy use vary greatly among developed vs. developing countries as a function of economic growth, and are influenced not only by the growth of populations needing buildings, but also increasing expectations of building functionality to achieve higher standards of living (EIA 2016a). In the residential sector, for instance, building energy consumption is affected by factors including income levels, energy prices and policies, available energy sources, building and household characteristics, location and weather, and others (ibid.). In the commercial sector, energy use is affected by economic and population growth trends and the kinds of economic activity driving that growth. It is also affected by factors including climate, availability of resources and technology, and efficiency of buildings and equipment (ibid).
Heating, cooling and lighting in buildings are a major share of energy consumption in the United States (Figure 1.1), and the share of energy used for appliances and electronics has grown substantially over time (EIA 2016c). By 2025, electricity is expected to surpass natural gas as the largest source of energy in residential buildings in developed countries due to increased demand for household electronics, with even greater demand growth for electricity in developing countries (EIA 2016a).

Air quality and atmosphere

Around 18,000 people die each day worldwide as a result of air pollution, more than deaths from HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and road injuries combined (IEA 2016). Concurrently, climate change due to greenhouse gas emissions poses significant short- and long-term threats to human health and prosperity. Energy production and use is the primary cause of air pollution as well as greenhouse gas emissions, and so efforts that can improve energy performance have great relevance for improving air quality.
Figure 1.1 US energy consumption by end-use (LBL 2009)
Figure 1.1 US energy consumption by end-use (LBL 2009)
It has been estimated that as much as one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions can be attributed to buildings (UNEP 2009). In the United States, buildings contribute approximately 34 per cent of the nation’s total carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, including emissions from fossil fuel combustion and electricity production, refrigerant leaks, and emissions from waste decomposition in landfills and wastewater treatment plants (EPA 2016a). Drinking water and wastewater systems account for 3 to 4 per cent of total energy use in the United States, making water efficiency a significant opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well (ibid.). Worldwide, energy use in buildings is responsible for 55 per cent of all fine particulate matter emissions from human activity, as well as 5 per cent of all nitrogen oxide emissions and 7 per cent of sulphur dioxide emissions (IEA 2016). Overall, the main source of air pollutants from buildings is energy use, consumed during:
  • Harvesting and manufacturing of building materials (‘embedded’ or ‘embodied’ energy).
  • Transport of these materials from production plants to building sites (‘grey’ energy).
  • Construction of the building (‘induced’ energy).
  • Operation of the building (‘operational’ energy).
  • Demolition of the building and recovery or disposal of its parts.
Scientific consensus has established the link between human activity and climate change, including rising sea levels, increased occurrence of severe weather events and resulting critical resource shortages (IPCC 2014). The construction sector has significant potential to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions as a means of addressing these problems, not only through improvements in energy and water use but also by reducing other non-CO2 greenhouse emissions such as halocarbons, chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) and hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs) used for cooling, refrigeration, fire suppression and insulation materials.
The construction sector also has the potential to influence climate change through changes to land use and development patterns. According to U.S. EPA, ecological land use and forestry reduced gross annual greenhouse emissions in the United States by acting as a carbon sink for 11 per cent of total emissions in 2014 (EPA 2016a). By choosing more dense types of developments, incorporating vegetative and living systems as part of the built environment, and preserving or restoring natural ecosystems on development sites, the construction industry can directly offset emission of greenhouse gasses from other activities.
Development choices also have significant influence on the micro-climate in and around the built environment (see Case study: CityCenter, Las Vegas). For example, the annual mean air temperature of a city with 1 million people or more can be 1–3°C (1.8–5.4°F) warmer than its surroundings. In the evening, the temperature difference can be as high as 12°C (22°F) (EPA 2016b). This phenomenon, known as the urban heat island effect, can also increase summertime peak energy demand, air conditioning costs, air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, heat-related illness and mortality, and water quality.

Water use

Clean water is critical for human life. In many contexts, water has become a limiting factor for future development and prosperity. Developed countries such as the United States struggle with aging infrastructure and reduced public investment in infrastructure repair and upgrades and consequent problems that arise in providing safe potable water (see Case study: the 2016 Flint Water Crisis). At the same time, developing nations face their own water shortages. The World Health Organization estimates that by 2025, half of the world’s population will be linving in water-stressed areas (WHO 2016a).
Case study: the 2016 Flint Water Crisis
A series of decisions made by public officials in Flint, Michigan in the United States left over 8,000 children in the city with neurological damage and other health problems after city officials made a decision to change the city’s water source without also adjusting its treatment process to account for changes in water chemistry. The city of Flint has experienced decades of economic decline with the decline in the U.S. automotive and steel industries. Beginning in 2011, Flint officials found themselves in a serious financial crisis and were faced with the challenge of continuing to provide essential infrastructure services with diminishing resources due to the city’s declining tax base.
The decision to change water sources was not necessarily a problem in and of itself. Rather than continuing to procure its water supply from the neighbouring city of Detroit, in April 2014 officials decided to change its water source to the nearby Flint River and provide its own treatment in an effort to save costs. However, while offering considerable savings in operational costs to Flint, the water provided from the Flint River was significantly more corrosive than the Detroit water supply, leading to erosion of joints and fittings in water supply piping and releasing poisonous lead into the city’s drinking water supply. Many critical components of the city’s water distribution system had been installed between 1901 and 1920, during which period it was common to use lead piping to connect cast iron water mains to buildings due to low cost and workability.
Before the switch, water treatment for the Detroit water supply was sufficient to prevent leaching o...

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