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Sustainable Construction in 2024: Principles, Trends and Challenges

Jane Marsh - March 25, 2024

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The need for sustainable construction has become more prominent than ever in recent years and 2024 looks no different. Construction is one of the largest global industries, impacting everything from natural resources to wildlife habitats and waste generation. Thanks to green building principles and emerging trends, the industry could be en route to reducing its carbon footprint and creating net zero buildings of tomorrow.

Understanding Sustainability in Construction

The harsh effects of climate change continue to wreak havoc across the globe, more so as cities and towns become more densely inhabited. Construction is at the forefront of these issues, accounting for 40% of CO2 emissions in 2022. The sector is also responsible for 36% of final energy use, marking the need to incorporate sustainability into construction. 

Sustainability in construction actively strives to mitigate the negative environmental, economic and social impacts of buildings to accomplish several key objectives, including: 

  • Reducing or eliminating the use of non-renewable natural resources
  • Minimizing maintenance costs and requirements 
  • Increasing energy efficiency
  • Improving social interactions within communities
  • Cutting down on the amount of waste produced 

Delivering such benefits requires a holistic approach that integrates the ethos of sustainability across the entire construction life cycle. 

6 Principles of Sustainable Construction

These principles provide a framework for how the industry can mitigate its carbon footprint one building at a time. 

  1. Eco-friendly Building Materials  

Prioritizing eco-friendly building materials, such as bamboo, fiber-reinforced concrete and other renewable or recycled substrates, can save up to 40% in emissions by 2050. These materials require less energy to produce and will not end up in landfills at the end of their useful life. Designers can also take advantage of prefabrication and modular construction to reduce the need for heavy machinery, lowering on-site emission levels. 

  1. Design for Durability 

This principle emphasizes building with sturdiness and longevity in mind. It includes using durable materials that can withstand weathering and degradation, as well as construction techniques to ensure structures remain resilient. A long-standing building reduces the need for frequent maintenance and promotes resource efficiency. 

3. Energy Efficiency 

Indoor heating, cooling and lighting account for huge operational carbon emissions in the construction industry. Promoting energy efficiency can slash these emissions by as much as 25% in the coming decades. This process includes utilizing renewable energy sources and investing in energy-efficient HVAC systems. Switching to renewable energy can save households up to $2,500 yearly. 

4. Water Conservation 

The construction industry accounts for 15% of freshwater use across the world. Minimizing water usage during materials production and the building process itself goes a long way in promoting sustainability. Proven methods include efficient irrigation, rainwater harvesting systems and improved wastewater treatment.

5. Waste Reduction 

According to the EPA, the construction and demolition sector generated 600 million tons of debris in the United States, 145 million of which ended up in landfills. These worrying figures underscore the industry’s need for robust waste management programs. 

6. Indoor Air Quality 

Poor air quality harms residents and can lead to a barrage of environmental issues, including increased plant susceptibility to disease and volatile organic compounds. Sustainable construction promotes healthy and comfortable inhabited spaces by allowing for adequate ventilation and breathability between buildings. This involves incorporating specific design features like solar chimneys, ridge vents and wind towers. 

Sustainable Construction Trends in 2024 

As construction companies and stakeholders gear up for operations in 2024, these trends will likely define the year.

Rise of the Internet of Things (IoT)

IoT-enabled sensors and wearables are revolutionizing operations by facilitating efficient resource usage, improved worker safety and seamless data exchange. For example, project managers can use sensors and cameras to monitor on-site factors like temperature, humidity and vibration in real time. This helps ensure safety and regulatory compliance.

IoT is also super helpful in concrete curing. Sensors embedded in the concrete during the casting process provide insights for structural health monitoring and ensuring optimal water usage. These real-time insights pave the way for predictive maintenance and proactive project management. 

Net Zero Energy Buildings

The goal here is to design buildings that generate as much energy as they consume, ensuring net zero impact on the environment. Renewable energy sources like solar can lower energy bills, improve indoor air quality and reduce the construction industry’s overall carbon footprint.

Eco-friendly materials are also key to facilitating net zero energy buildings. In particular, using green steel — steel manufactured without using fossil fuels — can reduce carbon emissions in commercial buildings by as much as 70% by 2030.

Prefabrication and Modular Construction

Prefabricated and box buildings are more popular than ever. These types of construction handle the bulk of the work off-site in a controlled environment. 

Offsite construction offers a number of sustainability advantages over conventional methods, including using fewer materials, generating less waste and lowering emissions from transporting heavy machinery and equipment. 

Cool Roofs 

While not exactly an emerging concept, cool roofs are integral to sustainable construction thanks to their ability to lower peak energy demand by up to 27% and by extension, greenhouse gas emissions. 

The best part is cool roofing products cost about the same as traditional roofs, so cost prohibition is hardly an issue. Certain types of roofs also qualify for retrofitting with cool coatings, however, there will be material and labor costs involved.

Challenges of Sustainable Construction

Cost remains the most significant issue on the road to fully integrating sustainability in construction. Reaching net-zero emissions in buildings, energy and mobility by 2050 requires an average spending of $9.2 trillion, according to McKinsey. These higher costs result from the complexity of designing green buildings and using eco-friendly construction materials. 

The long bureaucratic process for accepting sustainable methods and technologies in construction projects also presents another challenge. This could also lead to longer project completion times. 

Lastly, there needs to be more awareness in the industry about the advantages of sustainable construction. Lack of sustainable information concerning sustainable materials and processes can lead to conflicting reports about how these methods can offset high initial costs and be beneficial over the long term. 

Nevertheless, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The demand for sustainable construction is rising, with the market expected to reach over $1.3 trillion by 2030. Additionally, government efforts to reduce global greenhouse gas emissions through carbon pricing and tax policies can accelerate the process. 

Adopting Sustainability in Construction  

The adoption of sustainable practices and trends in construction is imperative for the industry. Stakeholders must come together to provide a comprehensive framework that includes the core principles of sustainable construction and eliminate roadblocks to a greener, more resilient future.

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About the author

Jane Marsh

Starting from an early age, Jane Marsh loved all animals and became a budding environmentalist. Now, Jane works as the Editor-in-Chief of where she covers topics related to climate policy, renewable energy, the food industry, and more.