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The building industry is responding to increasing demand from environmentally conscious consumers and to governments offering incentives to many industries and individuals for reducing their environmental impact by delivering construction projects, which are resource efficient, protective of occupants’ health, and reduce waste and pollution.
As well as constructing green buildings like these, the industry is also revamping construction processes to ensure that environmental impact is limited during the project – as well as throughout the building’s life.
Both of these approaches to reducing environmental impact by the building industry are being advanced by the industry’s improved use of clean technology. Clean technology is defined as:
“[A] set of technologies that either reduces or optimises the use of natural resources, whilst at the same time reducing the negative effect that technology has on the planet and its ecosystems.” (Pirolini, 2015)
In buildings, these include renewable energy production, smart energy usage, optimizations for occupants’ health, and waste filtration solutions. During construction, clean technologies include sustainable materials, energy and waste-efficient production methods, and computer-based building information management (BIM) systems to optimize the use of resources and assess the building’s life cycle.
One of the most important fields of clean technology is renewable energy. In recent years, solar panels have dramatically reduced in cost, meaning individual homeowners and large developers alike can afford to add them to their buildings. This reduces demand on national electric grids, replacing the energy they would otherwise have to generate with a renewable source – the Sun.
Many buildings are also using geothermal energy – heat stored in the ground – as a renewable source of heating, reducing the need for radiators and furnaces, as well as power generation. Some large constructions like the Bahrain World Trade Center and the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation also use building-integrated wind power systems to capture more renewable energy.
Smart energy usage
Thanks to the Internet of Things (IoT), which can connect and manage internet-connected physical objects like lighting systems, buildings can now be “smart”. This means that computer systems can assist building management to ensure that lighting or heating systems are not used when they are not needed, or to reduce loads on the electric grid or renewable energy production by setting appliances to run at night when they are not needed (for example, charging points for electric vehicles).
Air conditioning and filtration can also be managed by a smart building, with IoT-enabled sensors monitoring the air quality, moisture levels and temperature, and managing efficient filtration systems (or utilizing passive filtration such as well-designed venting) to create a better environment for the people using the building.
Increasingly, sustainable buildings have incorporated local waste filtration to return the human waste collected in the building to the environment in a way that avoids the impact of large sewer plants. These can include low-tech clean technologies like composting toilets as well as systems designed to reuse “greywater” (non-drinkable water from sink drains and washing machines) in furnace systems or outside irrigation.
Buildings can dramatically reduce their overall environmental impact by selecting more sustainable materials for construction. A clean technology solution to finding sustainable materials is through recycling. Wood, stone and metal can all be recycled and combined to form sustainable building projects, utilizing technologies like computerized BIM systems (see below) to ensure the recycled materials can be used safely and effectively in the construction.
Clean technology is also helping the building industry to optimize its use of energy and resources in the construction process. Radio frequency identification (RFID) and IoT-enabled logistics systems can ensure that building materials are delivered to the site with minimal wastage and in a manner that minimizes freight miles.
All of these clean technology approaches being used by the building industry can be supported by increased adoption of BIM (building information modeling). BIM systems input every aspect of a building – the design, materials, energy generation and use, construction, use and life cycle – to help architects, developers and building managers optimize the building’s use of resources. A good use of BIM can lead to improved energy efficiency during and after construction, minimized use of resources, and a longer life for the building.
Pirolini, A. (2015). What is Clean Technology? [online] AZoCleantech.com. Available at: https://www.azocleantech.com/article.aspx?ArticleID=532