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Developments in sustainable construction to know in 2021

The construction industry is a major source of pollution and environmental waste. Buildings emit more than 9 billion tons of carbon every year, a figure that's expected to jump to more than 14 billion tons by 2050 unless significant changes are enacted.

But people are becoming increasingly concerned about the effect climate change is having on the environment, and they are coming to demand more from governments and businesses in the fight against climate change. More than 60% of customers now prefer brands that are committed to environmental protection, a significant development that is changing the way many companies operate.

The construction industry has answered the call, and there is a growing interest among industry leaders to find more sustainable ways to build. Driven by a new demand for sustainable construction practices, the green building materials market is expected to grow to $573.91 billion by 2027.

This level of growth is part of a broader series of trends that are expected to take shape in 2021 and beyond. Continue reading to learn more about these trends and other changes taking place across the industry.

Green building trends in 2021

Builders are exploring alternative methods and materials for construction that decrease carbon emissions and promote greater environmental sustainability. The last few years saw an acceleration of developments in this area, and this year is expected to be no different. Here are some of the top trends in sustainable construction to look out for in 2021:

Smart windows: Windows can be an extremely inefficient part of a building design by encouraging heat loss in cold weather months and increasing light exposure during warmer times of the year. Smart windows use thermochromic and photochromic technologies to tint and darken otherwise transparent windows to reduce light and heat exposure when it's warm outside, thus reducing the need for air conditioning and driving down energy costs. These technologies can be manipulated to increase heat retention inside the building when it's cold out, similarly decreasing energy costs.

Sustainable lighting: Lighting is a substantial source of our energy consumption, accounting for 15% of global electricity use, according to the U.S. Energy Department. LED lights represent an important opportunity for energy savings, possessing a number of benefits that make them more appropriate for environmentally oriented buildings and individuals. Most importantly, they are around 75% energy efficient, with the energy department estimating that widespread use of LED could save more than $30 billion in electricity costs. The use of LED lighting is expected to rise as people explore more energy-efficient ways to light their homes and offices.

Eco-friendly insulation: Fiberglass has been one of the predominant materials used to insulate buildings since it was first patented in the 1930s, but not much has changed since then. With the relaxation of laws on cannabis across the country, entrepreneurs are thinking of creative new ways to utilize byproducts of the crop, one of which could be a growth in the use of hemp for insulation. Hemp is renewable and is naturally pest-resistant, limiting the need for dangerous pesticides that can harm the environment. Expect some companies to experiment more with hemp in building materials in 2021.

Renewable energy sources: The use of renewable energy sources has exploded in recent years, and that trend looks likely to continue this year. A Pew survey found that while just 6% of American homeowners have actually installed solar panels on their homes, 46% have seriously considered doing so. The use of solar panels to power buildings and residential properties is expected to grow as they become more energy efficient and the cost of installation drops.

Building materials: We all know that asbestos, lead and other outdated, toxic building materials are harmful to human health, but it would be a mistake to assume that all building materials are now perfectly safe for people and the environment. For example, according to Healthline, researchers have found that vinyl flooring containing flame retardants are associated with higher levels of toxic chemicals in children. This year will likely see builders take more seriously the impact some of the materials they use can have on human health and seek safer alternatives.

Reducing use of embodied carbon: It's easy to overlook the amount of embodied carbon in building materials. Embodied carbon is the amount of carbon emitted during the manufacture of certain products, especially building materials like steel, concrete and glass. Architecture 2030 found that embodied carbons constitute 28% of the construction industry's total emissions. Building engineers are increasingly adopting materials that use less embodied carbon, including bamboo.

The Paris Climate accords and the construction industry

Now that the United States has rejoined the Paris Climate Agreement, government agencies are likely going to take more proactive measures to curb carbon emissions in the construction industry and promote more sustainable building practices. Here are some of the ways nonprofit organizations have already taken the lead:

The World Green Building Council

The World Green Building Council (WorldGBC) is a nonprofit organization consisting of companies in the construction industry that are committed to the proposals set forth in the Paris Climate Agreement and implementing them in their building designs. The WorldGBC has set targets of net zero carbon (NZC) for all new buildings by 2030, and NZC for all existing buildings by 2050.

It aims to achieve these objectives by promoting deep renovations in existing buildings' structure, enhancing access to renewable energy sources and reducing the use of unsustainable materials.

International Green Construction Code

One of the ways industry partners and nonprofits have worked to implement the Paris Agreement principles is through the International Green Construction Code (IgCC). The IgCC aims to provide a series of code guidelines that can easily be implemented to the code of any jurisdiction to help ensure that buildings are more sustainable and promote better human health and longevity.

Enforcement of the IgCC would promote the preservation of natural resources on building sites, support the use of energy-efficient systems and ensure that owners are carrying out sustainable practices.

International Code Council

This year, the International Code Council (ICC), whose base code standards are in use in most jurisdictions across the U.S., announced it will be building off of the IgCC and other initiatives to devise its own framework for promoting sustainable building and achieve net zero carbon commercial and residential buildings by 2030.

A series of new standards the ICC plans to roll out this year would increase energy efficiency in buildings by around 14% and also require new buildings to be compatible with electric vehicle charging stations.

Calculate your project's embodied carbon

Reducing embodied carbon in buildings is one of the most effective ways to reduce carbon emissions in the construction industry. But it can be difficult for people to calculate exactly how much embodied carbon has been released by their buildings, which makes it hard to take proactive next steps.

To that end, the Carbon Leadership Forum developed the Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator (EC3) tool to let you measure and keep track of your project's embodied carbon emissions to help you achieve your sustainability goals.

Importantly, the EC3 tool can be used at any point during a building project to assess the project's overall embodied carbon and identify areas in which low-carbon options would be more appropriate and sustainable. The tool also helps you set embodied carbon limits to ensure you're staying within your range throughout the construction process.

Milrose is on your side

Developments in sustainable construction are expected to pick up pace in 2021, so it's important to stay up to date on the latest news and trends.

Our expert team of consultants will help you navigate the complex world of municipal compliance. Contact one of our representatives to get started today.