How Reuse of Materials Helps with Sustainable Construction

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With progress that’s been made in the measurement of embodied carbon, construction stakeholders can now evaluate overall carbon emissions of a construction project. This has enabled the purchase of low-carbon construction material alternatives and regulations on embodied carbon limits.

Image: Autodesk Construction Blog

Technology will play a central role in providing the tools companies need to reduce the overall carbon footprint of construction. In addition, there are innovative construction materials that will transform the industry as we know it today – i.e., cross-laminated timber, memory steel, low-carbon concrete, air-purifying building façades, mushroom insulation, and particleboard created using vegetable waste from restaurants.


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Focusing on sustainable building construction can future-proof companies, because sustainability is good for business. Implementing sustainable construction practices can help a company . . .

  • reduce waste of energy and natural resources, saving money.
  • keep up with competitive trends, differentiating it from the competition.
  • prepare to comply with government regulations/restrictions on carbon emissions.
  • reduce carbon tax implications.
  • improve employer reputation, thus attracting and retaining talent.
  • produce more efficient buildings.
simulation of buildings overlaid on an overhead view of city
Sustainability simulation; image: Autodesk.com

A 2018 report by Autodesk and Statista projected that thousands of new buildings will need to be constructed daily by 2050 to accommodate burgeoning urban populations. The quantity of materials needed for that level of construction will be substantial. If those materials were to be sourced in a sustainable way, structures with a lower carbon footprint could be built.

Reusing materials that would otherwise go to waste is a meaningful alternative to traditional methods of sourcing building materials. An Autodesk Digital Builder blog article in 2021 expounded on salvaging building materials, promoting advanced sustainability to achieve net positive energy, net positive water and net positive waste.

In 2021, Transparency Market Research estimated annual construction waste would reach 2.2-billion tons globally by 2025. Salvaging and reusing materials, rather than the commonplace practice of purchasing everything new, is a common-sense approach to sourcing materials, saving money, extending useful material life and reducing the amount of waste going into landfills. It’s estimated that 30% of construction waste could be captured and salvaged.

To do that, a shift in mindset is needed for the way buildings are designed, built and removed. While that is a significant challenge, it’s a way to positively impact the environment and communities. Reusing materials positively impacts the three targets of sustainability:

Environmental.

Salvaging and reusing construction materials leads to lower carbon emissions, extends the useful life of building materials and keeps them from becoming trash. 

Economic.

Repurposing construction materials saves on purchase costs and project expense.

Social.

Efforts to achieve sustainability can inspire workers, as well as improve the quality of life for occupants of sustainably constructed buildings.

The practice of reusing construction materials has been around since the early 1900s, and likely even earlier, when buildings would be disassembled instead of destroyed. There was a pecuniary mentality back then – why buy new when you could reuse? Why, indeed.


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