Understanding Sustainable Construction

By Lynn Pearcey, MBA, Copywriter, AIA Contract Documents

April 30, 2024

A recent survey shows that more than half of US citizens (54%) are concerned about the health of the climate. These concerns fuel more responsible behaviors as they realize more and more how their choices impact the climate and the planet they occupy. Citizens living in places like Vermont, Hawaii, California, and Oregon have consistently scored high when it comes to championing climate awareness. Living and thinking green has essentially become a part of their lives.

As the fight to preserve the planet evolves, count the construction industry among those fighting, as in recent years, firms have begun embracing the concept of sustainable construction. Sustainable construction means recyclable and renewable materials are used to build projects as opposed to new ones, which is where the waste is produced. This minimizes the carbon footprint, energy consumption, and reduces waste, of which 30% of the total global waste output is directly attributed to the construction industry.

What are the Three Pillars of Sustainable Construction?

 There are three pillars of sustainable construction with each one playing an integral part of a successful program. Those three pillars are as follows:

  • Environmental Sustainability: Environmental sustainability focuses on three core areas including natural resources, waste management, and reducing the carbon footprint. All of these are vital to the movement Using wind, solar, or water during or after the building process help positively influence the project and environment.
  • Economic Sustainability: Construction operators want to reach their profit margins, but there has to be a happy medium between profit and ethics. This pillar focuses intensely on getting the most out of every material used in the build process. This lessens waste and protects the planet.
  • Social Sustainability: Perhaps the most important of the three pillars of sustainable construction is the social sustainability component. With so much of the global waste being directly attributed to construction, the emphasis placed on this area can’t be overemphasized. Adhering to social sustainability takes planning on the part.

 What are the Seven Principles of Sustainable Construction?

 In any situation, but especially one as important as the environment, principles must be present. Principles provide a foundation and put checks and balances in place that guide choices, behaviors, and actions. When it comes to the construction industry, there are seven principles of sustainable construction that firms should consistently work to weave into their efforts.

  • Sustainable designing: Sustainable design is intentional and means every move a construction team makes prior to and after the project commences is done with the environment in mind. Sustainable design requires a long-term mindset and encompasses several different areas including costs, consumption, and even things like employee turnover rates as expertise in sustainable design aids in the effective application of the principles involved.
  • Using Sustainable Building Materials: Sustainability begins with a choice, and for construction firms, choosing the right materials is the most important decision they’ll make from an environmental standpoint. Under this principle, firms are encouraged to use recycled or renewable materials. This type of thinking requires effort, as the easy option is to reach for the materials that have been used in the past. But, to save the planet and lower the waste imprint, effort on the part of the construction industry, especially relating to the materials being used, is critical.
  • Build durably: New builds are great, but when it comes to the environment, building durably is better. Building durably means using techniques and materials that last and come with limited needs for maintenance and replacements; things that can add waste to an already fragile atmosphere. Durable building is also cost-effective as the aforementioned maintenance and replacement efforts are minimized, leading to decreased spending and increased profits.
  • Water conservation: The construction industry consumes an enormous amount of water. Water is a constant on construction sites, and it’s used in every phase of a project, but limiting the use of this precious resource is one of the ways firms can help combat the environmental crisis the world is facing. Some of the ways construction operators are reducing their water usage include real-time water usage reporting infrastructures, the installation of low-flow fixtures, and by employing efficient sprinkler and irrigation systems.
  • Reducing waste: When it comes to the construction industry, waste is a constant concern and a challenge each operator faces with every project. Demolition plays a major role in the amount of waste the industry produces and abiding by the circular construction process, where reuse, not new use is the guiding mindset, will greatly diminish the amount of waste the industry produces.
  • Energy efficiency: Using energy efficiently plays a major role in how much is consumed. With that, construction companies can lower their energy usage rate by unplugging unused equipment, using electric vehicles on site as opposed to those powered by diesel fuel, and employing energy efficient technology wherever possible.
  • Quality of indoor air: Indoor air quality begins with the design and should always be a goal for health, safety, and comfort reasons. Designing buildings with an eye toward natural ventilation reduces the need for the typical systems that are powered by electricity and the amount of pollutants sent into the atmosphere.


Saving the planet is a corporate effort and each inhabitant plays a pivotal role in that process. This includes the construction industry where so much of the waste that puts the planet at risk is produced. To stem the tide and help minimize the impact, leaders must be willing to champion the virtues of sustainable construction and the many benefits it has on the environment. As the industry continues to evolve and paradigms shift, the concept of smart cities will become more prevalent as many of the elements of sustainable construction align well with those found in smart city construction.

Sustainable construction requires a great deal of adjustment and embracing fresh ideas and concepts. But, when the costs of adopting the principles of sustainable construction are considered and placed in the grand scheme, the benefits far outweigh the costs.

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AIA Contract Documents has provided this article for general informational purposes only. The information provided is not legal opinion or legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship of any kind. This article is also not intended to provide guidance as to how project parties should interpret their specific contracts or resolve contract disputes, as those decisions will need to be made in consultation with legal counsel, insurance counsel, and other professionals, and based upon a multitude of factors.