Sustainable construction: what does it actually mean?

The central core of sustainable construction is the desire and commitment to respond positively to the challenges posed by climate change and diminishing natural resources, at the same time as promoting the health and wellbeing of building occupants and ensuring the health and safety of construction site workers.

A NEW VISION FOR BUILDING CITIES
Thinking sustainability means wanting to take care of the planet and its inhabitants. The construction sector is vital to that approach.

Welcome to the era of sustainable construction! Our efforts to reduce carbon footprints, optimize resources, restore properties, foster community engagement and ensure economic compliance and profitability, promise countless benefits and mark a departure from outdated practices. The statistics speak volumes: in France alone, the construction sector generates a staggering 46 million tons of waste annually. About 49% of this waste comes from demolition, 38% from rehabilitation and 13% from new construction. Globally, construction is responsible for 50% of annual natural resource consumption and 12% of water consumption. It's time for a change!

At all levels, public policies are imposing increasingly stringent standards to curb waste production and expedite reuse and recycling efforts. There is also a concerted effort to drastically reduce energy consumption, prioritize renewable sources and advocate for construction solutions with a lower carbon footprint.

“Investors and real estate developers are increasingly favoring sustainable construction, not only as a source of innovation meeting new market demands but also as a more enduring investment, presenting fewer long-term risks,” explains Pascal Eveillard, Director of Sustainable Business Development at Saint-Gobain. “Beyond energy efficiency and occupant comfort, and considering the lifespan of buildings, they must now provide answers to long-term challenges: climate change, depletion of natural resources (especially water in certain regions), occupant health and biodiversity preservation.” 

 

Circularity: Why can't we recycle buildings as well?

 

Considering the Entire Lifecycle of Buildings

 

Building sustainably also entails examining the structure, from material manufacturing to the operational phase and eventual dismantling of the building. This innovative approach incorporates environmental and societal dimensions that will shape the cities of tomorrow. These objectives should be addressed as early as possible during the building’s design phase by examining the entire value chain, including material selection, construction techniques, optimized building operation, renovation and circularity.

 

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In Paris, the Saint-Gobain Tower proudly displays
 top-tier HQE, LEED and BREEAM certifications.

In this context, prefabrication emerges as particularly relevant for sustainability. It reduces construction waste and enables eco-friendly processes and materials, such as wood, which minimize the environmental impact of construction and renovation projects. The adaptable nature of prefabricated structures also makes them an ideal choice for circularity. Byggsystemer, a subsidiary of the Optimera Norway distribution chain, provides a compelling example with its pre-cut wood solutions, roof structures and ready-to-use elements for both small homes and large buildings.

What is the common goal of these innovations? It’s a commitment to a zero-carbon, 100% circular world. “Embracing sustainability means prioritizing recyclable or reusable construction materials that have a long lifespan and low carbon footprint across their entire lifecycle, while also being free of hazardous substances,” explains Pascal Eveillard.

 

 

 

Innovation at Every Level

 

When it comes to imagining new solutions, Saint-Gobain doesn’t lack agility or boldness. Recent innovations include additives to reduce the carbon footprint of cement, lightweight construction systems based on plasterboard, highly efficient glazing for both summer and winter, low-emission products, formaldehyde-absorbing plasterboards (Activ’Air from Placo®), low-carbon or dust-free mortars from Weber and wall coatings aimed at optimizing air quality (Novelio CleanAir). These are just a few solutions whose development seems essential given the accumulated lag in energy efficiency. Currently, 51.1% of buildings in the European Union have energy diagnostics (DPE) classified from D to G, and only 2.7% of them are classified with an A.

“We are fully committed to creating a more circular economy. For example, Isover glass wool contains up to 90% recycled glass. In France, a recycling program for glass wool from demolition has been in place since 2018, and a program for glass panes has existed since 2021,” emphasizes Pascal Eveillard. “This approach enables us to limit the extraction of raw materials, and thus meet the challenge of dwindling resources.”

 

Sustainable concrete: from grey to "green"

 

Driven by a shared commitment to responsible innovation, the teams at Chryso, a Saint-Gobain brand and a global leader in construction chemistry, are envisioning groundbreaking solutions and services in favor of eco-design and ecological construction. In recent decades, the evolution of construction materials has primarily been governed by performance and cost imperatives. However, with the rise of sustainable construction, numerous innovations are emerging: low-carbon cement, recycling processes that produce new materials from concrete returns, Chryso®Quad technology (which favors local aggregate sourcing to limit the impact of CO2 emissions linked to transport), and more.

 

Don’t forget about comfort 

 

Sustainable construction also involves caring for the health and safety of construction site workers, as well as the well-being of end users. It is imperative to choose non-irritating or low-dust products that are lighter and easier to handle. This reduces the risk of musculoskeletal disorders. Prioritizing solutions that contribute to thermal, acoustic and visual comfort, as well as better indoor air quality by using materials with low emissions of volatile compounds and efficient ventilation systems, is essential for the well-being of people living in buildings.

 

Sustainable renovation: unravelling fact from fiction 

 

Sustainable construction aims to create more responsible and comfortable cities. It encourages us to rethink how we design, renovate and inhabit our personal, professional and civic living spaces. Plus, bioclimatic buildings can take advantage of natural resources such as sun and rainwater to consume less energy and limit their environmental footprint. They are more attuned to adapting to new ways of living, especially as remote work becomes more common in many industries.

Now more than ever, the future of construction revolves around sustainability. The entire Saint-Gobain group is fully committed to building a more sustainable and responsible world. 

 

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Explore sustainable construction initiatives around the world on Saint-Gobain’s Constructing a Sustainable Future platform, a space meant for sharing best practices, achievements and innovations that can accelerate the industry’s transition.