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 approach to constructing our future cities

Cities must reinvent themselves

On the one hand, we have a growing urban world population. On the other, there is a keen awareness of the enormous impact that construction has on climate, natural resources and human health. To address their many challenges, our cities must reinvent themselves to create a better living environment for future generations. How? By embracing sustainable construction!
Thinking sustainability means using recyclable or reusable materials that have a long lifespan and a reduced carbon footprint over their entire lifecycle.
Pascal Eveillard
Sustainable Construction Director at Saint-Gobain Group
Thinking sustainability means wanting to take care of the planet and its inhabitants. The construction sector is vital to that approach.

Did you know?

RE2020: the new environmental regulations in France, which replace the RT2012 thermal regulations from the beginning of 2022, cover all a building’s emissions over its life cycle and introduce limits on them.

Green roofs and walls, low-carbon buildings, energy-positive buildings that generate more energy than they consume, interior environments that are healthy and comfortable all year round, construction solutions that are easier to install… Welcome to sustainable construction! More virtuous buildings, from the construction phase to the end of their life, more bioclimatic, more energy efficient, more efficient in their use of natural resources and much more centered around the occupant. Sustainable construction the future is already dovetailing with the present!

There’s no denying that the construction industry hasn’t always been a star student! Instead, this is what we see: 46 million tons of waste produced in France each year (by way of comparison, approximately 30 million tons of household waste is produced each year), 49% of which comes from demolition, 38% from refurbishment and 13% from new construction. Globally, the construction sector accounts for 50% of the consumption of materials and raw materials! And 40% of energy consumption and carbon emissions.

At all levels (European, national, regional and in cities), public policies are increasingly imposing demanding standards to prevent the production of waste and step up its reuse or recycling, as well as to significantly reduce energy consumption and promote renewable energies and construction solutions with a lower carbon footprint.

“Sustainable construction is increasingly favored by investors and developers not only as a source of innovation that responds to the new needs of the market, but also as a more long-term investment presenting fewer risks in the medium and long term,” explains Pascal Eveillard. “Given the lifespan of buildings, the design and construction must now look beyond energy efficiency and occupant comfort to deliver effective responses to longer-term challenges like climate change, the depletion of natural resources (especially water in some regions of the world), occupant health and biodiversity conservation.” 


A new approach

Sustainable construction therefore means considering the structure in its entirety, from materials manufacture through to end-of-life deconstruction, via the operational stage. Far from being a passing trend, this is about taking a completely new environmental and social approach to constructing our future cities. A rational city, focused on living together as a community, sustainability and conservation of natural resources and biodiversity. A responsible city, with more virtuous buildings, designed to emit less carbon and offer greater well-being to their occupants.

hd_laurent kronental_tour saint gobain (59).jpg


The Tour Saint-Gobain in Paris is an impressive example of sustainable construction, which boasts triple HQE, LEED and BREEAM certification at their highest levels.

To be achieved, these goals must be taken into account as early as possible in the design phase of the building. Doing so requires new practices that will then guide every link in the construction chain, from the selection of more sustainable materials and construction solutions, to exemplary worksites, more advanced building operation, etc. But with what ultimate aim? Delivering on a commitment to a Zero Carbon world with a 100% circular economy that generates no waste! “More specifically, thinking sustainability means using recyclable or reusable construction materials with a long lifespan and a high recycled and/or renewable content with a reduced carbon footprint over their entire lifecycle, and containing/emitting no hazardous substances.” 

Because that makes everyone a winner! Beyond delivering excellent energy performance and conserving resources, sustainable construction contributes to occupant wellbeing by implementing solutions that improve thermal, acoustic and visual comfort and to better indoor air quality, through the use of materials with low volatile compound emissions and the use of efficient ventilation. 

Don’t forget construction site workers!

Occupational illnesses and accidents are unfortunately all too common in construction. Construction workers on worksites are often exposed to emissions of hazardous substances such as silica, wood dust or volatile organic compounds harmful to their health. Sustainable construction also means focusing on the health and safety of workers on worksites. By favoring non-irritating or low-dust products, for example, or products that are lighter or easier to handle and install, in order to reduce the risk of musculoskeletal disorders.

Innovation on every level!

To meet the challenge, the wind of innovation is blowing through every level of the building! Solar tiles developed by Tesla, heated clay ceilings created by the architect Stilke Stevens, O-Wind mini-wind turbines (a James Dyson Award-winning innovation) to allow urban tenants to produce their own electricity... In a land of ideas, projects are king! 

And Saint-Gobain lacks none of the agility or audacity to imagine new solutions: admixtures to reduce the carbon footprint of cement, lightweight construction systems based around plasterboard, high-performance glazing for both summer and winter,  low-emission products (new ISOVER wool with its green binder), formaldehyde-absorbing plasterboard (Activ’ Air from Placo), low-carbon or dust-free mortars from WEBER, variable-tint electrochromic glazing, and even wall coverings designed to optimize air quality (Novelio CleanAir)! 

“We’re also fully onboard with promoting a more circular economy. For example, ISOVER glass wool contains up to 90% recycled glass, the new formaldehyde-free binder is produced from biosourced materials, and we introduced a process for recycling glass wool from building deconstruction in France in 2018 and another for glazing in 2021,” continues Pascal Eveillard. “This approach allows us to limit the extraction of raw materials, and therefore to respond directly to the challenge of diminishing natural resources.” 

Similarly, since 2008 Placoplatre has been developing a system for recycling gypsum board waste for use by the trade as an alternative to landfill. 

Lighter materials, recycled content, healthier and less energy-intensive buildings... The future of construction is now coming together sustainably!

The latest stories

All stories

View more

Our lives are evolving... our homes too!

Will printers build the homes of tomorrow?

In the future, will we all be housemates? The new art of living together.