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.

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

Did you know?

E+ C- isn’t a mathematical formula, but a French accreditation labelling scheme that assesses the carbon footprint of a building over its full lifecycle.

Green roofs and walls, low-carbon buildings, energy-positive buildings that generate more energy than they consume... Welcome to the home of tomorrow! Homes that are ethical, bioclimatic, more energy efficient and much more occupant-focused. That's our definition of sustainable construction, and the future it represents is already dovetailing with the present!

There’s no denying that when it comes to sustainability, the construction industry hasn’t always been a star student! Instead, this is what we see: 42.2 million tonnes (MT) of construction waste produced in France every year, including 31.5 MT of inert waste (concrete, brick, etc.) and 9.7 MT of non-hazardous waste (wood, plastics, mineral wool, etc.)(1). But the French energy transition and green growth law, the Loi de Transition Energétique pour la Croissance Verte (LTECV) is very clear and very ambitious: it imposes new standards, including the recovery of 70% of non-hazardous waste and active promotion of the circular economy. The same is true at European level, with the EU Waste Framework Directive, which prioritises waste prevention and recycling with the aim of being able “to prevent and reduce the production and harmfulness of waste by acting on the design, manufacture and distribution of products, and by promoting reuse”.

“Sustainable construction is increasingly seen 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 manufacturing through to end-of-life deconstruction. 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 biodiversity conservation. A responsible city of ethical buildings designed to consume little energy, and which is powered by energy from renewable sources (hydropower, solar, wind, biomass, etc.) rather than fossil fuels. This is one of the major challenges of sustainable construction, which aims to improve the energy efficiency of buildings, which consume 40% of all energy around the world!

The three "Multi-Comfort" houses in Myklebust, Norway, built entirely by Saint-Gobain's Optimera and Dahl brands in 2015.

To achieve these goals, buildings must have efficiency designed in from the very beginning of the process. Doing so requires new practices that will then guide every link in the construction chain, from materials manufacturing through design to production and building operation. 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 using materials that emit no hazardous substances.


Innovation on every level!

In responding to the challenge, the Research & Development teams of leading companies worldwide are blowing the wind of innovation through every level of tomorrow’s buildings! The solar roof tiles developed by Tesla, the heated clay ceiling system created by architect Stilke Stevens and the O-Wind mini-turbine (winner of the 2018 James Dyson Award) that enables urban tenants to generate their own electricity... In the realm of ideas, projects are king! 

And Saint-Gobain lacks none of the agility or audacity to imagine new solutions: heated glass, magnetic plaster (British Gypsum), eco-friendly adhesive mortar, variable-tint electrochromic glazing and wall cladding that optimises 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 last year", 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, Placoplatre has developed 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! 

(1) ADEME (The French Environment and Energy Management Agency)