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Sustainable Materials and Sustainable Design in Construction

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Construction
Wordcount: 1642 words Published: 18th May 2020

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Sustainable Materials and Sustainable Design in Construction


The construction industry is one of the most significant contributors of landfill waste in New Zealand and around the world. Construction and Demolition waste is responsible for an estimated 27% of landfill waste in New Zealand (Ministry for the Environment, Manatu Mo Te Taiao, 2009) and this is expect to rise due to a sharp increase in building consents since 2011(see Figure A). The waste from Construction and Demolition can contaminate soil and water, and release gases harmful to the Earth’s atmosphere.

The production of construction materials requires a significant amount of resources with many of these resources going to waste due to damage or a surplus. The transportation of this waste creates pollution through emissions.

The waste from Construction and Demolition can be reduced through changes within the design and construction process.  This report aims to examine how selecting more sustainable materials and changes to the design and construction processes can be used to create more sustainable structures. These options aim reduce waste and the need for more raw materials.

1 Criteria for Sustainable Material Selection

Materials used in buildings go through three stages: extraction, processing and transportation. The extraction stage requires energy for the harvesting or mining equipment, the processing stage require energy for the processing equipment and transportation require energy for transportation devices. This energy use produces pollution harmful to the environment. The energy used in these stages is referred to as embodied energy.

1a Local Material Sources

By using locally sourced materials the amount of embodied energy in the transportation and storage of the materials can be reduced. The materials can also be better suited for the environment.

1b Recycled and Refurbishing Materials

Recycling consist of dismantling and reusing materials. Refurbishing consists of repairing then using materials. Both techniques minimise the amount of waste and strain on landfills. Recycled metals can be remade into their original form, plastics can be used for carpet and paper can be used for insulation (Mehta, Mehta, & Sharma, 2014). Other products can be salvaged for reuse. Recycling materials benefits from improved energy efficiency.

1c Conserve Natural Resources

Products that use less raw materials reduce the energy use for transportation and disposal. Fast growing trees such as aspen require less wood than convention lumber to make engineered wood products (Mehta, Mehta, & Sharma, 2014). If close the building site there can be a reduction in the transportation and storage cost. Natural and renewable resources require less processing and have lower embodied energy.

1d Renewable Resources

The use of renewable resources can limit the amount of waste. Some renewable resources can reduce the quantity of materials used while not affecting durability. (California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery, 2018)

1e Durability

The durability of the material used determines the useful life period of construction projects. Products that are durable and need to be replace or repaired less frequently contribute to less wasted resources over the long term.

1f Reusability

Waste can be minimised through material reusability. When a material can be adapted to multiple purposes resource efficiency is improved through lower transport and storage costs.

1g Biodegradability

Biodegradability is determined by how long materials take to discompose after being disposed of. Wood and other organic material are more biodegradable than plastics or metal because it degrades in a shorter period.

2 Material Selection during Phases of Construction

2a Design Phase

A project begins with the design phase which involves designing and planning of the project. This phase involves the most opportunities for sustainable material selection to insure a sustainable project. The focuses for this phase should include examining the local area for sources of materials to reduce the energy consumption for transport and assessing which commonly used material can be substituted for renewable materials, materials with lower embodied energy or materials the can be adapted for multiple uses.

2b Construction Phase

The construction phase allows for reuse or recycling of construction materials. The selections of materials in this phase can determines how durable a building is, durable buildings require less maintenance during the post-construction phase. The selection of material can reduce the energy consumption during the post-construction phase.

2c Post-Construction Phase

The post-construction phase occurs after the project has been completed. In this phase waste and unused construction materials can be dismantled and recycled. This phase is heavily reliant on which construction materials were decided in the previous phases. If biodegraded materials were chosen for the project during the previous phases these materials will create less strain on landfills. Reducing waste through use recyclable or reusable material reduces the energy consumed when transporting the waste materials to landfills.


Using new design techniques such as green roofing – grass, bushes and other foliage on a roof, stormwater will be absorbed into the soil making it more manageable than a bare roof – will improve energy efficiency and require less maintenance.

Commonly used construction materials such as steel, concrete, aluminium, plastics, paper and cardboard, untreated timber, topsoil and unused paint and paint cans (BRANZ, 2019) can be reuse or recycled.

Replace commonly used material with more effective renewable materials. These materials when use correctly will improve energy efficiency while costing less and will produce less waste at the end of its life cycle by being more biodegradable or be useful by being recycled or reused.

A new development is construction 3D printing. Construction 3D printing aims to reduce the amount of raw materials used during construction through more efficient designs. Construction 3D printing can also reduce the energy costs of transportation (Li & Qi, 2017). A combination of construction 3D printing and using modular construction methods can drastic reduced the energy consumed during transportation and minimise the amount of raw materials used.


This report concludes that the most effective way to achieve and to a reduction in construction waste is to rely more on sustainable materials and to incorporate more efficient building design ideas. A focus on sustainable materials and the use of efficient building designs will provide substantial environmental as well as cost benefits. The cost and availability of sustainable materials remains a challenge in the present.


  • Banchor, A. (2015, February 23). Smart green building materials. Retrieved from projectsmonitor.com: http://www.projectsmonitor.com/guest-articles/smart-green-building-materials/
  • BRANZ. (2019, September 18). How to reuse and recycle materials from a building site. Retrieved from level.org.nz: http://www.level.org.nz/material-use/minimising-waste/reuse-and-recycling/
  • California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery. (2018, October 24). Green Building Materials. Retrieved from calrecycle.ca.gov: https://www.calrecycle.ca.gov/greenbuilding/materials
  • Li, C., & Qi, J. (2017). Structural Analysis of 3D Printing Model. Advances in Computer Science Research, 289-293.
  • Mehta, G., Mehta, A., & Sharma, B. (2014). Selection of Materials for Green Construction: A Review. IOSR Journal of Mechanical and Civil Engineering, 80-83.
  • Ministry for the Environment, Manatu Mo Te Taiao. (2009, July). Waste Composition. Retrieved from mfe.govt.nz: https://www.mfe.govt.nz/sites/default/files/environmental-reporting/waste/waste-composition-2009/waste-composition.pdf
  • Statistics New Zealand. (2019, June). Building consents issued: June 2019. Retrieved from stats.govt.nz: https://www.stats.govt.nz/information-releases/building-consents-issued-june-2019
  • Tink, V. J. (2018). The measured energy efficiency and thermal environment of a UK house retrofitted with internal wall insulation. Loughborough University.
  • Wilson, A., & Piepkorn, M. (2008). Green building products the GreenSpec guide to residential building materials (3rd ed.). Gabriola Island: B.C: New Society Publishers.

Figure A. New Dwellings Consented

The subject shows the rising number of new dwellings consents since 2011. This data in assists in understanding the necessity of more sustainable construction.

Note. Reprinted from https://www.stats.govt.nz/information-releases/building-consents-issued-june-2019 by Statistics New Zealand, 2019, Wellington, New Zealand. Copyright (2019) by Crown.


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