Which materials to use for ecologically sustainable buildings?

Petteri Lautso, Customer Value Director, Ruukki
Mar 15, 2016

People ask me often which materials they should use to construct an ecologically sustainable building. Unfortunately, it is a totally wrong and even harmful way of thinking from the viewpoint of sustainability.

My reply was that low-carbon construction would be a better target than contemplating the materials, especially when all buildings contain a huge number of different materials.

Environmental footprint is the sum of various factors

For many, sustainable development and ecological construction mean minimising the greenhouse gas emissions caused by the manufacture of building materials. However, it is important to understand that the amount of material used is as important as the material chosen. The technical and economic longevity, energy efficiency, location and recycling potential of the building as well as many other factors affect the burden it caused to the environment.

Building life cycle from time from initial production to recycling

The way of thinking which aims at perceiving total effects is called Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). Making a life cycle assessment is a surprisingly old method but unfortunately not well-known and understood. Its idea is that the effects on the environment are monitored from the initial production of the materials to the recycling of the end-product. Thus, an assessment on the total effects is drawn. However, a whole building is such a complex entity that there is temptation to simplify the targets to arguments for or against a single material.

The most important factor for ecological construction and for promoting the business based on it is to make the constructors and building owners to understand sustainable buildings and building materials in a wider sense.

Ecologically sustainable building is created by usage

Sustainable development is often consciously defined as a combination of three areas: social, economic and ecological. The material choices of buildings affect all of those areas and singling only one out can lead to considerable deficiencies in the other areas.

Even an ecologically sustainable building is not created by construction alone but by usage. The longer the building remains usable as for its location, size and construction, the more years the burden caused by its construction is divided into.  Flexible conversion and usage possibilities and sustainable location are often more important factors than the material choices.

Petteri Lautso
Customer Value Director, Ruukki

Contact Petteri on Twitter: @PLautso
Email: firstname.lastname@ruukki.com

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