Sustainable life-cycles of buildings require the construction materials also to be sustainable

01/07/2019

The built environment is one of the greatest sources of greenhouse emissions. The most significant emissions are associated with the energy consumption of buildings during use. The energy efficiency of buildings is influenced with design and implementation, but also through material choices. Therefore, the construction material industry plays an important role in controlling climate change through not only the properties of the manufactured products, but also through the climate impact from their manufacturing processes.

Energy efficiency is on everyone’s minds

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The emission sources of the built environment are from manufacturing, construction work, energy use, maintenance, repairs and ultimately demolition and handling demolition waste. Approximately 60 percent of the carbon dioxide emissions during building life-cycles are from producing the energy required during their use – heating, cooling and electricity.

Therefore, improving energy efficiency of buildings has a very important impact on reducing climate emissions. Efficient, correctly designed and implemented thermal insulation, which uses responsibly produced sustainable insulation materials, is an important method for ensuring buildings are energy efficient.

Long-lasting, sustainably produced materials

The durability of building materials during use and their potential maintenance needs are also central in controlling the environmental impacts during their life-cycles. The better the product preserves its desired properties and the less it requires maintenance, the better it is for the environment and climate. It is important, for example, that the chosen insulation material maintains its insulation capability and dimensions throughout the entire life-cycle of the building despite the variations in temperature and humidity. Stone wool is a good example of an insulation material with this capability.

Although the energy consumption of a building during use is significantly higher than it is for manufacturing insulation material, we at Paroc also continuously work to reduce carbon emissions from manufacturing.

Finland has set a very aggressive goal to achieve carbon neutrality already in 2035. As a part of the construction industry, we are ready to carry our responsibility and support this goal.

From a waste producer to an efficient utilizer of waste materials

Building has been identified as a significant waste producer – in Finland, for example, construction and demolition generate approximately 33 percent of the total generated waste. Solutions for the problem have been systematically sought by improving the efficiency of recycling and reuse on both the company and industry level.
A good example of a focus on developing reuse is the Geodesign project implemented by the University of Oulu and the University of Lapland. The project, which ended in May, promoted the reuse of manufacturing waste as a raw material in geopolymer and sought new applications of geopolymer. Geopolymer is similar to concrete, withstands very high temperatures and it can be made out of several industrial by-products. The promising research work is now being continued in the form of the WOOL2LOOP project, which is supported by the EU. The project focuses exclusively on the reuse of mineral wool waste produced by the construction industry.

Political will and seamless cooperation in the industry is needed

There is still a way to go to reach ideal conditions in the construction industry. Establishing an efficient recycling system requires both political will and the seamless cooperation in the industry, regulation and solutions for handling harmful materials unsuitable for recycling.

The waste materials from construction have enormous potential and it would be highly desirable for preserving natural resources, controlling climate change and the economy that they could be reused. Instead of waste, the perception should be that we have a valuable raw material for multiple applications and a source of inspiration for innovations.

Beatrice Rantanen
Sustainability Leader, Paroc Oy

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