By: Diego Granell

Concrete is used in virtually every build scenario, but not all concrete mixtures are created equal when it comes to the goal of construction sustainability. To further reduce the carbon footprint of buildings, consider the benefits of working with concrete admixtures.

Concrete admixtures can be used to reduce cement content, permit greater use of supplementary cementitious materials (SCMs), and even increase resistance to the environment, which can extend the lifespan of structures. Admixtures also have the potential to affect a reduction in the CO2 emissions associated with concrete production.

However, the impact of admixtures on sustainability can be complex and involve many variables. The following three examples illustrate several ways that admixtures can contribute to a reduced CO2 footprint of concrete[HJ1] .

Superplasticizers are high-range water reducers that comply with ASTM standards. They provide consistency across air entrainment and cement chemistries and can also produce high slump at low dosages.
 

Example #1: Using superplasticizers in SCM mixes

Superplasticizers can be used to reduce water in a mix, thereby lowering the effective water-to-cement (w/c) ratio. Abrams’ law will permit the replacement of cement with supplementary cementitious materials, such as fly ash, while maintaining equivalent strengths. For example, a reference concrete with 350 kg/m3 (590 lb/yd3) of cement and 200 kg/m3 (337 lb/yd3) of water (0.57 w-to-cement ratio) can be treated with a superplasticizer. The water content of the concrete can be reduced to 160 kg/m3 (270 lb/yd3), for a 20% water reduction.

That water reduction allows 70 kg/m3 (118 lb/yd3) of cement to be removed and replaced with 84 kg/m3 (142 lb/yd3) of fly ash, creating a w/c ratio of 0.445. Some sand can also be added to the mix to maintain equivalent yield.

Even without factoring in the supply chain and resilience benefits resulting from easier placement and longer structure lifespan, the sum of these changes results in concrete with a 19% reduction in CO2 emissions. Given that reducing the amount of water required to produce building materials is also a key sustainability goal, this process represents a significant opportunity for builders to make meaningful improvements in this direction.

Example #2: Using superplasticizers and set accelerators in SCM mixes

Following similar methods as the one used above, we can also illustrate how combining the use of superplasticizers with set accelerators can even further reduce the CO2 emissions of concrete while partially overcoming the lower early strengths that have been associated with higher levels of cement replacement.

Using a similar dose of superplasticizer, we can reduce the water content of the mix to 169 kg/m3 (285 lb/yd3) and the cement content to 175 kg/m3 (295 lb/yd3). The cement removed is then replaced with 210 kg/m3 (354 lb/yd3) of fly ash, resulting in a w/c ratio of 0.44.

However, this time we’re using a set accelerator to partially overcome the lower early strengths associated with this high cement replacement level. (Later-age strength is typically not an issue for fly ash mixes.) Together, the changes result in concrete with a 34% reduction in CO2 emissions. If allowance for slower strength development were possible, thus allowing less accelerator use, the CO2 emissions would be even further reduced.

Example #3: Using air entraining agents

Air entraining agents (AEAs) are surface-active agents that function by stabilizing small air bubbles in the concrete. This provides for pressure relief when entrained water expands during freezing. For this reason, AEAs are required by building codes in many freeze-thaw susceptible regions in the world.

Air entraining agents are also useful in imparting workability to low-strength lean concretes. Due to the low paste volume in these concretes, aggregate-aggregate friction is a major obstacle to workability and slump development. When air entrainment is increased a few percentage points, the desired workability can be achieved with slight reductions in cement and water contents, resulting in modest (~3%) reductions in CO2 emissions. However, when factors such as improved durability (as a result of reduced bleeding and better compaction) are accounted for, the environmental impact over the concrete lifecycle can be considerable.

Conclusion

Creative use of concrete admixtures, alone or in combinations, can be used to make significant reductions in CO2 emissions associated with concrete production. Concrete is quite literally the foundation of most of our infrastructure. However, the process of concrete production has remained relatively unchanged for decades. There are new opportunities to reduce CO2 emissions by utilizing concrete admixtures with the above strategies. As architects, engineers, contractors, and concrete producers it is critical that we collaborate and innovate to continue to lower the CO2 footprint of our built world.

About the Author: Diego Granell is a Director of Product Management and Marketing at GCP Applied Technologies in Cambridge, MA. He is globally responsible for development and introduction of new cement additive and concrete admixture products and systems with a strategic research focus on technologies reducing embodied carbon in concrete mix designs. Diego received an M.S and B.S. in Civil Engineering from the Technical University of Valencia, and an MBA from Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business. To learn more about concrete admixtures, visit the GCP Applied Technologies website, or contact Diego at Diego.Granell@gcpat.com.

Author’s note: Environmental assessment comparisons of the concrete were used to determine the CO2 emission reduction.


We sat down with Jon Smieja, PhD, Corporate Sustainability Manager at Andersen Corporation, to chat about the state of sustainability in 2020 and where the industry headed in the future. He will also be speaking at Greenbuild International Conference & Expo Virtual this fall.

Check out our conversation with Jon below:

What is the biggest sustainability trend of 2020?

Wow, this is a tough question. 2020 has been such a challenging year. It is hard not to fall into a cynical spiral that overlooks all the great progress happening around us. For me there are two trends that, while different, are similarly important.

The first is the rise of the circular economy. While we have a long way to go in this regard, the number of companies thinking deeply about circular business models, products and solutions is exciting.

The second trend is the supercharged discussion around diversity, equity and inclusion in the sustainability arena. We saw this trend emerging over the previous several years, but the recent high-profile deaths of black Americans in our streets and in their homes has accelerated these discussions to a degree I didn’t think was possible even 6 months ago. Sustainability has been an area that has been far too white for too long, and it’s my hope that we make real change now to bring more diverse voices to these important discussions about our future.

What is the biggest sustainability innovation so far in 2020?

It may not be a singular innovation, but I have been impressed by continues gains in affordability of solar power and energy storage. This is not only a huge step in the march towards a clean energy economy, but also represents an opportunity to increase energy accessibility for people in developing nations that have, to date, not had adequate access to the electricity market by high costs and poor infrastructure. What we hear over an over now is that renewables are not only an environmentally sound investment, but one that has good economics

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected sustainability and/or green building?

The pandemic required companies to quickly shift their focus to safely managing their business though an unprecedented public health and economic crisis. While this resulted in other important work being paused, many of us in the corporate sustainability field are excited about the opportunity the recovery will present to rebuild the building industry in a stronger, more sustainable way. As we work to rebuild our economy and our companies, it’s important to focus on resilience and differentiation, both areas where sustainability plays a key role.

How will the COVID-19 pandemic shape the future of sustainability?

The pandemic and its following economic collapse has brought the opportunity for stakeholders to make a concerted effort in making sustainability a priority in their business. Sustainability can both save companies money and differentiate them against competitors. This pandemic has laid bare the flaws in our healthcare system, the racial opportunity divide, and other challenges in our society. I believe it is also bringing a reckoning about how our economic system undervalues the environment and my hope is that it will lead to systemic change.

Why is corporate social responsibility becoming more and more important?

In the last several years we’ve seen a lot of progress in corporate social responsibility. This could be the result of a culmination of many small steps over the last several decades, or it could be that we finally reached a tipping point where the cost to businesses of inaction became greater than the cost of action And while this process has been important, it is still not enough. It continues to be proven that doing good is good for business, and it is my hope that we will see this trajectory continue with increasing focus on long-term systemic change that results in better social, environmental and business outcomes for everyone.

Why is social equity so important today?

Social equity is finally reaching all the areas of the economy that have been slow to react to changing conditions. As the world (and the companies that operate within it) has begun to realize that a diversity of opinions, a diversity of backgrounds, and a diversity of people is important, we’ve all sought to find ways of incorporating these dimensions of diversity into our decision making.

How can sustainability and green building professionals help create a more circular economy?

As sustainability professionals, it is our responsibility to prove the business case for a circular economy. We must also be willing to present the circular economy as more than just circular products (recyclable, repairable, re-usable, etc.). For a circular economy to be realized, it must be built from the ground up using new business models and new ways of operating our businesses. Buildings, for example, could be designed with modularity, multiple uses, and end of life in mind from the early design phases.

It is also incumbent upon green building professionals to push for circular economy innovations from manufacturers and to make the case to their customers that more sustainable products and buildings are important.

What is your advice to fellow sustainability and/or green building professionals to make a positive impact in 2020?

Don’t waste this opportunity to make the change you want to see. Companies throughout the green building supply chain are rethinking things right now, and while it may seem like the wrong time to push sustainable innovation, we may never get this type of opportunity again to make the systematic change we need to see.

Where do you see sustainability going 10 years from now?

I’ve been doing corporate sustainability work now for almost a decade. In that time, I’ve been lucky enough to see the rise in product transparency, the growth of cutting-edge green building practices, and renewable energy shift from “the right thing to do” for the environment to the right thing to do for the bottom line. I’ve also seen the tidal shift from CFLs to LEDs, a rise in awareness around some of the worst acting chemicals in the building industry, and other advancements.

What we’ve yet to see, though, is the true democratization of sustainability. I’d like to see an economy where safe, durable products with low environmental impact are developed by and available to everyone.

We sat down with Lisa Conway, VP of  Sustainability – Americas at Interface, to chat about the state of sustainability in 2020 and where the industry headed in the future. She will also be speaking at Greenbuild International Conference & Expo Virtual this fall.

Check out our conversation with Lisa below:

What is the biggest sustainability trend of 2020?

The abundance of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has a measurable impact on climate change’s impact on human health. Reducing embodied carbon is the most urgent opportunity as it stands today with the manufacture of building materials making up 11% of total GHG emissions. By addressing embodied carbon emissions, we can continue to create a climate fit for life.

What is the biggest sustainability innovation so far in 2020? 

At Interface, we are launching carbon negative products – which is a positive thing for our climate.  We have innovated new ways of working with recycled content and bio-based materials, which has driven us to produce the first carbon negative carpet tile, which directly benefits the planet. We accomplished this by learning to love carbon instead of seeing it as the enemy.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected sustainability?

It is easier to change when everything has changed. As we begin to build back from the initial disruptions caused by COVID-19 unpreparedness, we can place sustainability at the core of the built environment to move forward and build more resilient communities.

How will the COVID-19 pandemic shape the future of sustainability?

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the entire world to experience a severe period of transition and turmoil as we continue to adapt and respond to the coronavirus outbreak. Despite the warning signs of a potentially destructive pandemic, we were still unprepared. We mut now recognize the similarities of the COVID-19 pandemic and another pandemic facing our world – climate change. By understanding this, we can spark an increased interest and urgency in reversing global warming so that we can avoid the devastating impact of yet another global crisis.

Why is corporate social responsibility becoming more and more important?

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to shine a light on the importance of corporate social responsibility. But it also demonstrates that all social issues are intertwined – we cannot view the issues and crises facing our world as siloed events or discussions.

For example, at Interface, while focused heavily on reversing global warming, we recognize that we cannot achieve this goal without addressing social equity. Specifically, climate change disproportionally impacts communities of color and low-income communities. We must address racism and environmental justice as a whole while we continue to pursue corporate social responsibility initiatives.

Why is social equity so important today?

The bulk of social inequities stem from society asking for more and needing it fast. As we pursue increased manufacturing and development, the question of where it comes from and how its production impacts others has become less important. The facets of corporate social responsibility – economic, social and environmental impacts – are all inextricably tied together. However, all must view these conversations as equally important across professional and personal boundaries.

A sustainability leader cannot opt to solely focus on reversing global warming without realizing its impact on low-income communities. These issues do not live in siloes. They are found everywhere and impact everyone.  We are up to that challenge.

How can sustainability & green building professionals help create a more circular economy? 

The first critical step in creating a more circular economy is prioritizing transparency around circular economy claims. We cannot view the circular economy as a list of boxes to check, and we must be able to trust claims across the industry to pursue successful endeavors now and in the future. Without transparency, we cannot meaningfully move forward.

What is your advice to fellow sustainability professionals to make a positive impact in 2020?

We do not often tell kids they can choose between a snack of carrots or cookies because we know they may not make the best choice. Instead, we offer our kids the option of better snacks – carrots or apples – removing the opportunity to select a less healthy option.

For building professionals that say their clients are not asking for sustainable building materials, so they are not suggesting them, there’s a lesson here. We have the opportunity as an industry to control the narrative and reduce the GHG emissions associated with the built environment by only presenting low-carbon products that are recycled at end of life. We are in the position and have the power to make low-carbon building materials the norm – not the exception. 

Where do you see sustainability going 10 years from now?

Earth has natural carbon sinks – oceans, plants and soil – that absorb carbon from the atmosphere and lock it away. Businesses must take a cue from nature and find ways to use and store carbon to reverse global warming, working in greater harmony with nature.

In 2030, I predict we will view buildings as carbon sinks, making them a solution to global warming as we endeavor to make the embodied and operational carbon associated with a building’s carbon life cycle more sustainable.  

Want to hear more from Lisa? Attend Greenbuild Virtual starting September 10th through November 12th. The industry’s leading green building event now offers three virtual summits in lead up to International Conference & Expo virtual event.

Safe, secure, sustainable. Connections without geographic boundaries. Expanded education courses available in real time or any time. Interactive supplier sourcing and peer networking forums. This is Greenbuild’s next chapter. Join us – Sign up here!

Creating a safe and sustainable environment has long been a team effort. Every building, remodeling, relocation, or expansion project creates an opportunity for companies to rethink their sustainability strategies. The CEO, CTO, and Human Resources leaders play a greater role than ever before in decision-making. Before the pandemic, the sustainable building movement was already on the upswing, with the number of LEED-certified projects growing each year.

Now industry leaders are collaborating and problem-solving at an unprecedented level to achieve green building goals. What’s more, social distancing has prompted the industry to get more creative about how and where they share information and results. Webinars, online gatherings, and digital reports like this one give the industry new sources of knowledge and insights.

As we think about the sustainable workplace, we look broadly at the overall structure, but each element of a building plays a role in sustainability.

  • Floor coverings: Non-toxic, easy on the feet, and attractive
  • Air: Clean, well-circulated, and contaminant-free
  • Lighting: Conducive to safety and productivity
  • Plants: Biophilic design has made its way into offices, schools, and other structures
  • Food: Offering healthy options and waste-free packaging is now imperative in cafeterias and restaurants
  • Waste Management: Reduce, reuse, and donate are the principles that the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) recommends for commercial structures. 
  • Water Management: Focus on water usage can lead to a savings of up to 40 percent and contribute to employee health
  • Floor Plans: Social distancing while fostering collaboration is necessary
  • Conference Rooms: Energy-conserving lighting, user-friendly technologies, and sustainable materials abound
  • Outdoor Spaces: Outside the four walls, employees want to gather and enjoy fresh air and sunlight
  • Elevators: Accounting for 2-10% of a building’s energy use, these installations are going greener while passengers go up and down
  • Energy Usage: Green builders offer more options for lighting, heating, and cooling than ever before
  • Communications and Distancing:Staying connected while remaining germ-free is essential
  • Transportation: Energy-efficient commuting systems, bike racks, other green options encourage a culture of sustainability
  • Freight and Delivery Systems: How businesses send and receive goods and services is a clear sign of their commitment to a sustainable workplace.
  • Location Expansion: As companies open new headquarters or outposts, they are taking sustainability into consideration
  • Floor coverings: Non-toxic, easy on the feet, and attractive
  • Air: Clean, well-circulated, and contaminant-free
  • Lighting: Conducive to safety and productivity
  • Plants: Biophilic design has made its way into offices, schools, and other structures
  • Food: Offering healthy options and waste-free packaging is now imperative in cafeterias and restaurants
  • Waste Management: Reduce, reuse, and donate are the principles that the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) recommends for commercial structures. 
  • Water Management: Focus on water usage can lead to a savings of up to 40 percent and contribute to employee health
  • Floor Plans: Social distancing while fostering collaboration is necessary
  • Conference Rooms: Energy-conserving lighting, user-friendly technologies, and sustainable materials abound
  • Outdoor Spaces: Outside the four walls, employees want to gather and enjoy fresh air and sunlight
  • Elevators: Accounting for 2-10% of a building’s energy use, these installations are going greener while passengers go up and down
  • Energy Usage: Green builders offer more options for lighting, heating, and cooling than ever before
  • Communications and Distancing:Staying connected while remaining germ-free is essential
  • Transportation: Energy-efficient commuting systems, bike racks, other green options encourage a culture of sustainability
  • Freight and Delivery Systems: How businesses send and receive goods and services is a clear sign of their commitment to a sustainable workplace.
  • Location Expansion: As companies open new headquarters or outposts, they are taking sustainability into consideration

Building and maintaining more sustainable workplaces is a collaborative effort. Municipalities, builders, developers, multi-family building owners, property managers, and CEOs of companies all have an obligation to think differently about the places they create and upgrade. Working with sustainability professionals, they must create a roadmap for how they will create structures and environments that reduce waste and foster employee/customer health.

As decision-makers open and construct new locations they have an opportunity to go green from the very beginning of their projects. Retrofitting and enhancing existing structures can be more complex, but provided that the work team is open to new ideas, learn from other projects, and take the time to assess costs and benefits, they will discover cost-effective solutions.

For more on this topic, download our new whitepaper, “Redefining the Sustainable Workplace.”

Business leaders are more focused than ever before on employee health and well-being, especially as they create a new balance between physical space and remote working. We reached out to the movers and shakers of the green building movement and gathered their perspectives on the challenges facing businesses as they adjust to the sustainable, and healthy, new normal. Download it here.

Google “healthy workplace” and you’ll find more than 300 million results. The COVID-19 pandemic has amplified our definition of health and wellness and prompted architects, building managers, construction companies, and product developers to re-think how to create spaces that are both safe and sustainable.

More people are working from home than ever before and the amount of time spent in conventional office buildings is certain to decline as companies adapt to remote work arrangements. But a number of structures and businesses are immune to this trend.

Each of these spaces needs to be convenient for workers and conducive to productivity. The sustainable workplace movement has led to the need for workplaces to be carbon-neutral, energy-efficient, and health-focused. We are in the early stages of defining what healthy work environments need to be heading into the future. Air quality, social distancing guidelines, and cleaning products and procedures are more important than ever before.

Today’s employees will want to know, “Is this company culture and mission right for me?” and “Will I feel safe and productive in this environment, and is the company doing its part to preserve the planet?” In fact, 40 percent of millennials choose jobs based on the sustainability policies of companies and brands.

Here’s what constitutes a workplace today:

  • Office Buildings
  • Co-working Spaces
  • The Hybrid Workplace (home and office)
  • Retailers
  • Restaurants
  • Schools
  • Hospitals and Healthcare Facilities
  • Prisons
  • Factories
  • Theaters and Entertainment Spaces
  • Farms
  • On-the-Road (transportation centers, drivers and pilots)
  • Hotels
  • Convention Centers
  • Stadiums

We can see that the availability of technology to connect to teammates, wherever they are, can make a huge difference in the ability to collaborate and move large projects forward. One thing we are definitely seeing, though, is that people working from home are more open to being their authentic selves and are happier, so a sustainable and productive workplace should strive to be more like home in as many ways as is possible.” – Jon Smieja, Corporate Sustainability Manager, Andersen Windows & Doors

We’ll see flexibility and the ability to avoid crowding: open stairwells and spaces that can easily be reconfigured for groups or solo work. Workplaces will be flexible, where spaces can accommodate both collaborating and social distance.” – Sara Neff, SVP Sustainability, Kilroy RealtyCorporation

For more on this topic, download our new whitepaper, “Redefining the Sustainable Workplace.”

Business leaders are more focused than ever before on employee health and well-being, especially as they create a new balance between physical space and remote working. We reached out to the movers and shakers of the green building movement and gathered their perspectives on the challenges facing businesses as they adjust to the sustainable, and healthy, new normal. Download it here.

You believe we can enhance building performance, support new technologies and build a green economy with sustainable materials. We do too. So, Greenbuild has gathered the brightest minds in a transformational virtual event series running Sept 10 – Nov 10.

With 4x the content, you’ll do much more than stare trancelike at your screen for 16 hours. Discussion groups, AI-fueled matchmaking and interactive breakouts mean that whether you are designing in Dubai or creating in California, this is your one chance to connect as an industry.

You don’t want to miss these sessions:

Green Business Summit – September 10th

Resilience Summit – October 1

Global Health & Wellness Summit – October 22

Greenbuild International Conference  & Expo – November 10-12

Early Bird Deadlines End September 4th. Get your All Access Pass today and save $200. With three convenient summits and one main event, Zoom fatigue is a thing of the past. Join us!

We sat down with Todd Sims, Director of Sustainability & Market Outreach at American Chemistry Council to chat about the state of sustainability in 2020 and where the industry headed in the future. He will also be speaking at Greenbuild International Conference & Expo Virtual this fall.

Check out our conversation with Todd below:

What is the biggest sustainability trend of 2020?

In a word, inclusiveness. A sustainable future requires a broad definition of sustainability – to include considerations of global pandemics, climate change and community resiliency, and social equity. It also requires a conscious effort to include as many diverse voices as possible to help solve the world’s most pressing issues to create a sustainable world and future. 

What is the biggest sustainability innovation so far in 2020?

The widespread institutional embrace of technology solutions to allow us to stay productive and connected during the COVID-19 pandemic will have long-term implications on sustainability. These innovations will allow us to re-imagine our relationship with the built environment in offices, transportation practices, and beyond.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected sustainability and/or green building?

In the immediate, COVID-19 has caused a re-imagining of our work environments given the need for widespread adoption of remote work. From return-to-work protocols to the amount of office space which may or may not be needed in the future, how companies and employees engage with the built environment on a daily basis has been significantly altered.

Rahm Emanuel famously quipped, “Never waste a good crisis.” While the sentiment could be seen as callous, the lesson is important. People are becoming more aware than ever about their direct relationship with the built environments around them. As we emerge from this pandemic, sustainable building professionals will have an opportunity to capitalize on this awareness to encourage greater demand for healthy, sustainable, and resilient buildings.

Why is corporate social responsibility becoming more and more important?

In a way, it is reminiscent of the sustainable building movement. What was once viewed as a ‘nice-to-have’ is quickly becoming viewed as a license to operate. Besides simply doing the right thing, businesses understand that in order to stay competitive they need to attract top talent; and emerging leaders are making decisions using different value sets. At ACC, our staff and members are committed to being a positive force for a more diverse, inclusive and equitable society, a principle that is reflected in our existing commitments to sustainability.

We have the ability to leverage our position within communities and the broader economy to create opportunities and enhance equality for underrepresented groups, including people of color and women.  

Why is social equity so important today?

Social equity has always been critically important, we just allowed our leaders to either willfully ignore it or to hide behind half-measures. Social equity is sustainability; and sustainability is social equity. There is no parsing of the issues. A future that doesn’t work to provide support and opportunities for all isn’t a sustainable one.

How can sustainability and green building professionals help create a more circular economy?

I worry that the conversations around the circular economy are falling victim to the same pitfalls of the early sustainable building movement – an overreliance on a single attribute or issue.

Of course, we need to make better utilization of recycled content in products; and we should make products more easily recyclable from the onset. But to stop there would be a massive failure of imagination and progress. We also need to challenge our current relationship with materials – how can we insert circularity at the beginning of the design process rather than the end; and how can we enhance investment in R&D innovations in green and sustainable chemistry.

What is your advice to fellow sustainability and/or green building professionals to make a positive impact in 2020?

Bring a friend! This issue is too big, too important, and too urgent to be confined to a narrow group of dedicated advocates. Not only do these issues require an enormous amount of brainpower to solve, but the movement itself would benefit greatly from fresh perspectives and approaches.

For too long the perception has been you are either a full-time sustainability expert or that your contributions may not have meaningful impact. Nothing could be further from the truth. Sustainability should be the norm, and we should to normalize it for people to include in their day-to-day functions.

Where do you see sustainability going 10 years from now?

There is a false perception that sustainability has a finish line; that we will have either ‘solved’ this in 10 years or we are all doomed. I think that flies in the face of sustainability as a principle. Of course, it is incredibly important for us to make significant progress in the next 10 years to mitigate the climate crisis. But what comes next? There will no doubt be a new set of issues that will demand our full attention.

At the closing of the 1787 Constitutional Convention, in response to a question about whether America had a monarchy or republic, Benjamin Franklin responded, “a Republic, if you can keep it.” So, in 10 years, we will have sustainability – if we can keep it.

Want to hear more from Todd? Attend Greenbuild Virtual starting September 10th through November 12th. The industry’s leading green building event now offers three virtual summits in lead up to International Conference & Expo virtual event.

Safe, secure, sustainable. Connections without geographic boundaries. Expanded education courses available in real time or any time. Interactive supplier sourcing and peer networking forums. This is Greenbuild’s next chapter. Join us – Sign up here!

Working from home has become the “new normal” for many businesses. As people return to offices, social distancing and healthier workplaces are imperative. Attracting and retaining the best employees is no longer just a function of corporate culture but also the environments in which they work. 

Air and water quality and ventilation, building systems that encourage social distancing, and other solutions will continue to evolve. The willingness of many companies to allow employees to work remotely will ultimately have an impact on air quality, as commuters establish new at-home routines. 

“The CDC now wants us to highly increase building energy use through ventilating in off-hours, turning off demand-controlled ventilation, etc. Spaces will need to accommodate both collaborating and social distance.”

  • Neff, Kilroy Realty

“COVID-19 has reframed the way we think about building use and occupation comfort. The conversation also includes efficiency upgrades because many new HVAC systems allow for several accessories, like UV sanitizing lights.”

  • Agazio, Motili

“We’ll see automated technology that seamlessly integrates into our workspaces — like automated doorways and fixtures. A phased reduction in density will be evident via people and spaces.”

  • Ahmad, Sustainable Architect

“While we use floor design for aesthetics, branding, and wayfinding, it will also become more prominent in terms of safety — especially to provide visual cues to keep occupants connected but at a safe distance.”

  • Conway, Interface

“I believe that the circular economy will ebb and flow, based on needs and demands…the innovative mindset of the new entrepreneur will help accelerate the movement and steer it in a great direction.” 

  • George Bandy, Global Leader for CSR and Sustainability 

“I’ve become more cognizant of the need to design and build for the challenges of the next decades…not just today.”

  • Sims, American Chemistry Council

For more on this topic, download our new whitepaper, “Sustainability: Yesterday vs. Tomorrow.” You’ll learn the 7 must-know insights defining the future of our industry, post-COVID-19 transformation, powerful innovations, and how companies are becoming more socially responsible.

The term “future-proofing” first came into use in 2007. Originally applied to technology security, it was embraced rapidly by the sustainability community. Natural disasters and the damage to the planet caused by irresponsible human decision-making prompted the building industry to look at how the choices they make can result in irreparable damage to individuals, neighborhoods, and the planet. Today (and tomorrow) everyone involved in the design, development, and building process is held to a higher standard. 

We reached out to professionals who are changing the trajectory of green building and sustainability. This “green dream team” represents a broad and diverse cross-section of sustainability and business leaders, including architecture, manufacturing, design, consulting, and real estate.

They spoke to us about the post-COVID-19 transformation, how innovation will need powerful new solutions, and how companies and brands are expanding their knowledge and commitment to social responsibility.

Common themes that emerged about the future of sustainability from this group are:

  1. The need for true collaboration and sharing of best practices across industries
  2. Automation as a lever in creating solutions and in data reporting
  3. An expanded role of socially-responsible corporations in facilitating change and innovation
  4. Emphasis on health and well-being of individuals and communities in the post-COVID-19 environment
  5. The ongoing need to track and report the short- and long-term financial benefits of sustainable building

 Here are their powerful insights for the next decade. 

“Along with the continued move toward collaboration, I am excited to see the impact institutional investors can have on effecting change. I look forward to the changes future generations will dream up that are unimaginable today.” 

“There will be a huge focus on people and the impacts of all actions that affect people’s lives, quality, accessibility, equality, health, etc.….We will see a major shift in how all stakeholders approach corporate sustainability. In the long-term, there really needs to be a better plan for infrastructure in cities and overall public transportation.”

“In 10 years, I believe we will improve reporting and move the needle on social impact. There is no better time to redesign the new normal.”

Solar photovoltaic technology, battery storage, and the use of electric vehicles will be at the forefront of commercial energy storage. National energy codes and local state financial incentives will recognize and mandate the implementation of solar-ready infrastructure and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.”

“In three years, automated sustainability will take hold as the wave of IoT (Internet of Things) and 5G spread across the nation. I expect to see many smart devices that help homeowners and building operators monitor electricity, water use, and potentially trash and recycling volumes. Automation will pave the way towards inherent building sustainability. Within 10 years, I expect to see huge strides towards carbon neutrality nationwide. The major changes will be around energy use rates and grid mix transactions to renewables. I would also expect a higher responsibility of action placed on major manufacturers.”

  • Maria Agazio, Sustainability and Energy Efficiency Lead, Motili

“In the short-term, I think environmental sustainability will take a back seat to health and wellness in the built environment. I think we’ll see larger strides in the electrification of buildings, renewable energy, and energy efficiency as more new buildings move toward net zero goals and have carbon neutrality goals.”

“We’ll see materials advances – especially nanotechnology based advances in areas like insulation and super windows. 3D printing will be applied to affordable housing using sustainable materials and reducing construction times. AI tools will lead to the expansion of generative design and integrative design.”

  • Roger Duncan, Author, former Research Fellow at the Energy Institute at the University of Texas at Austin, and former General Manager of Austin Energy. Co-author with Michael E. Webber of the upcoming book, The Future of Buildings, Transportation and Power (August 2020)

“There will be an increasing focus on understanding physical climate risk, and disclosing that financial impact to investors.”

“In the near future, sustainability will be better focused on our independence and interconnectedness. Stakeholders are starting to align their contributions to the broader interrelated system to achieve better results. An excellent example is how utilities, solar companies, and builders all impact the sustainability and monthly cost of buildings — the largest segment of energy consumption globally…Sustainable energy doesn’t result unless these separate groups coordinate the results and support each other’s initiatives.” 

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From serving in Iraq to working at the University of Texas Houston, there are a whole plethora of factors that have likely shaped the man he is today. However, Bandy Jr owes his foundation in sustainability to his grandparents, noting that the first environmentalist he met was his grandmother.

Bandy Jr highlights how attitudes to waste and environmental stewardship have radically changed in a matter of a generation or two. However, he has faith that we can restore and reinforce sustainable attitudes by reframing the issue and contextualising the solutions.

Generation Z are making decisions with their pocketbooks, he explains. They are more knowledgeable about sustainability and will raise the bar on expectations from companies. Although Bandy Jr is a stout optimist and has faith that today’s youth will fight to make a difference, he makes the point that change across the board can’t happen without diverse representation in positions of power and influence. Social inclusion on a large scale is necessary if this change is going to be sufficiently accelerated. This ties in with another key theme discussed, the social components of sustainability.

Despite a lot of the environmental and sustainability issues we are facing in the built environment are nothing more than unintentional consequences of good design at that point in time, the consequences remain. Further to that point, these consequences are not distributed evenly on a social level. Toxic plant sites and waste grounds almost always tend to be in low income areas. Bandy Jr says that we need to own the responsibility of what happens socially to humans as a result and not solely on the environment itself.

Watch the full interview here.