One of the easiest ways for architects to begin integrating sustainable design principles in buildings, is by carefully selecting environmentally sustainable building materials. Usually, the price tag is a primary concern when comparing similar materials or materials designated for the same function. However, rated price of a building component represents only the manufacturing and transportation costs, not social or environmental costs.
Orderly analysis of building products, from the gathering of raw materials to their ultimate disposal, provides a better understanding of the long-term costs of materials. These costs are paid not only by the client, but also by the owner, the occupants, and the environment.
Each step of the manufacturing process, from gathering raw materials, manufacturing, distribution, and installation, to ultimate reuse or disposal, needs to be examined for its environmental impact.
A material’s life cycle can be organized into three phases: Pre-Building; Building; and Post-Building.
The Pre-Building Phase describes the production and delivery process of a material up to, the point of installation. This includes discovering raw materials in nature as well as extracting, manufacturing, packaging and transportation to a construction site. This phase has the most potential for causing environmental damage.
The Building Phase refers to a building material’s useful life. This phase begins at the point of the material’s assembly into a structure, includes the maintenance and repair of the material, and extends throughout the life of the material within or as part of the building.
The Post-Building Phase refers to the building materials when their usefulness in a building becomes obsolete. At this point, a material may either be reused in its entirety, have its components recycled back into other products, or be discarded. From the architect’s point of view, perhaps the least considered and least understood phase of the building life-cycle is when the building or material’s useful life has been exhausted. The demolition of buildings and disposal of the resulting waste has a high environmental cost. The adaptive reuse of an existing structure conserves the energy that went into its materials and construction, thus maintaining a healthy loop of energy and material sustenance.
In today’s time of depleting natural resources and diminishing energy reserves, it is of utmost importance to practice sustainability in design and construction. This trend of sustainable design can and should also extend to other fields of work, hence bringing about a positive change for the environment.
Dell’Isola, Alphonse J. and Stephen J. Kirk (1981), Life Cycle Costing for Design Professionals.
Jong-Jin Kim, Brenda Rigdon (1998), Qualities, Use, and Examples of Sustainable Building Materials
Akshay Ashok Salunkhe
IRIANS- The Neuroscience Institute