Have you ever thought about the impact that infrastructure can have on the environment? Right now, buildings in the United States contribute to 39% of CO2 emmisions! If tomorrow’s engineers want to guarantee the welfare of the planet for future generations, the construction industry is going to need a major makeover. By refocusing on sustainable construction (also known as green construction) practices, we can create aesthetically pleasing homes and buildings that also leave a minimal or positive impact on the world around you.

Sustainable Construction on the Home Front

An obvious yet oft-overlooked method of creating a more environmentally friendly home is through inclusion of various sustainable construction

Sustainable Construction

Photovoltaic panels

materials on the roof of the house: solar panels. Solar technology generates electricity through the process of  harnessing the rays of the sun: this is done through a process known as the photovoltaic effect.

This physical and chemical phenomenon benefits homeowners in two ways:

  • It sources energy from a clean, sustainable source that doesn’t negatively affect the environment.
  • It reduces costs homeowners would incur in paying for electricity.
  • Electric companies will pay homeowners for any excess electricity they generate and don’t use.

Obviously, solar technology isn’t a viable resource for everyone: homes in cloudy or generally overcast parts of the world wouldn’t benefit from solar cells. But if you plan on living in a more temperate climate, let solar technology brighten up your home.

Other innovative advances in green construction are surfacing throughout the world. A home in the United Kingdom uses specialized panels that act as a “skin” of the house, and regulate temperatures using smart technology. This reduces the need for heaters and air conditioners, which use a lot of energy and are inefficient.

Sustainable Construction at the Workplace

Houses aren’t the only buildings that can benefit from an environmentally friendly approach to construction. Offices and skyscrapers can also benefit from technologies previously mentioned like solar panels, but there’s another issue to consider: much of the pollution generated by these larger structures originates from the chemicals used in the creation of the building materials.

Instead of designing buildings that use environmentally unfriendly substances, engineers should focus on implementing sustainable construction materials. Cellulose insulation, which is made of recycled paper and paperboard that is ground up and mixed with a fire retardant substance, can be used from in place of chemical foams. There are specialized paints available now that are termed “low VOC,” where VOC means “volatile organic compound.” VOCs are bad for air quality, so low-VOC paints lead to a less polluted atmosphere inside of a building.

Timber is another construction material that is overused and under-appreciated. In fact, the high demands for wood contribute to mass deforestation. However, there are specially engineered wood products that use timber more efficiently, thus reducing the amount of “wood waste” and shrinking the environmental footprint.

How to Start a Career in Sustainable Construction

Sustainable ConstructionIf you want to have a positive impact on the environment and love designing structures, working in sustainable construction and environmentally friendly engineering could be for you! You may be suited for a career in civil engineering or architecture. Both of these professions can specialize in designing and implementing “green” buildings. One important aspect of becoming an environmentally friendly builder is getting certified in Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design—LEED for short. Adding a LEED certification to your career will allow you to work on more projects that aim to be environmentally friendly, and the average salary for LEED certified professionals as compared to non-LEED certified is much higher, which is an added bonus! The LEED exam can be very difficult however, so you’ll need your studying skills even after you’re out of school.

If you are interested in more articles on the environment and engineering careers, read about the effects of climate change and top undergraduate engineering schools.