What is green construction?

To understand green construction, you have to start at the beginning. During the 1970s, an energy crisis devastated the United States. Long gas lines were primarily caused by a shortage of fossil fuels. After the crisis, the idea of sustainable energy began to arise. People saw the need for energy efficiency and being environmentally responsible. Thus, began the green construction movement.

While there have been many motives for green construction rapidly evolving, some of the most common are—environmental, economic, and social advantages. Today, both new constructions and upgrading older structures, demand an integrated and collaborative design to maintain modern sustainability initiatives—otherwise known as a sustainable design.

A sustainable design is a strategy that integrates construction with alternative green practices to produce a synergy (a total effect) among the practices used. In other words, green construction bands together an array of green practices to ultimately reduce the harmful effects the building will have on the environment, as well as, human wellness while heavily emphasizing renewable resources.

Examples of renewable energy that can be used in construction are using the sun’s rays to benefit from solar power, using plants and trees with green roofs, rain gardens, and collecting rainwater by minimizing rain run-off.

What Exactly is Green Construction
Often when a person hears the term “green construction” the first thought may be insulated windows, solar powered hot-water heaters and energy efficient appliances. While using items to save energy is definitely a part of being environmentally responsible, it is not however, what green construction means.

If you have ever been involved with construction project site or just merely walked around one, you will be astonished by the vast amount of waste. Normally, these sites are littered with nail-filled 2 x 4’s, broken drywall, scrap wood and flooring, general trash from soda cans to chip bags with little to no effect made to separate the trash and usable items.

Green construction projects practice waste management and conservation. There are three (3) main policies applied to such projects—cut back (conserve), recycle, and reuse. In order for a construction project to gain the tax saving advantages, it must have LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Certification. To be LEED Certified, it has to be proven that over fifty percent (50%) of the waste generated from the construction or demolition did NOT end up in a landfill.

Conserve, Recycle & Reuse
Contrary to what many people believe, recycling is not merely an alternative refuse disposal. The true meaning of recycling is the act of wholly transforming something completely into something else. Recycling would become the most effective and cost-saving procedure if truly utilized as purposed.

However often on job sites, recycling means transporting waste materials to reprocessing centers. This is an expensive and not an ideal situation, but it is preferred over dumping waste in the landfill. Here are some ways green construction items can be recycled:

  • Scrap shingles repurposed into asphalt
  • Cardboard reprocessed into other paper products
  • Metals formed into nails
  • Wood used scaffolding turned into garden sheds
  • Broken bricks become backfill

Sometimes materials—such as wood flooring—may be rescued from a construction or demolish site then sold directly to a rehabber looking to reuse items to give their project a vintage or antique feel.

To reduce overall expenses and encourage efficiency on any job site, proper measuring and planning of materials such as—drywall, wood and cardboard is imperative.

With green construction rapidly becoming the new standard, start practicing reuse, recycle and conservation habits now to be ahead of the game.


Michael Tobias is the founder and principal of Chicago Engineers. He is a graduate of Georgia Tech class of 2004, with a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering with honors. His innovative approach to MEP engineering comes from graduating GE’s Engineering Leadership Program, where he designed wind turbines and biofuel power plant engines. Michael’s passion within design is energy efficiency and green technology.

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