The Sustainability Crisis: How Construction Can Help Build a Better Future

Sustainability Crisis

For governments and institutions around the world sustainability has become not just nice to have, but a priority. As climate concerns around the world grow, we’re seeing a need for a global commitment to solving the crisis like never before. Two recent examples of this can be found in the United States’ recommitment to the Paris climate agreement and Singapore’s recently released 2021 budget, which contains a significant focus on sustainability

But sustainability isn’t merely limited to government action. Construction, an industry known more for waste than conservation, has a responsibility in solving this crisis. It’s a two-fold approach, one that involves creating more resiliency to meet climate issues of the future and building a better industry and projects that contribute to solving the crisis. Today, we’ll explore two incredible examples of how groundbreakers in the industry are actively leveraging that approach to reimagine sustainability. 

Building Resiliency Block by Block

Building resiliency into our infrastructure isn’t just a matter of thinking of future uses or inhabitants. It also requires the consideration of the future state of the structure’s surroundings and environment. The importance of designing and constructing infrastructure to protect society from future climate issues cannot be overstated. 

While this concept may sound far-fetched to the way we build now, industry leaders are already making progress in addressing the resiliency challenge. The Rising to the Challenge: Afsluitdijk documentary highlights how innovative design and construction can be used to fortify existing infrastructure. Constructed between 1927 and 1932, the Afsluitdijk is a major dam and causeway in the Netherlands. It is a cultural icon for the Dutch and it serves as a means for travel and protects the inland against flooding.

However, climate change was threatening the Afsluitdijk and the Netherlands through heavy storms and high tides. In light of concerns the dam would not be able to withstand the increasing water level, the Afsluitdijk fortification project was commissioned. Carlo Kuiper, Project Director at BAM PPP, described the project in the documentary as having four key functions, “On the one hand, we have the flood defense system. On the other hand, we have to create another opening in the dike for the fish migration river. So, we have to create a safe flood defense barrier in this new opening. Then, the two other functions are road traffic and shipping traffic. The concrete works and the dam need to meet the safety requirements for flood defense.” The team was also mindful of the government’s ambition to reduce the CO2 footprint on construction projects. 

To meet the desired safety and environmental requirements, levvel-blocs were used to fortify the dam. These interlocking blocks can withstand strong waves and high storm surge levels. The design of the levvel-blocs was done completely digitally before construction, following Royal BAM Group’s motto, “We build it before we build it.” 

The manufacturing of the levvel-blocs took place in an automated factory located in Harlingen. Because Harlingen is a seaport, the team was able to transport the levvel-blocs through marine transportation. This method is safer than road transportation and has a lower CO2 footprint. 

The Afsluitdijk fortification project also focused on avoiding waste to improve its overall sustainability. Each levvel-bloc contains a chip so the team can trace its location from transportation to construction. “In the future, if there is any issue or any question about the quality, we can locate and review all the data pertaining to this block,” explains 

Bas Reedijk, Head of the Coastal Engineering and Water Management Department at BAM Infraconsult / Delta Marine Consultants.

The project truly highlights just how fundamental construction is in building a more sustainable, resilient community through future-proof infrastructure. To learn more about the innovative ways that the Afsluitdijk fortification project rose to the sustainability challenge, check out the documentary


Reimagining What It Means to Be Sustainable

Amidst the enormous challenges of building in today’s rapidly changing world lies an amazing opportunity for the construction industry. It’s the chance to build better rather than building to meet environmental standards. We know that construction can be sustainable and conscious of means to reduce waste. But a recent project took it even further by constructing a building created to give back to the environment. 

The Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design truly turned traditional construction on its head by reimaging what’s possible. While 170 million tons of construction materials are discarded every year, the multi-disciplinary, non-departmental building at the Georgia Institute for Technology is net-positive and regenerative. Alissa Kingsley, Architect at Lord Aeck Sargent, explains the principles on which the project was operated, “Buildings are ones that actually give back to the environment. Sustainable means we’re taking less from the environment, consuming less material, taking less energy than we would otherwise. Where regenerative is actually producing its own.”

The Kendeda Building is pursuing full certification from the Living Build Challenge, the world’s most ambitious building performance standard. The Challenge contains seven petals: place, energy, water, materials, health and happiness, equity, and beauty. In pursuit of the certification, the design and construction teams focused on collaboration, connected construction, visualization through technology, and diverting usable materials from waste streams. 

Jimmy Mitchell, Sustainability Engineer at Skanska, shares one of the ways the project made use of available materials, “The Lifecycle Building Center had a relationship with the local film industries, and they collected over 25,000 linear feet of salvaged 2 x 4s. Skanska then nailed those panels together and installed them in the building. That is probably globally the best example of salvage that ever happened. The key with salvage is if you get it on the way to the landfill, it’s free. At the Kendeda Building, we saved a few hundred thousand dollars incorporating salvaged materials there. This is a sustainability element that does not cost more.”

The team considers the Kendeda Building to be a blueprint for the future. Mitchell encourages the industry to “take a moment, pause, take a step back, figure out what can be salvaged, and make it happen locally in your community.”

Within the Sustainability Reimagined: The Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design documentary, you’ll uncover more ways to reimagine what’s truly possible in construction.


How are You Building Resiliency?

As you watch these two groundbreaking examples of sustainable construction, be sure to share your ideas for bringing resiliency to future construction projects in the comments below. 


Grace Ellis

Editor in Chief, Digital Builder Blog, Autodesk

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