In this article, we explore the effects of construction on the environment. Construction affects the environment in both positive and negative ways. Buildings disrupt natural environments, but they can also provide new, bio-diverse areas and be created using green materials, minimizing waste and energy-intensive production of materials.
Construction activities affect the environment throughout the life cycle of development. These impacts occur from the initial work on-site through the construction period, the operational period, and the final demolition when a building comes to the end of its life.
Even though the construction period is comparatively shorter than the other stages of a building’s life, it has diverse significant impacts on the environment. With the construction sector experiencing a resurgence in growth, it’s bound to have a detrimental impact on the environment.
According to the U.K. Green Building Council, the construction sector uses more than 400 million tons of material a year, many of which hurt the environment. Additional research by Construction Products says that the products used during a particular construction job can also have an impact on the surrounding environment, due to the “extraction of raw materials”.
Similarly, in the United States, several tools and resources regularly used by contract workers and construction firms, such as chemicals on site and even the Diesel used by diggers and trucks, can significantly “harm public health and the environment,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Furthermore, the U.S. construction industry accounts for 160 million tons, or 25 percent, of non-industrial waste generation a year, according to the agency. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the effects of construction on the negative and positive spheres.
Negative Effects of Construction on the Environment
Environmental deterioration has captured the world’s attention and has been one of the most discussed subjects locally, nationally, and globally, positing that the world is in a crucial environmental catastrophe.
The increase in population and the quest for development such as the built environment has resulted in so many catastrophic occurrences in the environment ranging from pollution, waste generation, global warming, and resource depletion to ecosystem destruction and more).
This has put the built environment and the construction industry under the spotlight since their activities significantly impact the environment. Below are the negative effects of construction on the environment.
1. Air, Water, Noise, and Landfill Pollution
Construction impacts landfills and causes air, water, and noise pollution. The construction sector contributes to 23% of air pollution, 40% of drinking water pollution, and 50% of landfill waste. These numbers are alarming for the safety of the environment. In the aspect of air pollution, every action matters, as the production of dioxins is one of the main factors causing global warming.
The construction sector is responsible for 39% of energy and process-related carbon dioxide emissions. This high percentage stems from actions on the construction site, transportation, and the manufacturing of building materials.
Likewise, we should not forget about another critical factor for air pollution – dust from a construction site. PM10 is created from cement, wood, or stone and is often invisible to the naked eye. Carried for long distances and extended time, this dust can cause serious health problems for humans and animals!
Also, during construction activities such as grading and demolition, pollutants tend to leave the site to harm waterways and landfills. These sediments, which are significant pollutants in construction, are carried by stormwater during rainfall into nearby waterways or water bodies.
Which poses a serious threat to the environment. Furthermore, Noise pollution is much experience in construction activities which is drawn from the heavy-duty machines used, raised voices, and physical work such as drilling, hammering, cement mixing, electric saw, digging, etc.
2. Natural Resources Loss
The construction industry is one of the largest exploiters of both renewable and non-renewable natural resources. It relies heavily on the natural environment for the supply of raw materials such as timber, sand, and aggregates for the building process.
According to the World Watch Institute (2003), building construction consumes 40 percent of the world’s raw stones, gravel, and sand and 25 percent of virgin wood per year. It also consumes 40 percent of the energy and 16 percent of the water annually.
In Europe, the Austrian construction industry has about 50 percent of its material turnover induced by society as a whole per year, and 44 percent in Sweden. The extraction of natural resources causes irreversible changes to the natural environment of the countryside and coastal areas, both from an ecological and a scenic point of view.
Some companies are slowly starting to change by applying modern technologies to reduce material usage, like 3D printers or biodegradable textiles. However, the change may not come soon enough, as construction is still one of the least digitized industries.
3. Population Fragmentation and Biodiversity Loss
Fragmentation and destruction of ecosystems due to construction are key threats to habitat quality and biodiversity. Think about how construction impacts animals. The first few things that probably came to your mind are loud machines or work in construction sites during the night. Noise and light pollution heavily impact wildlife, especially bats, badgers, and birds, by disrupting their natural day cycle.
However, it is only a part of a much more complex problem. Construction work also has long-term effects on wildlife. This is significantly seen in the destruction of their habitat in the quest for industrialization and urbanization, causing several species of plants and animals to be lost.
Also, the impact of construction on animals forces them to change their way of life and reduce their population. Consequences like these are often not noticed by decision-makers as the problems may be visible only after a long time (usually long after the project has finished).
4. Waste Generation
Rubbish is everywhere. About one-third of the world’s land is being degraded and pollutants are depleting environmental quality, interfering with the environment’s capacity to provide a naturally balanced ecosystem.
A large volume of waste results from the production, transportation, and use of materials. In 2014, the United Kingdom generated about 202.8 million metric tons of waste. This number may not seem alarming, but imagine that the construction industry created 59% of that number.
However, it should be noted that construction activities contribute approximately 29 percent of waste in the United States of America, more than 50 percent in the United Kingdom, and 20-30 percent in Australia. In the European Union, the construction industry contributes about 40-50 percent of waste per year.
Construction generates a massive amount of waste because it relies on fast, cheap solutions that need to be replaced every year or even every few months. Simultaneously, recycling is still not a must on construction sites, but then most construction waste is unnecessary as many construction and demolition materials have a high potential for recycling and reuse.
5. Climate Change
Construction projects worsen climate change. The sector accounts for 25 to 50 percent of the world’s total carbon emissions. Estimates suggest that emissions from commercial buildings can grow up to 1.8 percent in 2030. Mining projects extract minerals needed for construction materials. Companies then transport these materials to different parts of the world.
Both processes burn up fossil fuels and the combustion of fossil fuels produces greenhouse gases. The construction sites we build in pursuit of industrialization all generate carbon gases that cause global warming which in turn leads to climate change. In as much as we cannot stop our businesses and the whole economy, we can balance our environmental impact with thoughtful actions.
Positive Effects of Construction on the Environment
1. Erosion Control
According to the regulations, construction firms should “design, install, and maintain” erosion controls.” These controls should include mechanisms to deter stormwater controls and reduce the “amount of soil exposed during construction activity.”
2. Soil Stabilization
This is an important component of the construction process and must be “initiated immediately” whenever you are excavating work on a site. The rules indicate that the stabilization process must be “completed” within a period applicable to local construction rules and regulations. However, the process may not be required depending on the structure of your construction project.
3. Eco-friendly Building Design
The eco-friendly design includes the use of recycled materials, (which produce less CO2 in the manufacturing process), structural durability, and long-term plans for energy and waste production. This part of the construction process is crucial to be aware of the environment and the impact each project could have.
Smart appliances, solar panels, and even the inclusion of natural light are all things designers consider to ensure a building’s design is as eco-friendly as possible.
4. Sediment Control
Sediment control is a practice or device that is put in place to keep pollutants from construction activities from being washed off by stormwater to a nearby stream, river, lake, or sea. This is done through the implementation of man-made structures, land management techniques, or natural processes.
5. Green Construction
Construction can be noisy, produce excess waste, and be energy inefficient. That’s why green construction practices are being introduced to minimize the negative effects of these issues. Quieter, more fuel-efficient tools and machines are now available, as are recycling and reusing materials where possible to reduce waste.
Constructing healthy buildings has a positive impact on the end-user of the building and the environment. For example, if construction companies include green spaces for residents’ health and well-being, this could also protect, encourage and enhance biodiversity.
Similarly, when constructing new roads, including additional travel options in the design could have wide-ranging advantages. Including accessible walking routes and bicycle paths promotes active living, and offers an alternative to driving, reducing carbon emissions that go a long way toward improving the air quality of the environment. In turn, these footpaths can be more easily incorporated into the natural landscape, so the habitat can become a part of the design.
Without a doubt, the environmental impact of construction is one of the biggest global societal issues today. However, industries are seeking to make positive changes to their ways of working, materials used, and production, to reduce the negative effects of construction and protect the environment for future generations.
More firms are requiring builders to design sustainable construction projects. Increased efficiency in energy systems has become one of the top priorities. There have been policy improvements when it comes to sourcing materials.
These strategies and practices aim to make the global construction sector greener. Recent efforts have enabled emissions to stabilize over the past few years. Moreover, more construction companies have set emission reduction targets in place. There is indeed great potential to further minimize the environmental impact of construction.
We believe that the future of construction is sustainable, which is why now is a perfect time to change our approach and take responsibility for our actions. After all, such practices can only be beneficial for our planet!
- 7 Impacts of Transportation on the Environment
- Top 10 Effects of Melting Glaciers on the Environment
- 11 Effects of Land Pollution on Human Health
- 10 Effects of Soil Pollution on Plants
- 6 Tips to Cultivate a Healthy Pond Ecosystem
Ahamefula Ascension is a Real Estate Consultant, Data Analyst, and Content writer. He is the founder of Hope Ablaze Foundation and a Graduate of Environmental Management in one of the prestigious colleges in the country. He is obsessed with Reading, Research and Writing.