Defining sustainable construction

"Sustainability" is the term that is currently fashionable in many sectors, but at the same time is the least understood. Its importance is often blurred, due to the interpretation that is in trend, so it is treated superficially, either through "ecological", "green" or "intelligent" rhetoric. However, for those in the public and private sectors who take the problem seriously, sustainability encompasses the importance of caring for the environment and long-term resistance as a matter of concern for all of humanity. Equally intrinsic to sustainability, we find critical development problems, which are related to the responsible use of resources within a circular economy, and the promotion of social equity through the fair distribution of wealth.

The construction sector is the one that can make the greatest contribution to these objectives, especially taking into account the large amount of material and energy resources that are needed to carry out the construction and its subsequent maintenance, without mentioning the sum of the emissions and the waste generated during the entire cycle of use of physical structures. Seeing the rapid urbanization that is occurring nowadays in the world, it is more necessary than we think that everything that is built works in a sustainable way in all the registers: environmental, economic and social.

It is true that we all agree on the need for action, but there is a debate about whether it should proceed in small steps, incrementally, or in a radical change. But whatever the response (is it a systemic review or a change in the status quo), we do not have the luxury of deciding on how to act.

Building a sustainable future

Sustainable construction is in full accordance with the stipulations for development described in the Brundtland Commission Report "Our Common Future" of 1987. Its main objective is to meet the current needs of housing, work environments and infrastructure. Bearing in mind that we must not compromise the ability of future generations to meet their own needs, for shelter, work spaces, and service provision. When we satisfy these needs in a sustainable way now, in the future these constructions will be more socially solitary in the long term, since we manage to reduce their general ecological footprint, while responding in an innovative way to the growing demand for built space.

In view of the great environmental impact it causes, sustainable construction takes advantage of the design and management of built structures, be they buildings, infrastructure or urban agglomerations. It is important that the performance and use of renewable energy, materials and resources, in all projects and in all their cycles of use, as well as their associated technologies in construction, operation and maintenance, are designed to reduce global emissions of gases of the greenhouse effect.

Seeing the greatest economic impact, sustainable construction establishes the transition from a linear economy to a circular economy, which establishes the generation of renewable energy, recycling of materials and waste, collection and conservation of water, transferable technologies and the adaptability of structures to the changes in the use. In addition, innovative financing models are created around these sustainable structures, which are based on an economy of means that produces more with less; and the reinvestment of returns in the common domain for collective benefit.

Sustainable building with vegetation

In view of its social impact, sustainable construction must adhere to the highest ethical standards in all commercial and industrial practices and in all phases of the construction project. The promotion of socially viable life and work environments, including health standards for users, as well as the democratization of all processes related to the production and use of the built environment as a commonwealth.

While we achieve these objectives, sustainable construction covers everything that is related to the aesthetic quality of the built environment, its architecture, its infrastructure and its urban organization, and it is concerned with maintaining the specific characteristics of the local culture and the common characteristics world level.

Objective aspects of sustainable construction

For the LafargeHolcim Foundation, dedicated to the struggle for Sustainable Construction, the commitment to the underlying principles of sustainability is important. This foundation establishes that for a correct long-term development of the built environment, a mutual interaction of responsible economic, ecological, social and aesthetic objectives is necessary. In addition, and in accordance with the Paris Climate Agreement under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (adopted in 2015 and ratified in 2016), the Foundation highlights the reduction of global emissions of greenhouse gases in all activities related to construction throughout the whole.

For this purpose, the Foundation, in collaboration with partner universities, has presented five "specific topics" with established rules to maintain the habitat created by man for current and future generations. These issues are correlated with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) of the United Nations, as well as with the Sustainable Development Strategy of the foundation's support company. These topics will serve as criteria for evaluating the projects submitted to the LafargeHolcim Awards, in addition to providing the necessary operational roadmap for all Foundation activities: expert round tables, international conferences, research grants, laboratories, publications on best practices, etc.