Building greener

Whether it is sourcing alternative materials, reducing waste or innovating where homes are built, the construction industry will determine the greener cities of the future

Construction of buildings often consumes a tremendous amount of natural resources. Following the global trend of pursuing greener alternatives, the construction industry is looking for ways to minimise its impact on the environment with some innovative solutions.

The Swedish company Cobiax, for example, manufactures concrete slabs with plastic spherical voids to reduce the amount of concrete used and, as a result, the amount of carbon dioxide produced.

These plastic pockets are located in the areas of the slab that are not load-bearing and reduce the concrete required by 35 percent, which also impacts on the weight of the slab.

German construction company, SparkassenVersicherung, has used these slabs in two of its buildings in Mannheim, Germany. Due to the plastic pockets, the two 13-storey buildings combined are 1 613 t lighter than an equivalent building using concrete slabs. Carbon dioxide emissions were reduced by 136 t as fewer concrete mixers were used.

Concrete accounts for eight percent of global carbon dioxide emissions according to think tank Chatham House.

Locally, the small start-up, PlastiBrick, is producing building materials from recycled plastic. The manufacturing process doesn’t require any water and redirects plastic from landfills to produce the composite “maxi” brick, which is said to be strong, durable and fire retardant.

Aside from innovations in building materials, the construction industry is also looking to reduce its environmental footprint and address some of the already visible challenges of global warming by making changes to where buildings are erected. More specifically, the industry is revisiting the concept of floating houses or buildings.

Along with rising global temperatures come rising sea levels. In late 2019, Venice experienced some of the worst flooding the city has seen since the 1960s and 70s. The city was hit with high water of 187 cm – the highest level in half a century. At the height of the flooding, an estimated 80 percent of the city was submerged. The Italian government released €20 million (R325 million) to manage the devastation.

While not entirely new, the concept of floating houses is becoming more popular. In 2018, the Floating Farm was introduced in Rotterdam, Netherlands. Developed by Peter and Minke van Wingerden, the project was designed to illustrate potential solutions to farming if rising sea levels should limit available farmland.

Similarly, Concrete Valley has introduced its Modular Water Dwellings. As the construction company is situated on a main industrial waterway in the Netherlands, its buildings can be transported along the water, which removes the need for assembly on site and reduces energy consumption and waste.

With these and similar innovations, the construction industry has the potential to shape how green cities might look in the future and play a vital role in fighting global warming.

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