The use of sustainable materials for commercial construction is essential for the creation of more environmentally friendly buildings and a greener world.

Sustainable materials for commercial construction help to cut down on the massive amount of waste that has often been associated with the industry in the past, in addition to cutting down on the negative impact of greenhouse gases.

Potential environmental impacts also have to be taken into account for all stages of the lifecycle of a building. Architects need to take into consideration the way in which construction materials are sourced, made, transported, made use of and then discarded.

There are a number of sustainable materials in use today, but what are the top five most sustainable materials in the commercial construction industry?

Bamboo

Bamboo is almost universally agreed to be one of the best environmentally friendly construction materials in the entire world by sustainability experts. It has an amazingly high rate of self-generation, with a number of species able to grow up to as high as three feet within just one single day.

Rather than a wood bamboo is actually a perennial grass, and one that continues to grow and spread after harvesting without the need to be replanted.

Bamboo can be found almost all over the world, with Antarctica and Europe being the only continents where it cannot be found.

Bamboo is also incredibly durable with a high ratio in terms of strength to weight, offering compressive strength even greater than concrete or bricks.

This means that the need to replace it is very rare, which is not always the case with other sustainable materials like hemp. Bamboo has therefore become a very viable candidate for use in both cabinetry and flooring.

The lightweight nature of bamboo also means that it is not as energy intensive in regards to transportation as some other equally durable materials.

One of the few real drawbacks of bamboo is that insects like the starch in untreated bamboo, meaning it needs treatment to resist them.

The absorption of water can also cause bamboo to swell and crack.

Precast concrete

One of the world’s most common construction materials is concrete thanks to its strength and durability, but in terms of sustainable construction materials one of the best is proving to be precast concrete.

Controlled manufacturing plants are responsible for the production of precast concrete, which then transport it to sites that have already been reinforced and complete as per the specifications. This removes the need to have the concrete cast onsite and cuts down on the time it takes to install.

This in turn means that precast concrete causes considerably less disruption to a construction site and also results in a lot less dust, noise, and pollution and construction debris.

Local sources can be used for precast concrete materials including the steel, cement and fine and coarse aggregates. Precast concrete can also be disassembled and reused.

Stainless steel

Stainless steel has always been a popular material for commercial construction even before the need for sustainable materials began to be seen as important because of its strength, flexibility and durability, but the industry has proven capable of adapting to the change and moving with the times.

Greenhouse gas emissions and energy intensity have been drastically reduced by the industry in the last quarter of a century, making stainless steel production more sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Stainless steel is easy for stainless steel providers to assemble and disassemble; this means that it is very recyclable because any product made of stainless steel can be recycled into something else. Almost all stainless steel grades already have a quarter of recycled material, with some even being one hundred percent recycled.

Wool insulation

Sheep’s wool is being used for insulation purposes, and is completely natural unlike materials such as polyurethane spray foam or fibreglass.

Wool also degrades far more slowly than other forms of natural insulation such as straw and is more common, easy to harvest and faster to regenerate than cotton.

Cross-laminated timber

Like steel, wood has always been used in construction but cross-laminated timber is very sustainable, being manufactured from layering boards in different directions and bonded with the use of structural adhesive.

CLT is so strong it can replace concrete, cutting down the environmental footprint of new buildings and is also lightweight and resistant to earthquakes and fires.

The timber for CLT is always taken from forests that are sustainably managed.

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