Design, build, use and refurbish – the construction life cycle of sustainable buildings

Posted by Carmen Schick , Anne Jacobs - 26 March, 2021

The boom in the construction industry does not stop, and with the increasing consciousness about resource and waste reduction the sustainability impact of a building becomes more and more important. Building managers and investors can achieve energy efficiency targets by implementing sustainable materials and practices along the complete life cycle of the building as it is important to not only focus on green concrete. Following our first blog about green buildings we will now dive deeper into the life cycle of sustainable buildings and concrete structures. For this, it is important to consider the complete life cycle, from design and construction to operation, maintenance and, ultimately, deconstruction. Let’s have a look at each stage.

Designing sustainable structures from the start

The biggest potential for making a building more sustainable lies in the design phase. Here, fundamental decisions can be made, for example by optimizing floor space area in relation to enclosed volume or by using higher strength concrete to optimize resources of a structure.

When it comes to the design process, many digital tools facilitate the planning and selection process. Specifications can be easily created with Master Builders Solutions’ Online Planning Tool (OPT), including the download of a report, all relevant technical data, and Revit objects to be used in virtual design tools like Building Information Modelling (BIM) that connect the digital planning process with real-life data.

When you start designing a new building or structure, you can directly integrate sustainability for long-term performance: eco-friendly materials, low clinker cements and concrete admixtures, as well as alternative fuels and more efficient production procedures lower the carbon footprint. In addition, there are further measures which can extend the service life of concrete structures. Waterproofing, for example, can protect against deterioration of concrete as water is often a  ingredient in concrete degradation processes.

The eco-friendliness of products used for the construction play an important role, too. Each year four billion tons of concrete are used, accounting for eight per cent of global CO2 emissions (Source: Making Concrete Change. Innovation in Low-carbon Cement and Concrete). Selecting products which lower this carbon footprint plays an important role. Master Builders Solutions has been on the forefront to develop sustainable building materials, from lowering CO2 impact of each component to making products more durable.


Constructing the building

Master-Builders-Solutions_Sustainability blog_Design-Build_Use-Refurbish_Construction PhaseWhen the plans are in, the construction of the building or concrete structure can start. It is a fact that the construction industry accounts for a large amount of CO2 emissions. Therefore, manufacturers of concrete, chemicals and cement have implemented measures to make their products greener. For the construction of the building, however, it is not only the products themselves that increase the carbon footprint of the building. Reducing waste by less packaging, lowering the consumption of water and components as well as transportation of materials to the job site should be considered as they affect the overall sustainability of the building.

As long as all those factors are considered, the construction of the building will reduce the environmental impact.


Efficient operation of the building or concrete structure

Master-Builders-Solutions_Sustainability blog_Design-Build-Use-Refurbish_DamThe structure has been constructed and handed over to its designated purpose. Of course, the building manager or operator of the infrastructure will now monitor and optimize the energy consumption to reach energy efficiency targets.

The fact that proactive maintenance can lower the need for repairs, which would increase the carbon footprint, is not always known though and often receives insufficient attention: Keeping concrete dry using waterproofing membranes, for example, is an effective means of extending the service life of structures to withstand extreme conditions while ensuring constant operation.

BASF Magor Brewery floor 09-09Requirements for maintenance may vary across industries. Infrastructure such as bridges must cope with weather conditions, whereas production sites are confronted with chemicals, static electricity or heavy machinery. Having the right preventative maintenance strategy can help reduce the environmental impact in the long run.

Any damage in the structure can have dramatic environmental and economic consequences. On the one hand, there is economic loss if the damages force the operator to stop the activity and start unplanned maintenance or remedial operations. On the other hand, however, all repair and substitution works will necessarily create construction debris and will require the use of repair mortars and protection membranes, for example. All of this has an obvious environmental impact that can be significant if the structure requires major refurbishments.


Build a sustainable future

But what if there is a spalling in the concrete, a leakage in the reservoir or a damage on the factory floor? Repairs will correct this and thus put the structure back into operation. Refurbishment, however, can even further contribute to the sustainability of the building, while at the same time protecting investments - representing a smart way to extend the lifetime of the building.

Concrete, in general, is a durable product, and this longevity influences the service life of the structure. Consequently, extending this life cycle drives the sustainability of the concrete structure. Furthermore, repairing concrete before it cracks or renewing the waterproofing of roofs and walls can avoid downtimes, which are costly.


To sum up, the extension of the building life cycle will dilute the environmental impact. Therefore, it is important to integrate a focus on sustainability from the design phase on. However, even existing concrete structures can be made more sustainable: refurbishment and predictive maintenance are key to extending the service life and, thus, protecting investments.

Topics: Sustainability

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