Sustainability in construction (And how e-commerce helps)

B2B e-commerce, E-commerce by industry, E-commerce tips

Michiel Schipperus August 21, 2017

Legislation. Growing environmental concerns. Mounting pressure to reduce buildings’ carbon footprint. Sustainability in the construction industry is more than a trend — it’s a new reality. And completing your digital transformation can help you go greener. Here’s how.

Global sustainability in construction

The shift toward greener projects is apparent worldwide. Consumers, governments and private enterprises are all becoming more aware of the part buildings play in protecting the environment. From greenhouse gas emissions to energy and water conservation, the way we think about construction matters — especially given the global urbanization trend.

According to, this focus on urbanization is driving demand for both retrofitting and new construction to ensure that cities can pleasantly — but above all sustainably — support an increasingly dense population. It isn’t limited to specific regions, nor is it exclusive to developed or developing regions.

The need to go green is global. However, there are some countries that stand out.

The UK in particular has long focused on green buildings in both private and public sectors. A recent study revealed a 14% growth in the number of construction stakeholders who expect more than 60% of their projects to be green as early as 2018.

increase in sustainable construction projects

According to the same survey, the top sectors for green projects are:

  • Retrofits of existing structures (44%)
  • New low-rise residential buildings (40%)
  • New institutional buildings (37%)

The British national anthem might be God Save the Queen, but it seems that the environment is also high on the list.

China also has a strong focus on environmentally sound construction projects. A survey of industry stakeholders indicates that 28% of respondents envision most of their projects being green within 3 years — a remarkable increase from 5% previously.

HVACR is thriving — and evolving

This irrepressible change isn’t just good news for the environment. reports that it’s creating valuable opportunities for the heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration sector.

The global HVACR equipment industry is set to achieve a compound annual growth rate of 5.35% between 2015 and 2022, resulting in a market value of $151 billion. This is because HVACR is recognized as a major factor in a building’s energy requirements, making it a prime target in reduction efforts.

It’s about more than just wanting more energy-efficient versions of familiar appliances. Smart, user-friendly technology is garnering considerable consumer interest and creating demand for all-new HVACR products.

Take the Nest Thermostat, for instance, which connects to the internet so it can be controlled remotely using a smartphone app. This ultimate smart device is smart in more ways than one: it’s been branded as ‘the Learning Thermostat.’ It actually pays attention to user adjustments and uses that data to anticipate and automate changes.

At the time of writing, Nest estimates that its thermostat has helped save over 13.7 million kWh of energy.

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Sustainable construction materials

The pressure to make buildings more ecologically friendly is unrelenting. It’s therefore little wonder that the industry is going beyond HVAC technology to minimize new construction’s carbon footprint.

The global building materials industry is worth $1 trillion, with materials accounting for over half of a project’s total costs. McKinsey indicates that traditional materials such as concrete and asphalt make up the lion’s share of this. But according to Navigant Research, the worldwide green construction materials market is set to more than double from $116 billion in 2013 to over $254 billion by 2020 — and Europe alone will account for 50% of the demand for green materials by that point.

sustainable construction material growth


The European Commission estimates that 70% of product innovation across industries is derived from new or improved materials. The construction industry is pressuring materials suppliers to pursue innovation in their products. It, therefore, isn’t surprising that many innovative advanced building materials — or ABMs — are (close to) ready for market.

Tomorrow’s materials today

In their industry report, McKinsey takes a closer look at a number of materials that are either currently helping minimize carbon footprints, support lean efforts, and boost supply chain agility, or that are expected to in the near future.

  • Concrete canvas is already available commercially. Simply add water to the ‘cloth’ and allow it to set.
  • Aerogel is also already available. This highly effective insulating material is 99.98% air.
  • Topmix permeable is a concrete alternative in the early adoption stage. It is able to absorb up to 4,000 liters of water a minute.
  • Self-healing concrete is currently in the proof of concept stage. It uses a bacterial healing agent to automatically seal cracks.
  • Nanomaterials are still in the research stage, but could one day be an incredibly lightweight but strong substitute for steel reinforcement and foundations.

Yesterday’s materials today

Timber is seeing a resurgence in the construction industry, in large part because each cubic meter of wood can store up to half a ton of carbon.

Strong new wood materials are creating a small but surging market for timber. They’re not just for typical suburban houses, though: this timeless material is now also being used for large urban blocks, and even skyscrapers such as ‘The Tree,’ an aptly named apartment complex in Norway over 50 meters tall.

However, ENBRI does state that the use of timber needs to be complemented with innovation when it comes to improving its resistance to degradation.

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Sustainable materials challenges and drivers

Despite the potential of ABMs and the international focus on going green, many of them still fail to flourish in the market — or even penetrate the market at all, particularly in emerging countries.
Why do some ABMs fail to take off? There are a number of factors at play.

  • High initial investments with a long ROI period
  • Decision-makers may not be aware of the latest market developments
  • Decision-makers don’t have access to information needed to make tricky trade-offs

This means that it’s potentially risky for suppliers, engineers, and contractors to recommend these new materials. It remains to be seen how quickly this will change, but there are developments that bode well.

For example, the use of greener, newer materials are being encouraged by new building standards such as Passivhaus. This energy performance standard focuses on dramatically reducing the requirement for space heating and cooling and creating excellent air quality. According to, the heating requirement in a Passivhaus is reduced to the point where traditional heating systems are no longer essential.

It works, too: according to QFinance, the Passivhaus standard can lead to up to heating requirement cuts of up to 85%.

Boost construction sustainability with digital transformation

Sustainable new materials and greener guidelines are excellent ways for construction firms to make a positive impact on the environment. But it’s possible to go even further by making your business processes greener and more future-proof too.

We’ve already talked about tech like the Nest thermostat that helps reduce carbon footprints, but there are other, less obvious ways that embracing new technology can help you run a greener business.

For instance, you could take steps to reduce the amount of paper you and your colleagues use. According to The World Counts, paper accounts for 50% of waste generated by businesses. Imagine the paper you could save by (further) digitizing your administrative processes.

half of office waste is paper


According to the World Economic Forum, the digital transformation of industries can be of considerable help when it comes to decarbonizing the global economy, with the potential to avoid approximately 26 billion metric tons of CO2 emissions from just three industries between 2016 and 2025 — roughly equivalent to the CO2 emissions for the entirety of Europe in the same period, or 20% of the U.S. emissions for the same time.

To make a bit of a leap toward our own favorite topic, e-commerce is a key part of the digital transformation for the construction industry — and another digital tool to help achieve a greener business.

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E-commerce: Part of construction’s digital transformation

On the Sana blog, we often talk about the business benefits of implementing a B2B web store. E-commerce helps you realize savings that you can pass on to your clients. A web store can let clients look up information around the clock without contacting your sales department. It can even help you branch out into new international markets.

But e-commerce isn’t just good for your bottom line: it’s good for minimizing your carbon footprint, too. How? A digital sales channel lets you digitize much of your printed sales and marketing materials.

construction industry’s digital transformation

Take hard copy catalogs, for instance. Do you still send printed product catalogs to your clients? A web store lets you phase out this traditional marketing asset and replace it with online product catalogs that are more environmentally friendly and easier to update and search.

To call back to the challenges ABMs face, a digital catalog like a web store (or BIM system) also helps you boost the visibility of products and materials that might not otherwise get the spotlight they deserve.

But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. E-commerce lets you digitize sales documents as well, from requests for quotes (RFQ) to invoices. If your e-commerce software is fully integrated with your ERP system, you can even use your web store as an information portal for your clients, so that they can always access digital versions of these documents.

In short, a web store isn’t just a good way to improve your sales. It’s also a powerful tool for making your business greener.

Discover construction’s digital transformation in your free trend report

Sustainability is a big trend in the construction industry, but there’s a lot more going on — also in terms of the digital transformation. Download your free PDF of our construction industry trend report to learn more about the main trends driving change in construction worldwide.


What does the future hold for construction industry trends?

Construction industry trend report

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