The future viability of civilization will be determined by our response to the global issue of sustainability. New research and technology, and the rapid development of the green building movement clearly point out that changes in current life styles are essential if we are to maintain and/or improve our way of life. In 2002, the U.S. Green Building Council accelerated the activity and interest in sustainable design and construction. Their already popular “LEED®” (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system was advanced and may soon provide the basis on which all designs are built.
The monumental importance of energy efficient building designs was pointed out in the Metropolis October 2003 article, “Turning Down the Global Thermostat”. In this article, Edward Mazria (well known architect and author) reported this startling conclusion, “Architects, together with the building industry, are responsible for just about half of America’s energy consumption and half its greenhouse gas emissions, which are produced by burning coal, gasoline and other fossil fuels”.
Considering the fact that architecture (building performance) accounts for a major part of total U.S. energy consumption, initial cost should no longer be the sole determining criterion when evaluating the usefulness of a product or structure. The long-term value of any building material is predicated on a combination of cost, durability, functionality, and aesthetics. Life cycle costing is the only way to evaluate the performance and long-term sustainability of a material or building project.
When the increased up-front cost for lighter concretes and concrete products made with ESCS lightweight aggregate is evaluated, most often, this cost premium is more than offset by the cost savings in the following areas: labor, lower dead loads, better fire resistance resulting in reduced concrete thickness and less reinforcing required in building frames, girders, piers, and footings. Long-term heating and cooling costs will be reduced due to the higher insulating properties and overall superior thermal performance of the building.
From a performance perspective, ordinary concrete has room for improvement. There are many examples of concrete deteriorating after 10, 20 or 30 years in service. This is unacceptable when compared to numerous examples of concrete structures lasting well over 100 years and in some cases 2000 years. Poor performing concrete has frequently resulted from inadequate specification, poor construction practices and/or improper designs for the intended use. The entire concrete community (owner, designer, material supplier, concrete manufacturer, and contractor) often falls short by not implementing and transferring the currently available knowledge needed to ensure that quality concrete is specified and constructed. It may be necessary to increase requirements in building codes and ACI and ASTM standards may be required to meet sustainable development demands and to lower life cycle costs.
Maybe it’s time for society to define and require an extended service life from its structures. Is a 100, 300 or 1000 year design life appropriate for certain applications? Its becoming very evident that economic and environmental burdens will not allow future generations to replace structures (utility lines, bridges, roads, buildings, etc) every 20, 30 or 50 years. Many of our structures are designed as essentially “throwaway structures”. To meet the challenges of sustainable development the building industry, along with designers, needs to recognize our global responsibility and offer longer lasting products that are properly specified, designed and constructed.
To develop a sustainable world we must shift from our current short-term ways and attitudes, to a long-term, holistic mind-set that recognizes performance and the interdependence of all life. The biggest hurdle in creating a sustainable social, economic and political society is overcoming the belief that “it can’t be done”. Many people believe that any significant move toward sustainable development will result in a major disruption of our current system.
We do not fully share this position. We believe major steps for creating a sustainable way of life can be immediately implemented in a positive, responsible and practical way. For example if the building industry, and especially owners, architects and engineers, would start to create energy- efficient building designs for new structures and for retrofitting existing structures, positive environmental changes would start taking place immediately.
The perception that fast-track construction always saves time and money needs to be re- evaluated. There are numerous examples of the old adage, “Haste makes waste,” being true with “Fast Track”. From a long-term perspective, in some cases the fast-track attitude may be counterproductive and result in non-sustainable construction practices and poor performing buildings and structures.
The lightweight aggregate industry acknowledges that for the successful achievement of truly sustainable developments, a fundamental shift in attitudes, belief systems and conscious behavior must take place. This requires concern for long-term performance with minimal maintenance and energy demand in our designs, as well as efficiency and responsibility in our manufacturing and construction. There are many changes that can be accomplished in the present that will yield positive results for humanity now and in the future. We believe the utilization of ESCS lightweight aggregate with all its positive benefits is a small but important element in the sustainability of the building industry.
Is it possible that good designs and common sense are the heart of sustainability?