The built industry has a massive impact on our environment. Studies indicate that on a global scale, it accounts for about 30% of natural resources extracted and 25% of solid waste generation.
Construction encompasses a wide variety of projects. They include roads, bridges, and other forms of infrastructure and commercial buildings and suburban developments. Thus, only a minority of the industry’s overall impact can really be attributed to our individual actions as homeowners.
But that fractional impact is where we possess the ability to make a difference. And people will never stop needing shelter. Moreover, future generations will continue to drive the demand for residential construction.
With our growing awareness of our planet’s environmental crisis, it’s time to change the way we approach the most personal of construction projects: building our homes.
A personal dilemma
Not everyone has the resources to actually afford homeownership. This phenomenon is well-documented and tends to disproportionately affect younger generations. It stems from issues with housing policy in the big picture, and the consequence is that many of us will spend years renting space in structures built by others.
This situation stresses the personal nature of the dilemma with sustainable home construction. For a lot of people, financial considerations will dictate their decisions relating to property ownership.
If you can’t afford a house, you’re probably renting one and thereby surrendering control over aspects such as energy efficiency. Eventually, when you have the means, buying a furnished home simplifies things but still leaves you unable to make a difference in design choices that affect embodied carbon.
Finally, even those who can devote enough resources, not only money but time and energy, may not be inclined to make sustainable choices.
After all, you finally have the chance to build a dream home. The features you envision, or the materials used to achieve the desired look, tend to weigh more heavily than considerations of environmental impact.
The triple bottom line
In this respect, our individual attitudes as current or prospective homeowners are no different from those of businesses towards sustainability in general.
Modern companies are naturally inclined to maximize efficiency as part of their search for a competitive advantage. If you can find cheap materials and labor elsewhere, you negotiate those deals, even if it means working with suppliers and partners from other countries. Even if it means you have little control or visibility over the practices of those third parties.
Yet some businesses make a point of adhering to higher green standards and responsible practices. They seek out onshore suppliers such as Lakeside Manufacturing, thereby gaining better control over quality while reducing transportation-related emissions and helping the local economy.
Such forward thinking demonstrates that even profit-driven organizations can find greater value in a holistic approach towards sustainability. Individuals, too, can adopt this shift in perspective. What we need to understand is the triple bottom line of economic, social, and environmental impacts.
Every business operates within a context. Activities such as resource extraction, material transport, production of goods, and dealing with waste all involve multiple stakeholders.
Thinking only of the economic bottom line is short-sighted and ultimately unsustainable. We also need to consider the lives of people who are affected by these operations. If those impacts are adverse, then ‘business as usual’ can’t be carried out indefinitely.
How lean principles can help
Awareness of the triple bottom line is what can motivate businesses and individuals alike to do more and thereby become truly sustainable. But we also need to know the means that will help us take the necessary actions.
This is where lean production methods can solve the problem. Construction, as an industry, is particularly fragmented. Companies that adopt lean principles manage to simplify those networks and interactions.
This way, more control is gained over production processes. The result is more value delivered to the customer while maintaining a significant cost reduction through a better-coordinated workflow than traditional methods.
Lean thinking doesn’t just reduce complexity. It focuses on waste identification and elimination, which is particularly relevant to construction. Just-in-time production helps to avert material excess, unnecessary transport costs, and delays in supply. And a commitment to continuous, ‘kaizen’ improvement means that stakeholders get a process that only gets better through each iteration.
Homeowners can benefit from these practices by embracing a greater role as effective project managers in constructing their homes. Alternatively, you can work with contractors that are known for applying lean methods in their work.
By taking this extra step, you can ensure that putting a roof over your head doesn’t imperil our already frail environment. Our homes, and ourselves as well, will have a future.