The development and implementation of green building materials has been a “hot topic” in the construction industry for a number of years now as we seek to find sustainable ways to continue to meet our requirements without causing further damage to our planet. Just as with other types of green technologies, such as those utilized in the energy sector, the main factor that has prevented the widespread adoption of eco-friendly materials in the construction industry has a rather familiar ring to it – price. Whilst the overall public awareness of the need to start using these materials has increased substantially, largely owing to strong media coverage around this particular subject, the difference in cost between traditional materials and construction methods and newer sustainable solutions is still considerable. In order for a building to meet LEED certification standards (learn more about the LEED certification system), the total cost of the project typically increases somewhere in the region of 3 – 5 percent. One comparison that is often made is that involving drywall construction and modular wall systems; the latter is far more cost effective in the long run and also more eco-friendly, but often costs considerably more than drywall (the exact cost obviously depends on the project specifications). We’re going to take a closer look at why you should look past that initial cost and why modular wall systems are much more environmentally friendly.
Fixating On the Initial Cost is the Wrong Approach: Here’s Why
Business owners are beginning to look more towards the cost of a product over its entire lifecycle when planning modifications to workspaces, but this change in mentality is a slow process. Too often the cash investment that is required upfront is the main factor influencing the decision making process, but this is the wrong way to look at the situation. “From the moment modular wall systems are installed at a commercial space they begin saving your business money” says Shay Sekler, Founder and President of IMT Modular Partitions Ltd. “The challenge is to change your mindset and see the redevelopment of your facility as a long term investment rather than a short term cost.”
A report compiled by California’s Sustainable Building Task Force in 2003 entitled “The Costs and Financial Benefits of Green Buildings,” stated that if the upfront costs of a construction project are increased by just 2 percent to allow the use of green building materials, a saving of approximately 20 percent will be experienced over the space’s lifetime. To put that another way, any investment you make initially will likely pay you back ten times over through increased savings. That’s the power of installing modular wall systems!
The Environmental Impact: The Problem With the Traditional Construction Process
Financial motivations aren’t the only reason why demountable wall systems are being purchased by companies right across the world though; modular wall systems are billed as a way for companies to reduce their carbon footprint and become “greener” and as you will see from the following statistics, this is a shift that has to happen.
According to the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC), 35 percent of the total amount of the greenhouse gases that are so damaging to the earth’s atmosphere are generated by buildings. The construction industry is also responsible for approximately 35 percent of the waste that is sent to landfill sites. When those statistics are added to the fact that half of the world’s natural resources are used for construction related activities (Edwards and Hyett, 2001), it becomes fairly easy to comprehend just why so many countries are utilizing incentives to speed up the development and adoption of greener materials and construction practices.
Incredibly, construction materials from new developments account for close to a fifth of the total amount of solid waste that is found in landfill, much of which is classified as “wood waste” ( wood accounts for 70 percent of the natural resources that are used in construction). Interestingly, drywall is the second most deposited construction material in landfill sites. How is such a high amount of waste possible? The waste really results from the way in which conventional construction projects are undertaken. The project or site manager is responsible for purchasing the materials required and only once those materials are available can the various tradesmen come in and carry out the work required (i.e. the tradesmen don’t provide the raw materials on an “as needed” basis) for the project to be completed. This approach can lead to wastage in a number of different ways.
Firstly, if a general contractor books the services of a particular tradesman or construction team, but then doesn’t have the necessary materials available on that date, this can slow the construction process down significantly, so much so that deadlines could be missed. Consequently, many general contractors will purchase materials in higher quantities, providing themselves with some additional leeway in order to guarantee that all work will be completed on time. Simply put, construction professionals would rather risk overbuying materials and then sending the waste to landfill than they would risk delays that could cause the project to overrun. Secondly, many material suppliers often deliver orders with a 10 percent safety margin due to the fact that building methods are not standardized (i.e. not all tradesmen work in exactly the same way). Also, contractors really have no incentive to be as efficient as possible with the materials they are provided with, leading to even further waste.
Many studies have been completed over the years to look into how much waste is produced at construction sites in order to try and streamline the process and utilize resources more effectively. It’s estimated that almost 10 percent of all materials that arrive at a construction site will eventually leave it as waste.
Why Modular Wall Systems Are More Eco-Friendly
Modular wall systems aren’t produced onsite; they are produced at a manufacturing facility and then delivered to the construction site, many times in a near finished state. This fact alone has significant environmental benefits since the amount of fuel utilized in the transport of materials is significantly reduced (only one journey is required instead of dozens). Additionally, these manufacturing facilities do not produce so much waste. Whilst it’s not time effective for a construction team to collect all offcuts and repackage them so that they can be used on another project (assuming these materials meet the specifications of a future project, which isn’t terribly likely), the manufacturing facility produces modular wall systems to the client’s exact specifications and if any waste is produced, it’s usually possible for it to be reused.
The scheduling of a modular construction project, such as those involving demountable wall systems, can also be done much easier. Whilst the walls are being manufactured, the client can ensure that the installation site is stripped down and prepared. Then once the modular walls are ready, they can typically be installed as soon as they are delivered, which again further decreases the amount of fuel and energy required to complete the project.
The environmental benefits of modular wall systems become very evident when product replacement and reconfiguration of the interior space are considered. Remember, modular wall systems are completely reusable, meaning they can be disassembled and then reassembled again in a different area or in a different configuration (depending on the type of system you purchased). This helps to further reduce the amount of construction waste that is sent to landfill and also lowers the requirement for new construction materials. With a fixed drywall, 100 percent of the wall must be replaced and this waste is then sent to landfill (we mentioned earlier that drywall is the second most common construction material sent to landfill). Not only that, but additional energy and raw materials must be consumed in order to produce the replacement walls.
IMT Modular Partitions Ltd. takes pride in helping to preserve the environment and not only do our products offer all of the benefits that have already been discussed, but we ensure that the absolute minimum amount of strain is placed upon natural resources when our products are being manufactured. 94 percent of the raw materials that we utilize are at least partially recycled and any waste that is generated is put back into recycling.
As we outlined earlier, initial cost is not the single most important factor when making a choice between drywall construction (or any type of “traditional” construction for that matter) and modular walls. Modular walls represent a genuine investment opportunity that will not only improve the bottom line of your business for many years to come, but that will also protect our planet and make it a safer place to live in without having to make any extreme lifestyle compromises.