by Dirk Hebel, Workshop Mentor & Professor of Sustainable Construction, Karlsruhe Institut für Technologie (KIT), Karlsruhe, Germany & Member of the Academic Committee, Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction
According to the surveys released by the European Union (EU) in 2020, the construction industry is responsible for 40% of global CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions, 50% of primary energy consumption, 50% of primary raw materials used and 36% of produced solid waste. Mainstream building practices are unsustainable.
The construction sector not only uses an extensive amount of material resources, but it is also responsible for the use of material compounds that are harmful to both humans and the environment, and prevent the establishment of a true circular economy whereby we no longer distinguish between waste and supply.
It is not enough to simply talk about better or more efficient steps to take within the existing systems; it is time for a real paradigm shift. We need to scrutinise our existing system and identify strategies that promote fundamentally sustainable practices, ranging from innovations in the material sector to shifting the way we construct in order to gain all materials after use in their original quality and the promotion of circular metabolisms, detoxification and durability, as well as the elimination of the concept of waste altogether.
Within this vision, housing, as one of the most basic human needs, plays an important role. The questions of how we live together and how we resocialise obsolete materials, structures and spaces is an essential part of the debate on sustainable living and, therefore, on sustainable construction as well. Next to the desired social and ecological impact, the economical aspect of housing has the potential to create local value chains fuelled by locally available urban and biological mines and human capital, and so construct dignified housing environments.