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Taking on the sustainability challenge in civil construction

Posted on September 3rd, 2018 in Infrastructure, News

Australia has more greenhouse gas emissions per capita than any other developed country. According to the latest Australian National Waste Report, almost one fifth of these come from the construction sector (18.1 percent).

Activities such as road and bridge construction and civil engineering projects contribute more greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions per dollar than any other type of construction. This makes sustainability measures a top priority for civil contractors, particularly when it comes to electricity, water, waste and materials.

In the middle of an infrastructure boom, how can the industry curb emissions without losing productivity? Here are some tried-and-tested solutions civil contractors should be following.

Use environmentally-friendly materials

GHG-intensive construction materials are among the largest contributors to the industry’s carbon footprint. Fortunately, there are greener solutions that don’t sacrifice strength or longevity. These include:

  • Recycled materials – from concrete and copper slag to glass, steel and other metals, recycled materials cut the carbon cost of production and cut down on waste.
  • Low-maintenance materials – self-healing concrete and protective coatings for metal help these structures last for longer with minimal repairs.

Reduce waste

Waste is another major obstacle to sustainability, with construction producing around a third of all solid waste in Australia (831kg in 2015). Waste can be reduced by:

  • using durable materials that can be recycled
  • minimising the variety of materials used on each site
  • designing structures with future disassembly in mind
  • removing or renovating structures using deconstruction rather than demolition.

Reduce pollution

Beyond solid waste, civil construction continues to impact on its surroundings and the wider environment through air, water and noise pollution. Careful planning is essential to minimise this pollution, such as:

  • installing drainage ditches, downspouts and gutters to direct storm water into the proper channels
  • using plants to absorb water and carbon dioxide
  • using low-VOC materials
  • upgrading construction vehicles to electric and hybrid models
  • installing sound barriers to reduce construction noise.

Save water

Water conservation should be another critical concern of construction projects, not just on remote sites, but also in urban areas where the water table may be depleting. Construction projects can save water by:

  • harvesting rainwater and recycling greywater
  • using efficient dust suppression systems
  • fitting triggers to hoses
  • fixing leaks as soon as they’re spotted.

Build off-site

Modular construction has been used for efficient building construction for many years, and it’s increasingly being employed in infrastructure projects too. Prefabricating large sections of a superstructure off-site can speed up projects, make them more cost- and energy-efficient and reduce their impact on local residents, with fewer road closures and faster turnaround times.

Follow green building codes

When introducing any sustainability measures, you should check that these are in compliance with green building guidelines. Being awarded green star ratings for your projects shows the industry and the public that you take sustainability seriously and could help you to secure future projects.

Keep up with the changing industry

Hear the latest developments in Australian civil construction and infrastructure from leading industry speakers by attending the National Construction Equipment Convention (NCEC).

This year’s event takes place from 15-17 November 2018 at Sydney Showground, Sydney Olympic Park.

To find out more, visit





Man Yua, Thomas Wiedmanna, Robert Crawford and Catriona Tait. The Carbon Footprint of Australia’s Construction Sector.


Department of the Environment and Energy. Australian National Waste Report 2016.