Building sustainably through innovation

By Teodor GeorgievLex KlerenMisch Pautsch

Innovation in the construction sector is needed to bring down its inevitably big effect on carbon emissions. While front runners are tripping over red tape, authorities are devising all-inclusive regulation as researchers advocate working together.

Notoriously, human impact is the main reason for climate change, kick-started by the industrial revolution some 250 years ago. Today, we are trying to adapt by ushering in the age of sustainability. But a few pesky sectors are struggling to get off the mark. Globally, the construction industry marked record high carbon emissions in 2021, according to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). In Luxembourg, the government has targeted improvement in this domain, however a 2022 assessment outlined that a lot more effort is still needed. 

Innovation is the most obvious solution for a construction sector that is finding it hard to take a step in a different direction. In this category, there are many positive examples in Luxembourg, including front-runners such as Stugalux. Each of the construction company’s employees has a Building Information Modelling (BIM) app on their phone, which displays a digital representation of all projects. This tool allows construction companies to catalogue extensive information on quantities of materials, to view a 3D model of the building, and to better collaborate internally. Having data on how much wood, concrete, steel, and other such components are used in a project is essential when it comes to sustainability. Having this data can allow companies to reuse in the future materials from demolished buildings that would otherwise be overlooked or not utilised adequately. Salvaging parts of buildings is not a new concept as the owner of Stugalux, Joel Schons points out: "Most of the marble from the Colosseum, in Rome, you can find it in the buildings in Vatican City." Therefore, sustainability is not about reinventing the wheel, but about using better tools to reduce our carbon footprint.

Different conditions require different materials

Adaptation is also needed in heating. The temperatures that Luxembourg experiences have changed significantly since the construction of most buildings that are now in place. Long, freezing winters are a thing of the past and insulation materials have evolved a lot. "Our insulation is so good that basically cooking spaghetti in the morning in the evening and the afternoon or doing some kind of heating with your system [generates] enough heat within your house, and it stays within your house, " says Schons. Electric appliances such as refrigerators radiate heat and can contribute to warming up a room. So, the challenge that architects and construction companies in Luxembourg are more and more facing now is how to keep the heat out rather than in. Air conditioning is not a preferred solution due to its intensive use of electricity, the production of which leads to more carbon emissions. Using materials like, hemp, straw or recycled cotton as insulation can be a sustainable option when it comes to protecting a building from the temperatures outside.

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