Finally, the Trend Toward Sustainable Construction Takes Hold

Sometimes trends in the construction industry are reflected in the strangest of places. I read an article about how the H&M clothing store is struggling and just last weekend noticed Forever 21 has filed for bankruptcy. For those of you who don’t have teenage daughters who are always looking for cheap and stylish clothing, H&M and Forever 21 are renowned for selling low-priced, trendy clothing that might last for one season. They have mastered the trade of selling disposable clothing. The fact that their sales are down reflects a consumer trend that is moving toward quality and sustainability rather than fashion. Consumers are being drawn toward classic designs that will last for decades. Recently, I have seen this same trend toward quality and away from throwaway building materials gaining momentum in the construction industry.

For the past 30-plus years, the construction industry has concentrated on how to deliver a structure for the lowest possible price. This obsession with lowering cost has driven manufacturers to pursue cheaper materials and designs and owners to squeeze every penny from the bidding process. This “price is king” mentality consistently drove down quality of design, materials and labor to a point where class-action lawsuits became the resulting profitable industry. Just like the cheap blouse at H&M, windows, hardware, appliances, plumbing fixtures, lighting, etc., are designed to reside in the landfill after satisfying a 10-year warranty. But a growing dissatisfaction with cheap construction practices has given birth to a refreshing trend toward sustainability.

I first saw this movement toward quality reflected in my business. Re-View Window and Door Restoration restores historic windows and manufactures historic-replica windows that are designed to perform for centuries. Our business model is based upon quality, not price, and during the past 25 years, we have seen a consistent demand for business. Our products are also designed to be easily maintained to extend the life over several generations. One doesn’t have to look far for other examples of the drive toward quality and sustainable design: 

  1. The green building movement, which has previously focused on energy efficiency, has expanded to concentrate on sustainability and recyclability. The life cycle of a building is a critical factor in this program.
  2. The use of recyclable materials is expanding in all areas of the construction industry with materials, such as aluminum, glass and wood, gaining acceptance at the expense of petroleum-based products, like vinyl.
  3. The glass industry is shifting its priorities from energy efficiency to quality. “We became myopic about energy efficiency … now we are starting to think in terms of life cycle,” said Mic Patterson of Schuco USA.
  4. The need for increased strength has long driven the concrete industry for years. Now, because of the escalation in repair and replacement costs, manufacturers are paying more attention to durability than strength.
  5. Commercial project bidding practices are evolving as evidenced by the increasing popularity of the Integrated Project Delivery (IPD) method. Rather than basing the reward of a project on lowest price, this method connects the owner, design team and key subcontractors to work together from design through implementation.
  6. Building Information Modeling (BIM) has adopted a “circular construction” model where materials stay in play for longer, getting reused or recycled whenever possible. Buildings are being viewed as “material banks” and the bill of materials captured by BIM facilitates reuse.
  7. The use of independent quality control of construction processes is more widely used than ever before. At Re-View, for example, we have glazing, finishes, sealants and other elements tested by independent agencies on a regular basis.

I’m greatly heartened to see this trend toward better-quality and more sustainable construction practices gain a foothold. It’s been missing for far too long, resulting in added job expense in the form of rework, missed deadlines and shoddy workmanship. When construction quality suffers, the industry as a whole suffers. I’m hopeful that as we move into 2020, we’ll see a greater emphasis on quality control and personal ownership of all aspects of the end product. For now, because my daughters are both grown, I’m just glad my days of purchasing sub-standard clothing at H&M and Forever 21 are over.

About the Author

Brooks Gentleman
Brooks Gentleman has a master's degree in business from Southern Methodist University and a bachelor's degree in economics from Colorado College. He comes to Re-View with 25 years of window experience.

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