Environmental impacts of construction and the built environment (2023)

The construction sector offers homes, apartments, commercial premises and the opportunity to rebuild for a greener future. It has been a fundamental part of our continuous development, progress and modernization for centuries. However, despite the many benefits that the construction industry offers, it is not without a negative impact on the environment.

In this article, we will look at some harmful materials and practices used in construction and their impact on the environment.

Harmful materials used in the construction industry.

Environmental impacts of construction and the built environment (1)

Building our places to live and work is very beneficial as it protects us from the natural elements; However, each new concrete slab that is poured and each construction project that is undertaken harms the environment. Materials used in the construction industry that are harmful to the environment, used in the past and present, include:

  1. Lead
  2. Volatile organic compounds
  3. copper chromium arsenate
  4. Asbestos
  5. silica
  6. Polivinilcloreto (PVC)


Lead is an inexpensive, durable, and versatile raw material for construction projects. You will find input cables, cable boxes, paints, surface coatings, and plumbing systems.

The use of lead in construction is dangerous to human health.2. It can cause gastrointestinal and cardiovascular defects, hypertension, kidney problems, anemia, embryotoxicity, neoplasia, bone marrow suppression, and seizures.

Volatile organic compounds

Volatile organic compounds are manufactured compounds that contain chemicals with high vapor pressure and low solubility in water. Today we find VOCs in paints, varnishes, caulks, adhesives, carpeting, vinyl flooring, and engineered wood products. The compounds contained in VOCs are:

  • Formaldehyde
  • acetaldehyde
  • BTEX substances
  • Phenol
  • glycol ether

Formaldehyde:It is a colorless, flammable compound with a pungent odor. You can find formaldehyde in building materials like plywood, chipboard, and other compressed wood products. Breathing formaldehyde is harmful to us: it causes cancer like leukemia.

Acetaldehyde:You can find this chemical in various building materials, lubricants, fire retardant paints, and explosives. Acetaldehyde is also a manufactured chemical with a pungent odor. Manufacturers use it to make other chemical compounds and synthetic resins.

BTEX substances:BTEX is benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, and xylene. These are chemical compounds that form naturally in crude oil and in areas where oil and natural gas deposits exist. Human activities, such as the operation of vehicles and aircraft, generate these substances through the release of emissions. Construction materials such as glues, paints and other rubber products also generate some BTEX substances.

(Video) How do buildings affect the environment

Phenol:This is a compound made from cumene through a four-step Hock production process. Manufacturers use phenol to make phenolic resin by combining it with formaldehyde. In the construction industry, phenolic resins are used to make furniture, castings, adhesives, insulation materials, plywood, and oriented panels. Additionally, manufacturers use it to produce thermoplastics and synthetic fibers for carpets.

Glycol Ether:glycol Ethers are solvents based on alkyl ethers of ethylene glycol or propylene glycol. They are water soluble and biodegradable compounds commonly found in paints and detergents. There are two groups of glycerol ethers: e-series and p-series. You'll find e-series glycerol ethers in water-based paints and p-series in degreasers, cleaners, spray paints, and adhesives.

copper chromium arsenate

Copper Chromium Arsenate contains compounds of chromium, copper and arsenic. It is a wood preservative that builders use to protect wood from insects and microbes.

The United StatesThe Environmental Protection Agency acknowledges the harmful effects of CCA on human health8, but still allow the use. It enters your bloodstream when you inhale emissions from burning wood. However, efforts to prevent construction companies from using it have only been partially effective, as several construction projects still use it.


Asbestos is a biological process that forms fibrous silicate materials. There are six divisions for asbestos, divided into two main categories. They are:

amphibol asbestos

  • kroquidolito
  • He lost
  • anthophilite
  • trémolo
  • actinolito

asbestos coil

  • crisotilo

Asbestos was widely used due to its high resistance to heat, corrosion, and electricity. In the construction industry, it served as an effective insulator. Manufacturers also added it to other materials to make them stronger and more durable.

Over the years, we have discovered that exposure to asbestos is very dangerous. It can cause scarring, inflammation, cancer, and other problems. ScienceNote thatAsbestos is the cause of mesothelioma cancer and a lung disease known as asbestosis.

(Video) Environmental Impact of the Building Industry


Silicon dioxide, an oxide of silicon, is a natural resource found in rock, sand, and clay. There is a lot of silica in the environment. It makes it one of the main materials used in construction, especially road construction.

Silicic acid puts us at risk of developing a lung disease called silicosis9. Silicosis is an incurable lung disease that develops after up to 10 years of constant silica inhalation. Silica inhalation can also cause lung cancer, pulmonary tuberculosis, and other respiratory diseases.

Polivinilcloreto (PVC)

Polyvinyl chloride is a synthetic polymer made from plastic. It is a common component in the manufacture of construction pipes. Contractors also use it for flooring, wiring, and roofing. It is the most widely used plastic material in construction projects because it is versatile and affordable.

There are several forms of polyvinyl chloride, including flexible PVC, rigid PVC, chlorinated polyvinyl chloride, molecularly oriented PVC, and modified PVC.

Although it is a versatile material, it is toxic to the environment. It is one of the main plastic waste in the world. The manufacture and use of PVC releases harmful chemicals that pollute the water and food we eat.

PVC is a chlorine-based plastic.and large amounts of chlorine can be released into the environment during manufacturing4. In addition, other toxic chemicals, such as dioxins and dioxin-like compounds, are produced during the manufacture of PVC.

environmental impact of construction projects

Environmental impacts of construction and the built environment (2)

Looking at the above list of building materials, we can already tell that building materials have an environmental impact on our surroundings. On-site and off-site construction activities also have an impact on the environment. These are some of the environmental impacts of the construction industry:

  • of Climate Change
  • water contamination
  • sound pollution
  • Environmental contamination by construction waste
  • Excessive mining of raw materials.
  • high power consumption

of Climate Change

The construction sector contributes to thisair pollution, which in turn depletes the ozone layer and causes rapid global warming. According to the statistics ofGlobal Report on the State of Buildings and Construction 20195, the United States produces up to 40% of carbon emissions.

All stages of the construction process cause a large amount of CO2 emissions. The construction process ranges from the production of construction materials to transportation and on-site construction, machinery, etc. Many of these processes have high energy requirements; For example, think of all the power of fossil fuel machines required to source wood and metal for many construction projects, all of which contribute to air pollution and greenhouse gases.

(Video) Impacts Of Construction On The Environment

In addition to releasing carbon dioxide, construction projects also release other pollutants into the atmosphere. These contaminants mainly include cement, wood and stone residues. On construction sites, construction and demolition waste is released into the air and reduces air quality. Over time, people breathe these toxic elements into their bloodstream, causing health problems.

water contamination

Another environmental impact of construction iswater contamination. Construction debris affects water in the local area. Toxic chemicals, cement, glue, paint, sand, and oil waste are washed into local water sources such as lakes, rivers, dams, and reservoirs. Plants, animals and humans interact and ingest these polluted waters, leading to health problems such as cancer.

In addition, construction companies that carry out mining projects to extract raw materials cause water pollution. Soils subject to water pollution pose a threat to plant and animal ecosystems due to soil. Water pollution also affects construction projects as they require tons of clean water. Construction companies need to develop measures to reduce water pollution in the environment.

sound pollution

Construction sites generate a lot of noise during their activity because construction workers use heavy machinery and equipment. In the official classification of noise pollutionConstruction works fall under the category of neighborhood noise7. If the construction site is in a crowded area, it will cause sleep deprivation for local residents. It can also lead to high levels of stress.

However, noise affects construction workers the most because they spend hours near the noise. It can lead to partial or total loss of hearing. It can also cause surprising reactions, high levels of anxiety, and cardiovascular problems. The noise from a construction site also affects animals, disrupting their sleep cycles.

Environmental contamination by construction waste

Construction waste is any form of construction, renovation or demolition waste at construction sites. Construction waste ranges from large sizes to small volumes.

2018,The United States registered 600 million tons of construction and demolition waste6. These statistics show that construction companies are responsible for most of the waste in our environment today. Some examples of construction waste are concrete, brick, ferrous and non-ferrous metals, plastics, and other waste.

Some construction companies do not properly dispose of waste, increasing environmental pollution. The construction industry must strive to reduce and properly dispose of waste from its projects. You need to focus on recycling some valuable materials instead of turning them into landfills.

Excessive mining of raw materials.

Construction projects require large amounts of raw materials to complete building structures. These raw materials are sand, gravel, clay, calcium carbonate, water, aggregates, wood, iron, bitumen, aluminum and vehicle fuel. Worldwatch Institute records show that construction companies use 40% of the world's natural stone, sand and gravel.In addition, up to 25% of fresh wood is used annually3.

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However, these natural resources are threatened with extinction due to the rapid pace at which construction companies are building infrastructure. The construction sector is one of the largest consumers of raw materials in the world. And if the build volume continues to consume non-renewable resources, depletion becomes inevitable.

Related: environmental impact of mining

high power consumption

Environmental impacts of construction and the built environment (3)

Construction sites require a lot of energy because they carry out many activities. Some of these activities include:

  • Concrete
  • site cleaning
  • Transportation of construction workers to the construction site
  • garbage deposit
  • crane operation
  • Diesel for material handling and operation
  • Turning on
  • emptying and filling

The construction industry is responsible for 36% of global energy consumption1. Without other measures to reduce energy consumption, construction projects will generate an intolerable level of greenhouse gases.

In addition, the resulting residential and commercial buildings consume more energy due to increased floor space, heating, lighting, and appliances. Energy levels for lighting and appliances are close to 18 EJ. The energy rates for space are also the highest at 42 EJ. This fact remains despite the efforts to promote and demand energy efficient buildings.

What is sustainable construction?

Sustainable construction is the implementation of a construction project using materials and processes that are safe for the environment. Sustainable construction aims to reduce the negative impact of construction on our health and the environment, allowing the industry to meet emission reduction targets and reduce fuel consumption.



Many people have never thought about the environmental impact of construction on our local environment. The environmental impact of construction affects not only the plant and soil ecosystem, but also people. Our health is at risk when construction companies do not practice sustainable construction projects.


M. Santamouris, K. Vasilakopoulou,Current and future energy consumption of buildings: Challenges and opportunities of decarbonization, e-Prime – Advances in Electricity, Electronics and Energy, Volume 1, 2021, 100002, ISSN 2772-6711, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.prime.2021.100002


Shakhawat Chowdhury,11 - Lead-Based Construction and Building Materials: Human Exposure, Hazards, and Hazard Control, Em Woodhead Publishing Series in Civil and Structural Engineering, Advances in the Toxicity of Construction and Building Materials, Woodhead Publishing, 2022, Seiten 243-259, ISBN 9780128245330, https://doi.org/10.1016/B978-0-12- 824533-0.00007-4


Ametepey, S.O. y Ansah, S. K. (2014).Impacts of construction activities on the environment: the case of Ghana.


Thornton, J. (2002).Environmental impacts of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) building materials.(pdf). Washington, DC: Healthy Buildings Network.


Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction. 20192019 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction


United States Department of Environmental Protection. (2018).Promotion of sustainable materials management


Noise Pollution Statement for England (NPSE)(pdf), DEFRA, March 2010 (UK Government)


United States Environmental Protection Agency (February 4, 2022).Chrome arsenic (CCA).


Chi Chiu Leung, Ignacio Tak Sun Yu, Weihong Chen,Silicosis, The Lancet , vol. 379, Issue 9830, 2012, Pages 2008-2018, ISSN 0140-6736, https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(12)60235-9

(Video) How does construction affect the environment?


What are the environmental impacts of construction? ›

Does construction impact the environment negatively? According to some studies, construction is responsible for up to 50% of climate change. It also impacts landfills and air, water, and noise pollution.

What is the impact of the built environment on the ecosystem and environment? ›

The built environment directly affects habitat, ecosystems, endangered species, and water quality through consumption, fragmentation, and replacement of natural cover with impervious surfaces.

What are four examples of the built environment? ›

Examples would include cities, buildings, urban spaces, walkways, roads, parks, etc. The study of the built environment is interdisciplinary in nature and can include such disciplines as: visual arts.

What are the 3 main impacts on the environment? ›

The list of issues surrounding our environment go on, but there are three major ones that affect the majority of them overall: global warming and climate change; water pollution and ocean acidification; and loss of biodiversity.

What are the top 5 impacts on the environment? ›

Humans impact the physical environment in many ways: overpopulation, pollution, burning fossil fuels, and deforestation. Changes like these have triggered climate change, soil erosion, poor air quality, and undrinkable water.

What is construction and the built environment? ›

The Construction Industry Council (CIC) suggest that the built environment, '... encompasses all forms of building (housing, industrial, commercial, hospitals, schools, etc.), and civil engineering infrastructure, both above and below ground and includes the managed landscapes between and around buildings.

What are the advantages of built environment? ›

In addition to economic benefits, advancing SMM in the built environment has the potential to conserve resources, reduce waste, enhance resiliency to natural and man-made disasters, and minimize the environmental impacts of the materials we use.

What makes a built environment sustainable? ›

A sustainable built environment is circular, designed for longevity, flexibility, adaptability, assembly, disassembly, reuse and recoverability, and considers future climate risks. It uses low-carbon, low-impact, non-toxic materials and it recovers used resources (materials and products on-site or from other sites).


1. Reducing the environmental impact of the built environment. A conversation with Brendan Wallace
2. Construction: The Built Environment | #COP26
3. What is sustainable Construction?
(Jack Graham)
4. Sydney's $5BN Tunnel U-Turn
(The B1M)
5. How nature can change the built environment, part one
(CNBC International TV)
6. Value the planet: Challenges facing the built environment


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