How to Source Sustainable Building Materials for a Greener Future

Increasing levels of investment in sustainable building materials provides greener options, but sourcing those options can be a problem. How can construction companies identify sustainable alternatives?
August 12, 2020

Transitioning to sustainable building materials offer a number of significant advantages for the construction industry and the communities they serve. Sustainable structures can reduce the waste associated with a build, and are often less expensive to maintain and healthier for the people who occupy them. Sustainable construction is not a fad, but rather an evolutionary advancement involving techniques and materials. It is, in fact, a part of the social responsibility trend that constituencies are increasingly demanding.

Emily Folk, the creator of Conservation Folks, wrote the following to wrap up one of her recent articles in Construction Executive.

“Construction industry trends increase in their efficiency and prevalence each year. The only way toward progress is forward, and innovators are continuously creating new materials for industry professionals to use. There's no shortage of brilliant ideas—it’s on construction companies to take the lead.”

Increasing levels of investment in sustainable building materials solve one problem of providing greener options—but they may create another: the best way to find them. How can construction companies stay abreast of the latest innovations and identify sustainable alternatives to conventional materials without delaying the process of bidding on projects or connecting with the suppliers and subcontractors they seek?

As pointed out before, the success of any sourcing effort will be determined by whether or not general contractors and construction executives have a transparent and agile view of their suppliers—including those they have worked with in the past as well as new alternatives. In addition, there are often specific additional requirements, such as environmental, safety, or diversity certifications, and finding suppliers with the desired combination of capabilities and company profile can be a complex task.

Before the construction industry can truly lead in the use of sustainable materials and methods, it will need a specific combination of systems and processes designed to optimize supplier capabilities, characteristics and certifications without increasing costs or imposing project delays.

Supplier Visibility

The broader the pool of suppliers to be considered for any sourcing effort, the more robust the enabling technology must be. Internet searches are a poor solution when trying to meet complex, nuanced supplier requirements. Even traditional supplier databases and portals leave much to be desired. They are static and fail to address sustainability-related innovation because they only contain already known suppliers and the already known capabilities of suppliers that may have expanded their offerings over time. Instant visibility across the organization along with enriched, predictive supplier information allows for the faster formation of better third-party relationships. The first step in finding a supplier with specialized or sustainable capabilities is building a shortlist of qualified suppliers, and that process is made easier when starting with a comprehensive, easy to search supplier master.

Sustainability Capabilities

If finding qualified suppliers is like finding a needle in a haystack, then finding suppliers who can be trusted to partner with a company to solve complex challenges using innovative solutions is a next-level challenge. Sustainable construction requires a specific approach to building projects, and a company’s suppliers and their subcontractors must also subscribe to its importance. Committed suppliers will pursue relevant certifications, such as the ISO 14000 family of environmental standards that help organizations “minimize how their operations negatively affect the environment; comply with applicable laws, regulations, and other environmentally oriented requirements; and continually improve in the above.”

For companies looking to locate a supplier with a specific capability and an environmental certification, the sourcing process can be improved when supplier master data is enriched with the third-party data required to validate the current standing (and appropriate documentation) of each company.

Corporate Social Responsibility

While sustainability is often associated with green initiatives and the environment, companies that align their decision-making with this philosophy are often looking to invest in other segments of the supplier community as well. Supplier diversity is a broad category that includes small business, woman-owned, minority-owned, veteran-owned, and many more. Each of these designations has a certification program, and while it is the responsibility of the supplier to keep their certification and documentation up to date, it is a company’s responsibility to ensure that they are making the commitment to the diverse supplier community they think they are. Once again, not having to rely on the “wilds” of the Internet or a static supplier portal for supplier information becomes a competitive advantage and allows decision-makers to refine their supplier selection efforts quickly and easily.

Investing in sustainable building materials is a strategic priority for the construction industry as a whole and for executives in particular. Once the decision has been made to prioritize sustainability, or other supplier development programs such as diversity and small or local supplier partnerships, access to information is absolutely critical. Supplier information is constantly evolving, and so the resources executives turn to must facilitate a steady stream of updates and valuable enrichment from third parties. This combines the processes of sourcing and vetting, improving supplier decisions and project sustainability to satisfy the increasing requirements of the marketplace.

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