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Brick brings buildings back to nature, toward net-zero

With sustainability top of mind in construction, there’s no stronger choice than quality brick.

The guiding idea behind Earth Day is that individual choices shape environmental conditions on a larger scale. Much like a built structure itself, every part matters to the whole. For the construction industry, making better choices at the project level means examining how building materials themselves can make or break sustainability.

Companies and contractors have leading roles to play in the fight against climate change. Research from Deloitte suggests that built environments account for nearly 40% of global carbon emissions every year. To this end, the construction industry has embraced net-zero emissions goals, aligning with the ambitious standards set by the Paris Agreement in 2015. In the American market, the transition to greener materials is also being accelerated by a bevy of new legislation targeting the global warming potential of building products, requiring construction companies to gradually shift toward materials with lower emissions.

Fortunately, there is no need to wait for a sophisticated new product to begin chipping away at these goals. Embracing brick in construction is a solid way to make the green transition practical and affordable for all parties involved. Brick boasts well-demonstrated benefits for cost effectiveness and creating safer, healthier places for human habitation and activity.  

“An earthen material made of clay, brick is unique in its versatility and longevity,” said Denise Smith, marketing manager for Glen-Gery, one of North America’s largest brick manufacturers and a Brickworks North America company. “Choosing brick in construction is really going back to nature, but boasts long-term benefits.”

To fully appreciate the benefits of brick in construction, it helps to remember exactly what elements go into sustainable design. Such designs integrate a number of key elements, including functionality, safety, environmental performance, accessibility and durability. Ideally, the materials used in a sustainable building will have these same features and functions. This is definitely true of brick, a medium that can last for centuries, is comparatively low-maintenance and needs its mortar repointed as rarely as every 50 years.

In residential construction, bricks are especially sought-after by homeowners searching for savings on climate control costs, because they are a high-density material that provides natural thermal comfort and insulation. Additionally, bricks do not emit harmful gasses into homes. They do not combust or burn, giving families considerable peace of mind in terms of fire safety. Brick also tackles noise pollution and provides acoustic comfort with its ability to absorb sounds and vibrations, acting as a protective barrier both within a home and outside it. 

Brick products have a comparatively small environmental footprint. Their embodied energy, which is defined as all of the energy required to extract, refine, process, build and maintain a material, is lower than those of polystyrene, particleboard and steel. And because they are weatherproof, bricks are an equally attractive option for commercial buildings whose owners want to reduce insurance costs that are being pushed up by climate change

Still, not all bricks are created equal. Decision-makers should pay close attention to the sustainability bona fides of the partner brands to whom they turn. Glen-Gery, for its part, has deservedly cultivated a reputation for brick products capable of meeting the most demanding designs and construction specifications. As a part of Brickworks North America, Glen-Gery produces 600 brick products from eight manufacturing facilities, selling them at 26 company-owned Brickworks Supply Centers and across a vast distributor network nationwide. 

Three Brickworks Design Studios, located in Baltimore, Philadelphia and New York City, offer a centralized space to collaborate on designs, make purchases and attend special events and educational programming.

Overall, players in the construction industry will see clear benefits from embracing brick. For one thing, clear majorities of American consumers have indicated a desire to live in sustainable homes. For 65% of those surveyed, the goal of conserving energy in their living spaces was of particular importance. To this end, research demonstrates that clay bricks outperform cement, vinyl and stucco in energy efficiency by as much as 50%. 

On the commercial side, four out of every five companies surveyed in 2021 were focused on boosting green building efforts within the next one to three years. Concerns about return on investment in real property will boost the attractiveness of sustainably built office spaces. Commercial green buildings have been shown by studies to rent at rates 2% higher than their non-green counterparts nearby, a significant benefit at a time when real estate revenues have been taking a hit across the board. 

“A huge part of sustainability is creating spaces that are meaningful,” said Smith. “Sustainable building projects require ticking as many boxes as possible when it comes to the efficiency, utility and longevity of a space.” 

“The investment made in creating a space early on ideally pays long-term dividends in terms of less required maintenance, lower energy costs and a longer lifespan for that building,” she continued. “Brick is really special in its ability to enable all of this and more. It is not only physically resilient in basically lasting forever, but has had a role in just about every design period throughout history.”

Of course, there is no silver bullet or single solution for creating more sustainable spaces. But the unique strengths and inimitable qualities of brick go a long way toward addressing complex sustainability goals. On multiple levels, there is no sturdier choice than high-quality brick.