A recent study performed by the University of Cambridge suggests that the construction industry could reduce its carbon emissions by up to 50 percent by optimizing the design of new buildings to use less steel. Currently, the UK study purports, the design of buildings calls for double the amount of steel and concrete required by safety codes. Researchers feel that through the use of smart design that calls for less of these materials, carbon emissions could be significantly reduced with no impact on safety. The reason given for the construction industry using double the amount of materials required by safety codes is that it keeps labor costs down; optimizing design takes more time than just using repetition.
An analysis of over 10,000 structural beams in 23 buildings throughout the UK was performed, and it was discovered that on average the beams were carrying just half of the load they are capable of. Meanwhile, demand for steel is rising in the developing world, and it is expected that demand will continue to increase. The iron and steel industry is responsible for almost 10% of carbon emissions around the globe, so if the construction industry is able to reduce these emissions through smart design, it could be significant.
Additionally, the study asserted that carbon emissions could be further reduced if buildings are maintained for their entire design life as opposed to being replaced early (many buildings designed for 100 years are replaced after just 40).