Why Domestic Steel Is the Eco-Friendly Building Choice


In addition to its superior durability, extremely low-maintenance profile, versatility, and long life, domestic steel is one of the most environmentally friendly building materials in use today.


 

 

Steel is already cost-effective and can be recycled over and over again.


Durability Wins

In addition to its superior durability, extremely low-maintenance profile, versatility, and long life, domestic structural steel is one of the most environmentally friendly building materials in use today. It can be recycled over and over again with no loss of quality, parts are easily reused, and technological advances in domestic production have reduced greenhouse gas emissions by more than a third over the past 30 years (1) . What’s more, recent scientific developments in the pursuit of “green steel” (or “net zero steel”) are on the cusp of revolutionizing the industry, introducing manufacturing methods that produce little to no carbon emissions.

 

It’s already cost-effective

So not only does domestic steel offer a high-quality, cost-effective option for constructing just about any type of building, it’s also a great way for businesses to reduce their environmental impact. The prevalence of lower-carbon manufacturing technologies in the United States has earned it the lowest carbon footprint of any major steel-producing country. (2) Approximately 70% of steel made in the U.S. comes from plants using electric arc furnaces (EAFs), which use less energy and generate drastically lower carbon emissions than the traditional blast furnaces that produce the majority of steel worldwide. (3)

Almost 93% of the steel you use is already recycled

 

Most of the Steel used is already recycled

What’s more, much of the steel produced in the United States is not made from new material–on average, it contains 93% recycled steel scrap(4) This is partly driven by the high recycling rate of steel overall: according to the American Institute of Steel Construction, 81% of all steel products are recovered for recycling at the end of their life (5) (compare this with the mere 5-8% domestic recycling rate of plastics) (6). It’s also due to the fact that steel can be recycled indefinitely, or “multi-cycled,” without any loss of quality or significant alteration to its key properties.


The impact on Iron ore

The sourcing and reduction of iron ore has been a major focus of clean-up efforts in U.S. steelmaking over the years. Most of it is sourced domestically in the form of pellets, which are more energy-efficient and emit far less carbon dioxide and other pollutants than iron ore sinter. (7) Another widely adopted advancement, direct reduced iron (DRI), uses natural gas instead of coal to reduce iron ore, further lowering carbon emissions.


Only 70 gallons of water needed 

Water management is a key aspect of sustainable steelmaking as well. The U.S. steel industry has become extremely efficient in its use of water, using less than 70 gallons to produce a ton of steel and recycling 95% of it. (8) (9)

Pre-engineered steel buildings are perfect for producing low levels of construction waste

 

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

Steel also scores high on the second part of the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” call to action. Steel buildings are easily modified and consume fewer resources than other kinds of framing when renovated for expansion or repurposed for alternative uses. At the end of a building’s life, steel framing allows for easy disassembly and many parts can be directly reused in other structures without having to be re-smelted and re-rolled.


The eco-friendly pre-engineered route

The design, engineering and detailing phases of a steel building present yet another opportunity to boost its sustainability profile. Because pre-engineered metal buildings are, by definition, painstakingly mapped out in advance for optimal efficiency, they already produce extremely low levels of construction waste (especially compared to wood-based structures, which are notorious for producing large amounts of litter at the construction site). Each piece of steel is custom cut to exact specifications, so very little goes unused. Combine this with sustainably-minded architectural choices and you’ve got a construction project with the potential for minimal environmental impact for the entire life of the building–and beyond.


“Because pre-engineered metal buildings are, by definition, painstakingly mapped out in advance for optimal efficiency, they already produce extremely low levels of construction waste”


 
The power of a fabricator

For example, steel framing lends itself especially well to designs with oversized windows that capitalize on natural light, dramatically reducing electricity use. It is also able to support extremely thick layers of insulation, helping maintain a comfortable indoor climate year-round without excessive energy consumption. This is where it can be very beneficial to have an experienced metal building fabricator on your planning team–the manufacturer is often best equipped to make these kinds of recommendations and set you on a path to sustainability early on in the design process.

 

Upcoming and next: “Green Steel”

 

The next evolution: “Green Steel”

Domestic steel is already one of the eco-friendliest building materials, but the development of “green steel” may soon give it an even bigger role in the effort to reduce our collective impact on the environment. Research is well underway on promising new technologies aimed at producing carbon-neutral steel, such as the innovative manufacturing processes currently in testing at Boston Metal in Woburn, Massachusetts (10) and SSAB in Lulea, Sweden. (11) Both companies are pioneering alternative methods of refining iron ore that release little to no carbon dioxide. Advancements like these, alongside increased use of renewable energy to generate electricity, have the potential to make steel production cleaner and more sustainable than ever.

 

The Package Steel Difference

Package Steel’s building system is in many ways the culmination of the domestic steel industry’s sustainable practices and innovations, producing buildings that help businesses maximize energy efficiency and minimize environmental impact. Fabricated with 95% domestically-sourced steel cut to precise specifications, it allows you to achieve a zero net energy (ZNEB) status when combined with energy-saving design features. An R43-rated Energy Saver (12) insulation system further reduces energy costs and measurably shrinks your business’s overall carbon footprint.

(1) “Why Steel”. American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC).

(2) “Why Steel”. American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC).

(3) “Study finds steelmaking by electric arc furnace in US produces up to 75% less carbon emissions”. Green Car Congress. 26 July 2022.

(4) “More than Recycled Content: The Sustainable Characteristics of Structural Steel”. American Institute of Steel Construction. May 2017.

(5) “Why Steel”. American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC).

(6) Barone, Emily. “U.S. Plastic Recycling Rates Are Even Worse Than We Thought”. Time. 19 May 2022.

(7) “Facts About American Steel Sustainability”. American Iron and Steel Institute.

(8) “Why Steel”. American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC).

(9) Qureshi, Annie. “6 Ways That Steel Building Structures Are Eco-Friendly”. Blue & Green Tomorrow, 13 Aug. 2019.

(10)  Rossi, Marcello. “The Race to Produce Green Steel”. Ars Technica, 19 June 2022.

(11)  de la Garza, Alejandro. “The World’s Steel Comes at a Steep Climate Cost. A Swedish Company is Trying to Change That.” Time, 29 Apr. 2022. 

(12) https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/insulation

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    Some business owners with construction experience choose to build or to coordinate the building of their own structures independently, often with prefabricated metal building kits. This do-it-yourself approach can work for smaller structures, but for medium- to large-sized buildings, it’s best to enlist the services of a high-quality builder. An experienced builder, paired with the right metal building manufacturer, can help guide you through the entire process, from ensuring that your site and structure conform to all local building codes to construction to final approval for occupancy.

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