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Construction remains one of the most intensive material consumers. The primary factors driving future material growth include increased investment in the residential and commercial sectors, increased spending by governments in infrastructure, improving liquidity in the financial markets, a softening of interest rates and ongoing industrialisation in developing economies. The building material manufacturing and supply sector is in a state of transformation, driven in large part by regulations requiring environmentally friendly or ‘green’ materials. The push for green products has spurred interest in bio-based materials, recycled materials, and the inclusion of waste materials. In addition, green building has raised performance requirements for buildings resulting in analysts forecasting a double-digit growth in green materials every year to 2013. From an environmental perspective, ‘green’ materials would be those materials with the least ‘embodied effects', where the word embodied refers to attribution or allocation in an accounting sense as opposed to true physical embodiment, and includes energy, water and toxicity. A five-pillared strategy, based on optimising existing environmentally sound technologies and the research and development of new environmentally sound technologies, is proposed, namely optimise conventional technologies and mainstream fringe technologies, accelerate hybrid technology uptake, develop biotechnology applications and develop nanotechnology applications. It is highly unlikely, however, that there will be a reduction in or a major shift away from conventional bulk materials in the short to medium term. Some new trends will emerge, however, most likely in insulation materials, in a shift away from ceramic products, in a shift away from zinc and copper use in piping towards PVC and other plastics, in a shift towards biocomposite materials in and an uptake of recycled materials most notably in concrete (aggregate substitution), steel and aluminium. It is critical that the construction industry in general, and construction material manufacturers in particular, identify first, the environmental bottlenecks related to current and future material production and consumption, and second, the technological opportunities to mitigate those environmental problems. The construction industry needs to concentrate on those environmental impacts of materials that are caused during material production (extraction, energy and water use) and end-of-life management (waste management and recycling). In some cases, the in-use phase may dominate the overall environmental impacts of product life cycles because of a continuous supply of energy and/or materials during use, e.g. buildings (operation, maintenance, repair).

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