Revolutionizing Construction: Exploring Masonry’s Role in Sustainability

Each year, the masonry industry incorporates new materials and technologies to ensure block, brick, and stone remain the best solution for long-lasting and cost-effective buildings. Incorporating sustainability practices in masonry construction, such as using recycled materials or locally sourced stones and bricks, contributes to environmental conservation and can also enhance the building’s energy efficiency. Discover the eco-forward characteristics of masonry:


Masonry’s life cycle begins with the extraction of raw materials. For bricks, this involves mining clay and shale; for stone masonry, it involves quarrying natural stones like limestone, granite, or marble; and for concrete blocks, extracting sand, gravel, and limestone for cement. Once processed, manufacturing then requires the most energy usage, though this is eventually offset by masonry’s durability, minimal maintenance, and potential for reuse and recycling. 

During construction, the durability and thermal mass of block, brick, and stone contribute to the building’s structural integrity and energy efficiency over decades or even centuries. In fact, completed in 1795, the last remaining Spanish Presidio church in America, the Royal Presidio Chapel in Monterey, is also the oldest stone building in California. Masonry structures generally require minimal maintenance due to their durability. However, occasional repairs, such as repointing mortar joints in brickwork or sealing stone, might be necessary.

Royal Presidio Chapel. Photo courtesy: Getty Images


Masonry materials have high thermal mass, meaning they absorb and store heat easily. Due to this effect, masonry buildings can maintain more consistent indoor temperatures, reducing the reliance on heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems leading to lower energy consumption and cost savings over time. Properly constructed masonry buildings are almost completely airtight, reducing unwanted air infiltration that well in passive solar building designs, where blocks absorb and store heat from the sun and then release it into the building as needed.

Graph courtesy CMACN


At the end of their life, masonry materials can often be repurposed or recycled. While it can take hundreds of years for a brick to break down naturally, existing bricks can be cleaned and reused in new construction or crushed for use as aggregate. Stones can be reused in their original form or crushed for other uses. And concrete blocks can be crushed and recycled for use in new concrete or as a base material for roads. The use of recycled materials in masonry is an increasingly popular practice, contributing to sustainability and reducing the negative environmental impact of construction. 

Some brick manufacturers incorporate recycled materials such as crushed glass, slag from steel manufacturing, or fly ash from coal combustion, into their products. This not only diverts waste from landfills but also reduces energy consumption and emissions. Similarly, recycled concrete, obtained from demolished structures, can be crushed and reused as an aggregate in the production of new concrete blocks or paving materials. And there’s more innovation to come as researchers continue to explore the use of plastic waste in creating lightweight, insulated bricks as the state continues to face challenges like climate change and resource conservation.


Known for its progressive environmental policies, California has several green building certifications and standards that emphasize sustainability, energy efficiency, and environmental responsibility. In fact, on August 2, 2023, California became the first state to “set general code standards that require the reduction of embodied carbon emissions in the design and building process applicable to both commercial buildings and schools,” a press release from AIA California stated. Here are some key certifications and standards:

California Green Building Standards Code (CALGreen): The first statewide mandatory green building code in the US. Implemented in 2011, it sets requirements for new buildings in California to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, improve energy efficiency, and conserve water. The code includes planning and design, energy efficiency, water efficiency, material conservation, and environmental quality.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED): A widely recognized green building certification program globally — and extensively used in California — provides a framework for healthy, efficient, carbon and cost-saving green buildings. LEED certification is available for virtually all building types and is based on a point system for various green building strategies across categories. Depending on the number of points achieved, a project can be awarded Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum LEED status.

The Albert Robles Center (ARC) for Water Recycling and Environmental Learning in Pico Rivera  is a 5.2 acre advanced water treatment facility campus. The masonry construction meets high standards of sustainability, contributing to the building’s distinctive design and its LEED® rating.  Photo courtesy: MIA

Energy Star: While this is a national program, it’s highly relevant in California. Energy Star certification signifies that a building meets strict energy performance standards set by the US Environmental Protection Agency. These buildings use less energy, are less expensive to operate, and cause fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Net-Zero Energy Building Certification: California has ambitious goals for net-zero energy (NZE) buildings, aiming for all commercial buildings to be NZE by 2030. An NZE building produces as much energy as it consumes over a year, achieved through energy efficiency and renewable energy sources like solar panels.

Living Building Challenge: This is a rigorous certification program that focuses on regenerative design. Buildings that meet the Living Building Challenge standards must be self-sufficient for energy and water for a full year and meet stringent sustainability and environmental health criteria.

The intersection of traditional masonry techniques with modern sustainable practices marks a significant evolution in California’s construction industry. Embracing both the past and the future, masonry continues to prove its versatility and resilience, ensuring that brick, stone, and concrete blocks remain not only relevant but integral in creating cost-effective, long-lasting, and environmentally conscious buildings.