Sustainability is an increasingly relevant issue today. Companies across all industries face rising pressure from governments and consumers to become more environmentally friendly. Sustainability is a worthwhile cause, but it can be challenging for construction teams.
The construction industry has a less-than-perfect record with sustainability. In 2018, the sector accounted for 36% of global energy use and 39% of energy and process-related carbon dioxide emissions. Construction and demolition projects also generated 600 million tons of debris, which is more than double the municipal solid waste that year.
While it’s clear something has to change, it’s less evident how you can do that. Thankfully, there are a few relatively straightforward ways you can make your operations more sustainable. Here are five of them.
1. Embrace BIM
You have many new technologies available today, but building information modeling (BIM) may be the most significant. If you haven’t used BIM before, it’s a type of software that lets you design, edit, and share digital project models. While this may seem unrelated to sustainability, it can be a tremendous help in reducing waste and improving efficiency.
One of the most beneficial features of BIM is clash detection, which highlights potential problems before they arise. By fixing these issues before the construction phase, you’ll save a tremendous amount of time. Less time spent working on a project translates into fewer emissions, since heavy machinery and tools don’t run as long.
BIM also provides more transparency in the design phase by helping you create more sustainable buildings. In 2009, the Miami Science Museum used BIM to see how design impacts energy consumption and helps make the most efficient choices possible. With this kind of analysis, you can ensure your projects are sustainable long after construction ends.
2. Use Sustainable Materials
Sustainable construction is about more than just reducing emissions and waste during the building phase. The choices you make in design can influence how eco-friendly a building is across its lifespan. One of the best ways to improve lifetime environmental impact is to use sustainable building materials.
The materials you use come with their own carbon footprint you may not have considered. For example, cement production accounts for 8% of global CO2 emissions annually. Building with eco-friendly materials instead can reduce your overall environmental impact more than you’d think. Green resources are also more widely available than you might expect.
From composite shingles to hemp insulation, you can find eco-friendly alternatives for virtually every material you can imagine. While some of these are more expensive than traditional options, some are cheaper, and you have to consider the lifetime energy costs, too.
Overall, green materials are a straightforward, effective way to reduce your project’s carbon footprint.
3. Keep Equipment in Optimum Condition
Heavy machinery is one of the biggest culprits of construction-related emissions. You may not have the budget to switch your machines out for electric alternatives yet, but you can improve their sustainability through maintenance. If you keep your equipment in top condition, they’ll work more efficiently, producing fewer emissions.
The industry standard is to fix problems when they arise, but preventive maintenance is far more effective. Maintaining equipment regularly prevents costly breakdowns, and it has several environmental benefits, too. For example, it increases machines’ lifespans and informs more efficient fueling schedules.
Manufacturing a new machine generates a lot of emissions, so extending current machines’ lifespans can be a more eco-friendly option. Regular maintenance will also help keep emissions down by ensuring engines run more efficiently. The best part about this key to sustainability is that it also saves you money, so it’s a win-win situation.
4. Minimize Transportation
Transportation is an often-overlooked aspect of construction’s emissions, but it’s a significant one. Projects involve a lot of transportation, from material deliveries to workers driving to and from the jobsite. Since road transportation alone accounts for 15% of total emissions, all this travel has a considerable impact on the environment.
Consider how the construction industry employs more than 11.2 million people in the U.S. If all of those people drove themselves to work, it would translate into substantial emissions. In contrast, if you carpool and encourage others to do the same, you can shave off a significant portion of project-related emissions.
Delivery-related transportation is another crucial area to consider. The answer here is more thorough planning. If you have more accurate estimates for a project’s material needs, you can schedule it all to arrive in one delivery, reducing the need for transportation. Similarly, sourcing from nearby suppliers will help minimize transportation-related emissions.
5. Set and Measure Sustainability Targets
Finally, no sustainability initiative is complete without goal-setting and measuring. Going green is an ongoing process, not a one-and-done task, so it helps to measure how successful your changes are. If you set sustainability targets, you’ll have something to compare your actions against, informing future changes to your work sites.
If you don’t know where to start, you can turn to environmental, social, and governance (ESG) rating companies. ESG criteria cover more than just environmental impact, but that’s a substantial part of the equation. Getting an audit from one of these agencies can show you the things you do well and where you can improve, informing future goals.
Once you have these goals, it’ll be easier to see what kinds of eco-friendly improvements you can pursue. After making these changes, you can then measure their results compared to your goals, showing if they were effective or not. If they were, you could apply similar measures elsewhere. If they weren’t, you could try something else.
Start Going Green Today
It will take sweeping, industry-wide changes for construction to become a truly sustainable sector. Not all improvements have to be disruptive, complex, and expensive, though. You can start making minor adjustments today to do your part in making construction a more eco-friendly industry.
These five steps are all relatively straightforward and don’t require considerable investment or disruption on your part. While they may seem insignificant at first, making these changes can lead to substantial overall improvements. The more you engage in these practices, the more sustainable you’ll become, and your industry peers may follow.