In 1970, Congress did something that, today, would seem impossible. Democrats and Republicans, with overwhelming public support, came together to pass a sweeping legislative agenda around environmental protection. The result was Earth Day, and it is honored every April 22 throughout the country and, under other names, can be found in 141 nations concerned with environmental deterioration.
Like many other businesses, construction contributes its share to environmental damage. Construction of buildings uses an average of 41% of the world’s energy, according to the U.S. Green Building Council. Not only the actual construction process but the preparation of sites and the maintenance after construction also adds pollution. Minimizing air, water, noise pollution, and carbon footprint can be done in many ways.
Bringing in positive change without affecting the efficiency of your work is not an easy task. But, with the rate at which environmental degradation is happening, it is only appropriate to make your contribution to ensure the Earth can survive humanity.
Construction of new infrastructure, commercial, and residential buildings has long been a target of those eager to limit CO2 and other emissions harmful to the environment. Even so, two-thirds of countries lacked mandatory building energy codes in 2020, according to the Intl. Energy Agency. That means more than 3.5 billion square meters of structures were built last year without mandatory energy related performance requirements—the equivalent of today’s France buildings stock.
To be in line with the Net Zero Emissions by 2050 Scenario, all countries need to establish zero-carbon-ready building energy codes by 2030 at the latest, and all new buildings should meet this standard from 2030. This requires 20% of the existing building floor area to be renovated to this level by 2030, with annual energy efficiency renovation rates jumping from less than 1% today to 2.5% by 2030 globally.
The National Center for Construction Education & Research notes to reduce the impact construction has on the planet, the green building movement has developed throughout the years and focuses on finding a balance between high-quality construction and low environmental impact.
Green Building Solutions explains sustainable or green building design and construction is a method of wisely using resources to create high-quality, healthier, and more energy-efficient homes and commercial buildings. A green building is more than the sum of its parts—its process and impacts matter, too. As millennials hit the market, the push to introduce eco-friendly, or green construction, should be at the forefront.
Sustainability is on the top of everyone’s agenda and over the years people, businesses, cities, and states have focused on new ways to reduce carbon emissions. The criteria have begun to change and going green in the construction industry is anticipated to be among the fastest growing industries worldwide. According to Statista, the number of LEED (leadership in energy and environmental design)-certified projects—a green building rating system—in the U.S. rose from 296 certifications in 2006 to over 67,200 in 2017.
But we can’t stop there. Construction has been a part of the movement for years and continues to develop new methods of sustainability. Here are a few examples of what the industry is doing to participate in reducing its carbon footprint.
Green-building standards, certifications, and rating systems mitigate the impact buildings have on the natural environment through encouraging sustainable designs. Becoming familiar with systems such as LEED, GBI (green building initiative), Green Globes, or other programs, could push your company ahead of its competition.
LEED, the most widely used rating system, awards points to buildings, for seeking innovative solutions to protect our environment by assessing: location and transportation; materials and resources; energy and atmosphere; water efficiency and more. Through earning one of LEED’s four rating levels—certified, silver, gold, or platinum—the construction industry is saving money, saving materials, and saving the planet.
Starting with what goes into construction, the materials needed to complete a small or large project, consider making an environmentally conscious decision to choose products that have higher percentages of recycled content. Using materials such as recycled steel, asphalt pavement or shingles, insulated concrete forms and reusable wood, can all play a part in enhancing the overall efficiency of a project.
Concrete, drywall, wood, metal, and cardboard, are just a few of the materials that make up those discarded at residential or commercial sites. Regarding the national interest in constructing green buildings, recycling construction and demolition materials can help reduce both purchasing and disposal costs.
To understand and learn about what materials can be recycled, along with the requirements, do the research on what facilities near your site are participating. It is worth the time. As a starter, The CMRA (Construction Materials Recycling Assn.) represent construction and demolition materials recycler worldwide and The National Demolition Assn., list buyers of acceptable materials online. The integration of recycling onsite could be the first, small step to implementing a more sustainable work environment.
Although Earth Day creates awareness for the environment once a year, the construction industry has the chance to celebrate Earth Day, every day. Shifting to eco-friendly methods within the construction industry is a great opportunity for companies to be a part of a movement that continues to grow every day.
As a construction business, Earth Day is the best time for you to bring environmental awareness and initiate changes in your organization that will positively impact the earth and prove you a leader in your industry.
Reliant Funding, a financial partner for business, suggests that an activity or a seminar addressing environmental issues may not bring in immediate change but, it is a start. Bring in local environmentalists or industry experts who are leaders in sustainable construction to inspire your team. Make sure to implement key takeaways in your business processes and track progress over time.
There is nothing better than being the starting point of positive change. Consider re-visiting the fuel efficiency of the vehicles you use. If you feel there will be a financial crunch while doing this, then you may opt for short-term financing options.
Talk about consumption and how your employees can reduce the plastics and waste they use. The United States has less than 5% of the world’s population but is responsible for consuming 25% of resources.Starting a recycling program and educating your employees is a great way to make positive change.
Think of innovative and useful contests pertaining to Earth Day. One contest idea that might be helpful for your business is asking your team to create construction plans for future projects in the most eco-friendly way possible. Contests like these gain more popularity only when they are rightly incentivized.
Celebrating Earth Day does not have to end with April 22. It is a start for something more meaningful. The clearance of the land before construction, usage of diesel-run vehicles, and working with toxic materials are some of the factors that contribute to various types of pollution in the construction industry. Oil, paints, and other solvents are also used in this line of work, which proves to be toxic when mixed with water and flushed out as waste. Once your business is conscious of the environmental damage, you can take measures to prevent it.
- Dampen the construction site before the cleaning process to reduce air pollution.
- Try finding non-toxic substituents for paint, solvents, etc., and also package or seal the toxic materials properly to avoid leakage.
- Avoid burning of materials on the site. Find alternative ways of disposal.
- Replace the traditional equipment with low-impact technology and more silent tools.
- Have high fences around your construction site to avoid spreading of dust.
- Dispose all the wastewater collected in the construction site in a safe and government-approved way.
Most businesses are under the impression they can control environmental damage only during the construction phase. But that is not true. Cleaning up after the construction is also a huge responsibility that the business should take up. Dispose of wastes produced and the leftover materials after construction in the safest way possible.
Remember, there are rules and regulations that govern many aspects of construction to mitigate the environmental impact. Be sure you and all the crews you dispatch are aware of what those rules are, especially those from the EPA.
As EarthDay.org points out, through regulations, incentives, and public/private partnerships, governments hold the keys to transform and build the green economy. Ultimately, governments will empower green business practices as not only the ethical option, but also the lucrative one.
For example, in the U.S., clean energy jobs provide earnings +25% above the national median wage, and outpace fossil fuel extraction/generation jobs by three-to-one, employing more Americans than middle or elementary school teachers, bankers, farmers, or real estate agents.
Construction companies are both followers and leaders in the green movement and applying technology and experience to Earth Day activities. For example, Miron Construction demonstrates benefits of sustainability—people, planet, profit—through education, corporate culture, and practical construction solutions. Miron took on the 51st annual Earth Day in 2021 by partaking in several activities to beautify its communities in honor of this sustainable holiday.
Some of those activities included hosting Goodwill and their Community Collection Truck to donate gently used items that they can transform into opportunities for other members of the community. Collecting electronics for proper recycling and to keep hazardous electronics out of landfills and working with the local School District’s Norbert Rich Forest fixing board walks and various grounds work projects. Miron participated in annual neighborhood clean-ups throughout the various communities in which its offices are located. It also hosted a DIY “Trash to Treasure” contest where employees and their families were encouraged to create a treasure of sorts using trash or recycled items.
Known throughout the Midwest and across the U.S., Powers & Sons Construction is a firm specializing in general contracting, construction management, design-build, and owner’s representative projects. In recognition of Earth Day 2021 the company highlighted its work at the Indianapolis Public Library’s new West Perry Branch.
According to Project Engineer Dylan Etheridge:
- Library officials expect to meet about 75% of their total energy needs using solar technology; 680 solar panels are newly installed on the library’s roof.
- By harvesting energy from the sun, Indianapolis Public Library will be able to substantially reduce operating expenses at this property.
- The savings can be reinvested into new library materials, programs, and services for local residents.
Landscaping on the 60-acre site will feature trees and flowering shrubs, including some which are drought-tolerant species. Why are trees an important consideration in ground-up new construction?
- One acre of mature trees can absorb the same amount of carbon that is generated by driving a car 26,000 miles (they absorb other pollutants and toxins as well). That same acre provides enough oxygen for 18 people every year.
- Trees cool buildings, sidewalks, and parking lots by providing shade and releasing water. Most trees need a minimum of 15 gallons of water a week to survive, but they release 200-450 gallons of water per day depending on their variety and size.
- In addition, trees play an important role in erosion control, soil fertility, and water absorption.
Site prep for the 25,000-sq.ft. facility with parking included installation of a storm water management system. Because storm water can be full of pollutants and nitrogen, trees help reduce run-off instead allowing water to seep into the soil where it is filtered and cleaned.
Pepper Construction’s commitment goes beyond addressing environmental talking points once a year. Every day their teams work with clients and partners to build cleaner and more efficient buildings. In recognition of Earth Week, the high-performance team shared its personal perspective, which starts in their homes, and then shared some of the challenges and what’s next for high performance building.
High performance teams live the values they seek to impress in others. It’s a commitment we can all emulate on some level. Some of the ways they’ve incorporated sustainable practices in their own homes include:
- Using a mini solar panel to charge electronics
- Only living in apartments that are LEED-certified
- Home projects—installing insulation, checking for air leaks in windows and doors and ensuring materials meet certain certifications or health standards
- Watching utility bills—understanding what your own demand on resources are
- Driving a hybrid car
- Recycling and reusing materials
- Growing food in a home garden
The Pepper team makes these types of decisions because they understand how a building impacts the health of its occupants. They also understand the impact construction can have on the natural environment and how it affects the health of a building’s current and future occupants.
Yet, the team unanimously agreed there’s one major misconception that prevents clients and partners from pursuing high performance solutions: it costs more.
In reality, high performance doesn’t have to cost more—and any upfront costs can save more money in the long run. That’s why the Pepper teams likes to compare different mechanical or architectural envelope systems, for example, to show clients what economical strategies would give them the best return on investment so they can achieve a high-performing building within budget.
Integrating some of these strategies can lead to lower operations costs, utility rebates, tax incentives, and more. Pepper is only involved in a construction project for a short amount of time during a building’s lifespan, but the tools that are used provide an investment in the building, its people, and everyone’s health.
The COVID-19 pandemic has brought attention to air quality in public places, particularly workspaces and educational institutions. The building systems that keep occupants healthy are at the forefront of most clients’ minds. It’s motivated them to consider solutions they would have otherwise dismissed.
While new commercial, educational, residential, and government buildings have organizations seeking ways to make them more “green,” the big topic for 2022 is infrastructure and how it can be made more environmentally friendly. It may be surprising to find how easy it is to reduce the environmental impact of construction, especially bridge construction.
Here are some ways bridge construction can reduce environmental impact, and ways U.S. Bridge aims to build sustainable, eco-friendly bridges. Starting with the materials that go into the structure itself, choosing steel is a popular beginning. One of the best things about steel is that it is the most recyclable material in the world.
Almost all steel construction incorporates recycled steel, which has proven its strength as equivalent to virgin steel. Its popularity and eco-friendly status are often why steel is considered affordable for many projects. Additionally, builders save money on maintenance and repair due to steel’s long life, as it does not degrade over time as quickly as other materials.
On the other hand, many countries are striving to reduce their environmental impact within their industry and construction companies are testing the effectiveness of using recycled plastic to construct a bridge. Located in Scotland, the Easter Dawyck Bridge is the longest in the world built using recycled plastic. This completely recyclable bridge was constructed by recycling over 100,000-lbs. of waste and can hold the weight of vehicles up to 88,000 lbs. The recycled material is both light and extremely durable. Reports indicate that it does not corrode, does not rust, does not require painting nor any form of treatment or maintenance.
There are many benefits to using recycled plastics in road applications such as reduced energy consumption, reduced waste to landfills, and alleviating the need for use of creating new materials for future projects. However, there is still much uncertainty about the performance and long-term durability of recycled plastic bridges with different traffic loading and environmental conditions.
Just using sustainable materials isn’t enough. Develop a green design that considers the long-term impact of the bridge, along with the economic aspects, to ensure that the positive benefits can be maintained over the long term. This means that you should consider the environmental issues and conditions that can arise during its lifespan, construction phase, and maintenance.
The installation and construction process of a bridge consumes large amounts of fuel, increases exhaust emissions, incurs traffic delays, and affects pavement performance. Using accelerated bridge kits to quickly build a safe and dependable bridge will significantly cut the environmental footprint of the project. Not to mention, it saves builders time during the installation phase of construction.
As you drive along the highways of America, crossing bridges and go through tunnels, if you look out the window you will see the debris of modern civilization. You might also see a few signs dedicating the stretch of road is being maintained by volunteers from a company or organization. The Adopt-a-Highway program is a roadside clean-up program that promotes pride and local ownership. On Earth Day thousands of such volunteers will be along those roads doing their bit.
Similar to the AAH program, The Great Global Cleanup is a worldwide campaign to remove billions of pieces of trash from neighborhoods, beaches, rivers, lakes, trails, and parks—reducing waste and plastic pollution, improving habitats, and preventing harm to wildlife and humans. This program aims to continue cleanups every day of the year for a brighter, greener, and cleaner planet. The Great Global Cleanup is yet another way individuals and organizations can commit to making Earth Day Every Day. This year, the initiative aims to reach new heights with cleanups in 192 countries across the globe.
Earth Day is one day; the Earth needs 365 Earth Days every year. How will you and your company celebrate them this year?
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