According to the U.S. Green Building Council, commercial and residential structures currently account for nearly 40 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions in our country. Given the increasing interest in environmental sustainability and carbon footprint reduction around the nation, industry critics are citing any number of shortcomings that are inherent to the construction process.
While builders can't mitigate every single issue, there’s a lot one can do in order to reduce their jobsite emissions and make our environment safer for everyone.
1. Minimizing Jobsite Power Consumption
Electricity usage is the largest contributing factor to the emissions of commercial and residential buildings today. In fact, some reports attribute as much as 70 percent of all CO2 emissions to modern power consumption.
There are a number of tricks to use when minimizing your overall power consumption while on the jobsite. Portable solar panels can be set up and used in a matter of minutes, as can wind turbines and even industrial-scale battery installations.
2. Working in Cooperation With Mother Nature
Planning your construction projects around Mother Nature's schedule, while sometimes easier said than done, is a great way to cut down on some unnecessary emissions from the jobsite. Starting work at sunrise — or shortly thereafter — not only gives you a head start on the day, but it also minimizes your need for extraneous lighting.
Wet projects that require a certain amount of time or a specific temperature in order to properly dry or cure can also be used to offset a building's carbon footprint. By completing these jobs in the daytime or in dry, sunny weather, builders can avoid the forced drying of recently painted surfaces, newly poured cement, drywall mud and other common construction materials.
3. Reducing Fuel Needs
Some fuel needs simply cannot be adjusted. Employees still need transportation to and from the jobsite, construction equipment still needs to run and, in some cases, heaters fueled by propane or kerosene still need to provide heat to an otherwise barren construction plot.
Those who are able to plan their projects around the different seasons, as mentioned earlier, can reduce and even eliminate the need for fossil fuel-powered heaters. Construction machinery can see reduced emissions and, in some cases, increased performance by minimizing idle time, turning equipment off prior to each use and ensuring you're using a vehicle that matches the size and scope of the jobsite.
You'll also want to have your vehicles and equipment inspected on a regular basis. While today's emission standards are far more stringent than they were in the past, they’re critical for maintaining a healthy environment for years to come. Various emissions tests are available for nearly every type of hardware or machine imaginable, but you'll have to take the initiative and seek them out on your own.
4. Sourcing Sustainable and Eco-Friendly Materials
Direct consequences of carbon emissions are often seen in the construction industry. The act of having a load of drywall delivered to a remote jobsite, or watching the long-term building of a high-rise commercial structure, is rather obvious and in-your-face, but there are indirect costs to consider, too.
Gypsum, which is a common material in modern drywall, has to be mined from large-scale rock quarries, transported to a manufacturing plant via railroad, cargo ship or big rig and then crushed, ground up, mixed and reformed to create a single sheet of drywall.
Other construction materials suffer from similar inefficiencies. Cemex, a prolific manufacturer of cement, has improved the reputation by embracing alternative fuels and reducing their overall CO2 emissions. As a result, the company has enjoyed a 59 percent reduction in the total number of incidents stemming from environmental unfriendliness.
5. Reducing, Reusing and Recycling
Although many of us were taught the value of reducing, reusing and recycling in grade school, very few of us actually apply these fundamentals to our career. When applied to the construction industry, these acts can have a significant impact on the carbon footprint of a company.
Instead of throwing away scraps of lumber, drywall or plumbing, be sure to collect and save any pieces that may be useful elsewhere. Apart from reducing your overall carbon footprint, this little trick has the potential to save you hundreds or even thousands of dollars in material costs on an annual basis.
Creating a Better Public Image and Reputation
Despite the necessity of an active construction sector, it’s an area that has had its reputation tarnished in recent years. While it's taken some industry figureheads a long time to see the benefit of sustainable materials and eco-friendly construction, those who have already embraced such solutions have set themselves up as next-gen role models for the entire profession.