01 May 5 Ways Your Construction Company Can Go Green
When you think of environmentally-friendly industries, construction probably isn’t among the first to come to mind. According to the Sustainability Roadmap for Hospitals, the construction industry uses up a lot of resources and is responsible for a significant amount of waste. This industry uses 40% of the raw stone, gravel, sand, and steel in the U.S., 17% of our fresh water, and 25% of virgin wood. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Here are five ways your construction company can minimize its impact on the environment.
Use Green Designs
First, get your company LEED certified. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) was started by the US Green Building Council in 1993, and has since helped promote green building in construction projects around the world. When your company advertises itself as LEED-certified, you will become more likely to attract clients who are interested in eco-friendly projects.
As you design each project, here are some green options you may want to make standard:
- Energy-efficient doors and windows
- More windows and skylights to maximize natural light
- Low-VOC paints and stains
- Low VOC flooring
- Low flow plumbing fixtures
- Rooftop gardens
- Rainwater management systems
- Water harvesting and purification systems
- Solar reflective roofing
- Renewable energy power sources
Source Your Building Materials Locally
LEED defines regional materials in MR Credit 5 as “building materials or products that have been extracted, harvested, or recovered, as well as manufactured, within 500 miles of the project site for a minimum of 10% or 20%, based on cost, of the total materials value.” When you think about it, these standards are actually pretty doable!
Require your design team to include local materials from the project’s earliest stages, and allow them enough time to research suitable materials, secure competitive bidding, and examine how they will affect the overall budget.
When looking at materials, pay special attention to the heaviest ones: brick, cement, steel, glass, wood, and sheetrock. These are the materials that you will definitely want to prioritize sourcing locally. Manufactured sand and block bonding adhesive is more readily available than river sand, and also contains fewer impurities, providing a stronger foothold during construction. Wool bricks are 37% stronger than regular bricks and use non-toxic and local materials.
Use Recycled Materials
Steel is arguably one of the most green building materials available. It’s highly durable, lasts for decades, and at the end of its life, it can be readily recycled again and again. Steel frames can also be made from recycled copper slag, furthering its value as a recycled material.
Newspaperwood is the product of paper and solvent-free glue which gets shaped into logs and then chopped into planks. Newspaperwood is waterproof and flame-retardant, and can be used for any application where natural wood would be used.
Plasphalt is made up of grains of plastic waste instead of sand and gravel. Plasphalt surfaces tend to stand up far better to wear and tear over time.
Reclaimed wood is very trendy right now as an interior decor material for walls, floors, and more. Although virgin wood will still be needed for some tasks, reclaimed wood can help offset how much you will need to use for the whole project.
Recycled stone is also quite in vogue at the moment for interior decor. Like reclaimed wood, recycled stone has a unique character to it and adds a new level of style to a space.
The construction industry is responsible for 50% of ozone-depleting chlorofluorocarbons, 30% of carbon dioxide emissions, and up to 40% of municipal solid waste. Given numbers like this, the responsibility to pursue and implement green construction is clear. By implementing lean construction methods, you can reduce waste in your processes (and also save money).
Try replacing your usual bricks with RMC (Ready Mixed Concrete) to reduce wastage. Blocks can also be a good substitute, as they are four times larger and thus take less time to place. They are also less likely to break and give you a better idea of how many you will need for a project.
Construction debris runoff into community stormwater networks or fresh water systems is a major concern. Address this problem by setting up retention ponds to collect the runoff before beginning work on a project.
Avoid wasting electricity by using LED lighting. If solar power is part of your project, get that up and running first so you can use the solar energy to power other site operations.
If you’re still using paper documents for your operations, it’s time to accept the 21st century. Paper is inefficient as well as wasteful. Switch to a cloud-based construction site management software to increase productivity and reduce miscommunications.
Recycle Any Excess
Some materials are simply wasteful if you buy too many of them for a project. Others actually become toxic if sent to the landfill. For example, when lead gets wet, it makes the water toxic and can leach into groundwater. Plasterboard in landfills releases the toxic gas hydrogen sulfide.
Fortunately, a lot of construction materials can be recycled or repurposed:
- Masonry can be crushed to make road bases
- Windows, doors, appliances, fixtures, and roofing can be used in other projects
- Lumber and wood products can be converted to mulch or biomass fuel
- Metals can be smelting and turned into other products
- Vegetation and trees can be converted into biomass fuel
- Cardboard and paper can be pulped and reused
- Plastic crates/container, bags, and sheets can be recycled in a variety of ways
Asphalt and concrete recycling are also options, especially if you run demolition. The concrete recycling process sends uncontaminated old concrete through a crushing machine, which then gets sorted and most often used as gravel. But it can also be used for riprap revetments, landscaping stone/mulch, and to create retaining walls.
Plan with your demolitions contractor or post-job cleanup team for the recovery of reusable or recyclable materials so they don’t accidentally go to the landfill. You may also want to work with organizations such as Habitat for Humanity to recycle unused materials. You may even get a tax writeoff for this!
When locating a recycling center, make sure it’s local. If it takes too much time, effort, and fuel, then it may not be the most green solution for you after all, and you will want to look for another solution. If you are able to find one nearby, plan ahead to minimize the number of extra trips you will have to make to drop off extra materials.
Aside from helping the environment, green construction can help you as a business. It leads to direct cost savings during the building phase, such as avoiding fines for incorrect methods, reducing waste, and improving productivity. It can also give you access to government incentives and generate more business. Furthermore, green construction is better for the health of your workers. Greener materials means less exposure to toxic chemicals, which means fewer workers compensation claims, sick days, and even reduced employee turnover.