Sustainability has been an important priority for the construction industry for some time. But from our conversations with environmental leaders and executives at construction companies, it's clear that reducing greenhouse gas emissions has taken on a new sense of urgency.
The post-pandemic recovery and a potentially massive infrastructure bill will bring lucrative new projects to market. At the same time, commercial and municipal customers are increasingly demonstrating a preference for environmentally responsible and resource-efficient building practices. And with the new administration’s emphasis on lowering building sector GHG emissions, construction firms are facing growing pressure to accelerate their decarbonization efforts.
So what’s a construction company to do? To meet rising demand, reduce their carbon footprint, and help curb climate change, construction companies will need to leverage proven strategies and industry best practices that will yield real results.
To that end, we examined some of the leading construction companies in the country to see how they're approaching greenhouse gas reduction within their operations and beyond.
1. Reducing emissions from corporate offices
Although much of the day-to-day work of construction projects happens out in the field, most construction firms also operate physical offices. Keeping these offices open requires electricity to operate lights, heat and cool workspaces, and power computers. So when construction companies first started thinking about ways to reduce their environmental impact, they often turned to energy efficiency projects.
Back in 2008, Skanska relocated its flagship office to the 32nd floor of the Empire State Building. In addition to the use of natural light and fresh air, Skanska designed the new space with energy-saving improvements like automatic light dimmers, occupancy motion sensors, and a raised-floor ventilation system that allows employees to control the temperature within their personal work spaces. These measures not only help reduce emissions from energy consumption but can also cut costs — and they're just as effective today as they were back then.
Even though commercial offices have become more energy efficient, it is estimated that 40% of all carbon dioxide emissions in the US come from buildings. Remote work can decrease the amount of physical office space companies require, which in turn can help reduce their carbon footprint. Many construction companies allowed back-office employees to work from home during the pandemic. Companies that went remote last year are now beginning to return on-site, but consolidating offices remains a valuable strategy for construction companies to reduce their carbon emissions.
2. Electrifying fleets
Global construction firms and local companies alike depend on company vehicles to transport workers, building materials, and equipment. These vehicles, while necessary, are a major source of carbon emissions.
Empowered by shrinking sticker prices, tax credits and incentives, and the increasing availability of EV charging stations, companies are seeing new opportunities to reduce their carbon emissions with electric vehicles. They are lowering costs at the pump and reducing maintenance by replacing some or all of their gas-powered fleets with more efficient EVs.
Meanwhile, equipment manufacturers like Volvo are also developing all-electric alternatives to construction equipment like excavators and wheel loaders.
3. Sustainable building materials
Innovative construction companies are experimenting with other ways to reduce the environmental impact of their building projects — often leveraging renewable and sustainable materials.
Turner took this approach to building adidas’ new North American World Headquarters expansion in Portland, Oregon. The building utilizes a unique combination of precast concrete as well as mass timber, which is more sustainable and less carbon intensive than traditional building materials. On a global scale, replacing steel used in construction with mass timber could cut CO2 emissions by 15% to 20%, according to a 2014 study in the Journal of Sustainable Forestry.
By sourcing materials locally in the Pacific Northwest, Turner was able to further reduce the carbon footprint of the project.
4. Renewable energy projects
The construction industry is notoriously slow to change, and many firms still stick to the business models of the past.
But some, like Bechtel, are applying their unique knowledge of construction and engineering techniques to “deliver pioneering renewable projects to help customers on their path to net zero”. Two such projects are Ivanpah, the world’s largest solar farm, which reduces carbon emissions by more than 400,000 tons per year, and the Keeyask Generating System, which will provide enough renewable energy to power 400,000 homes.
Others, like AECOM and Kiewit, are helping to build networks of ultra-fast EV charging stations that will support the global transition to electric vehicles.
5. Planning for net zero
In addition to greening up their own operations, construction firms are now offering planning services to help their customers achieve net zero emissions.
In October 2020, McDermott joined forces with Schneider Electric and io consulting to advance research and design of net zero facilities for the upstream oil and natural gas market. "This unique venture demonstrates the valuable intersection of thought leadership, digital innovation and project excellence to advance the energy transition across the globe," said Samik Mukherjee, McDermott's Group Senior Vice President, Projects. "By combining our individual strengths, we will deliver solutions that enable our customers to accelerate the industry-shared goal of reducing carbon impact throughout the production chain."
The three companies are working to develop a proof of concept for an offshore platform that will support a significant carbon emissions reduction within the production and transformation of oil and gas, which accounts for approximately 15% of the entire oil and gas carbon footprint.
Your next steps
Greenhouse gas reduction is a real, immediate priority for the construction industry, and leading companies are already paving the way with renewable projects, electric fleets, and other forward-looking strategies.
Of course, you can’t manage what you can’t measure. As such, construction companies must first set about establishing a baseline of emissions for their operations. From there, they’ll be able to identify the strategies that will have the most impact on their overall emissions.
Perillon offers simple, affordable environmental management software that allows you to measure greenhouse gas emissions at the source, compare actuals to targets, and configure calculations for regulatory and sustainability reporting. To learn more, request a demo today.