By: Jim Nicolow, Principal at Lord Aeck Sargent & Taylor Keep, Senior Director of Platform Product Management
In the wake of COVID-19, the Biden Administration’s “Build Back Better” economic recovery plan includes investment in modern, sustainable infrastructure to build a clean energy economy.
The Administration seeks to mobilize American manufacturing and innovation to create a more resilient, sustainable, equitable economy. Recognizing that nearly 30% of greenhouse gas emissions come from operating buildings, and an additional 11% of emissions are embodied carbon from building products and construction, the nation’s building sector must be part of the solution to achieve President Biden’s Goal of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
In February 2021, 130+ leading design, engineering and construction services organizations from across the US outlined tangible, specific building sector actions the Administration should take within the first 100 days to achieve their climate goals and begin the transition to a clean energy economy.
With the building industry playing such a vital role in the economy, the environment and the social fabric of our communities, here are three areas construction companies can adjust their business practices to align with the Administration’s new initiative and help accelerate the pace of change.
1. Implement low carbon design and construction practices to support enhancing federal building standards
- A key priority outlined by the Build Back Better standards centers around implementing pathways to reduce embodied carbon in building materials.
- In fact, The Environmental Protection Agency found that construction and demolition debris generated more than 600M tons of waste in 2018. While a majority of waste is driven by demolition projects, construction still accounts for 10%.
- The use of mass timber, which is renewable and low carbon, acts as a high value material alternative to concrete and steel.
- Offsite construction allows architects and designers to achieve sustainable building at scale.
- Standardizing building design helps reduce scrap materials, which in turn reduces costs and lends an opportunity to repurpose materials in future projects. Sustainable design practices also have a restorative, positive impact on the building’s inhabitants and a regenerative impact on the environment.
2. Increase supply chain oversight and streamline with end-to-end integration to promote material health and product transparency
- Another necessity outlined in the economic recovery plan focuses on developing science-based, clear and consistent transparency for the building industry and incentivizing low carbon and carbon sequestering products.
- By owning and managing their own supply chain, construction companies can take a leadership role in sustainability and environmental stewardship.
- Delivering responsibly sourced mass timber that can be customized to meet a business’ or homeowners’ needs and that have been created to meet sustainability certification programs enables builders to positively contribute to material health.
- For example, Katerra’s CLT factory has received Chain of Custody (CoC) certification under three major certification programs: Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®), Forest Stewardship Council® (FSC®), and the Programme for the Endorsement of Forest Certification (PEFC). CoC certification traces the path of wood from certified forests through the supply chain to the final product and helps to support the transparency needed in order to qualify for green building standards such as LEED and Living Building Challenge.
- Streamlining end-to-end operations, beginning with building design to construction management, all the way to the materials delivery stage encourages product transparency, supporting a low carbon final product.
- Although construction companies traditionally invest less than 1% of revenue in new technologies, technology is a key ingredient to improve operational efficiency and, in turn, offers more control over implementing sustainable building practices.
3. Prioritize reuse of existing buildings versus new construction to help stimulate local economies
- Opting to renovate an existing building is often less expensive and more eco-friendly than building new. One of the ways the Build Back Better initiative aims to stimulate local economies is by incentivizing upgrades to existing buildings and encouraging tax code reforms to promote reuse.
- Construction companies can support this initiative by offering renovation services that grant businesses and property owners alike access to retrofits of their existing structure at an affordable rate and in an eco-conscious way.
- Design also plays an important role in historic preservation and adaptive reuse. By staffing experts who can maximize the value of the existing buildings and help owners harness tax benefits to preserve and renew historic structures, builders can do their part in contributing to local economies.
There’s no silver bullet to course correcting one of the nation’s largest industries. However, offsite construction, adaptive reuse and low-carbon building materials contribute to a sustainable infrastructure and clean energy economy. Taking a holistic approach makes it possible to effectively move the needle on construction industry sustainability.Back