How the Construction Industry Can Honor Earth Day

Earth Day 2016 is April 22nd. The industry should strive to make construction more efficient and eco-friendly. How can we make choices that fill our need for infrastructure while keeping a watchful eye on the future and protecting ROI at the same time?

We're sure these contractors weren't thinking about sustainable construction practices when this iconic picture was taken, but this Earth Day is a great time for contractors to start implementing green construction practices into their every day activities.
We're sure these contractors weren't thinking about sustainable construction practices when this iconic picture was taken, but this Earth Day is a great time for contractors to start implementing green construction practices into their every day activities.

Earth Day each year marks the day people around the world set aside to celebrate and protect our planet. For over 40 years, university campuses and town squares have buzzed on Earth Day as people come together to create awareness about daunting environmental issues. From water and air quality to deforestation and energy conservation, protecting the environment and reversing damage that’s already been done is not only popular, but crucial to our long-term survival.

According to the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), buildings consume about 40% of all energy in the U.S. every year, including the energy it takes to build them. In spite of the complex issues affecting a build, the construction industry as a whole has to take responsibility for where we build, how we build and the materials we use.

So here's the real question: How can we make choices that fill our need for infrastructure while keeping a watchful eye on the future and protecting our ROI at the same time?

We want to help contractors understand that being sustainable can still mean being profitable. In some cases, you can even make more money. Here's some ways we can help.

Start with Equipment: 

We've written time and time again about how new technology and equipment investments can help improve the ROI on a project. Technology helps contractors get jobs done faster, reducing the fuel consumed and allowing contractors to move on to more jobs faster. All of which directly impacts the bottom line. Not to mention the carbon emissions that are being saved by completing jobs faster and more efficiently. Check out some articles we've covered over the past year that prove how equipment and technology investments help contractors make more money, while also having a lower impact on the environment: 

Caterpillar Test Measures How Much Time Technology Can Cut from the Road-Building Process

Technology Helps Contractor Build School 50% Faster and Four Months Early

Digital Collaboration Slashes $10 Million in Costs from One Project

Creating Digital As-Built Models with Drone Images and BIM Speeds Arena Construction 

Grade Control Technology Saves Contractor One Month During Landfill Construction


This may seem like a no-brainer, but many construction companies do not recycle materials on their jobsites. Current estimates show that if all concrete and asphalt pavement generated annually in the U.S. were recycled, it would save the energy equivalent of 1 billion gallons of gasoline or the removal of more than 1 million cars from the road. 

Besides environmental benefits, recycling can have economic benefits for your business. Some recyclers charge less money to accept materials that can be recycled, especially if they are separated from other materials. Additionally, recycling or using material onsite can reduce your material hauling and disposal costs.  

The increased national interest in constructing green buildings is likely to generate more interest in recycling construction and demolition (C&D) materials. Providing knowledge of how to recycle C&D materials can make you a vital asset to a green building project. If you need proof that recycling can be done efficiently and profitably on jobsites, take a look at these articles:

Candlestick Park Recycles 98% of Materials on Demolition Project

Recycling with Efficiency

Glass Crushing Plant Helps Village Turn Recycling Expense into Profits

Recycling for Profit

Investigate New Materials:

While technology is key to saving both time and money in the long run, the industry needs to look to more sustainable building materials as well to help preserve finite resources.

The asphalt industry is leading the way when it comes to building roads more sustainably. Speaking of recycling, asphalt pavements are the number one recycled material in the U.S. According to the latest survey of asphalt mix producers conducted by the National Asphalt Pavement Association (NAPA) in partnership with the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), more than 75 million tons of recycled materials — primarily asphalt pavement material reclaimed from old roads and parking lots and recycled asphalt roofing shingles — was put to use in new asphalt pavement mixtures during the 2014 construction season. If you're not already using recycled asphalt pavement (RAP) or recycled asphalt shingles (RAS) in your mix designs, here are some contractors that have successfully completed projects by using these materials: 

100% Recycled Asphalt a Reality with Low Energy Asphalt Pavement Technology

Rooftop Shingles Get New Life on Chicago Airstrip

D. L. Gasser's Cold In-Place Recycling Cuts Road Material Cost 25%

And not just old asphalt can be recycled and put back in to our roads; toner ink, plastic and even algae are being used to help make roads more sustainable: 

Asphalt is Getting New Life from Recycled Printer Ink

Pavement Paved with Plastic

Green is the New Black with Asphalt Made from Algae

Sustainable building materials can range from timber to biopolymers to fungus. Here are some articles that take a look at using more sustainable building materials: 

Sustainable Timber & Prefab Materials Set Higher Standards on One North Project

Bamboo Helps Make Concrete Both Stronger & More Sustainable

Is it Possible to Grow Sustainable Building Insulation?

While your company may not be ready to start building homes using mushroom insulation, you can make a conscious decision to choose more products that have higher percentages of recycled content and are considered to be more sustainable. 

Get to Know Green Rating Systems:

If your company isn't familiar with green rating systems like Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), Envision, Green Globes, Invest, Greenroads, Greenlites, etc, it's time to start learning about these programs to put your company ahead of the competition. Below are some resources that can help you get started:

Infographic: How LEED is Changing the Face of US Construction

How Contractors Can Maximize ROI on LEED Construction Projects

Envisioning More Sustainable Infrastructure

Why You Should Become an Accredited Green Contractor

Recently, The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) estimated that 40 to 48% of new non-residential construction was considered green, equating to $120 billion to $145 billion in opportunities for contractors. And that number is growing. The study also found that by 2018, green construction will account for more than 3.3 million U.S. jobs–more than one-third of the entire U.S. construction sector–and generate $190.3 billion in labor earnings.  

Given these numbers and expected growth of green building, it would be nice if the construction industry could make it Earth Day, every day.

To the many that are already trying, Happy Earth Day.

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