Construction projects seldom get kudos from environmental advocates. You are seen as the front line of polluting, landscape-degrading development. This industry image problem presents an opportunity for you to stand out as a company that strives to be green in everything you do.
By Peter Truitt
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
Construction Industry Point-of-Contact
Take steps to clean up your operations, publicize your accomplishments, and earn recognition as an environmental leader by project owners, regulators, and in the communities where you build.
Start with compliance. Understand what is required by law, factor 100-percent compliance into your bids, and audit your performance. Many contractors continue to struggle with compliance. EPA estimates that only 40 percent of construction sites covered by stormwater regulations apply for the required permit. Learn the details about Federal requirements for stormwater, dredge and fill, oil spill prevention, hazardous and non-hazardous wastes, air emissions, asbestos, and endangered species in Managing Your Environmental Responsibilities: A Planning Guide for Construction and Development. You can find the “MYER guide” as well as information on state and local requirements at the Construction Industry Compliance Assistance Center (http://www.cicacenter.org). EPA provides more assistance to construction than any other industry. We developed these resources for you in partnership with AGC.
Go beyond compliance. Examine ways you can move toward more environmentally-sustainable building practices even when regulations or contracts do not require them. Re-use salvaged materials or take your debris to recyclers whenever you can. (See related article in this issue of the Observer on construction and demolition debris recycling.) Work cooperatively with your project’s design team to specify materials that contain industrial byproducts, like foundry sand in roadbeds and fly ash in concrete. Strive to use the best of best management practices – for example, it is better (and usually cheaper) to prevent erosion than to trap already eroded dirt. (See EPA’s National Menu of Stormwater BMPs online at http://cfpub.epa.gov/npdes/stormwater/menuofbmps/index.cfm.) Clean up your diesel equipment by retrofitting with verified technologies, replacing older equipment, upgrading engines, using cleaner fuels, reducing idling, and practicing preventive maintenance (http://www.epa.gov/otaq/retrofit/). EPA and some states and localities are providing funding as well as other incentives for voluntary clean diesel projects. For information, go to http://www.epa.gov/cleandiesel/construction.
Pull it all together with an Environmental Management System. An EMS is a disciplined approach to becoming green. Look at all the ways your operations impact the environment. Establish policies, priorities, goals and measurable targets for improvement. Institute procedures and programs to accomplish the improvements, track their performance (that means monitoring and audits), and refine them as needed to get the results you are seeking. Everyone is engaged in this system, from CEO to laborers, because management and the entire workforce has a role in greening your company.
AGC has published an EMS guide for construction, Constructing An Environmental Management System: Guidelines and Templates for Contractors. This is just one of many compliance assistance and green construction resources you can find on AGC’s environmental website at http://www.constructionenvironment.org. Highway contractors should also check out the AASHTO Center for Environmental Excellence, where you will find a detailed compendium of stewardship practices at http://environment.transportation.org/environmental_issues/construct_maint_prac/.
We are all aware of the rapidly growing market for green building. McGraw-Hill Construction’s 2006 Green Building Smart Market Report projects a five percent to 10 percent growth by 2010 in new non-residential construction starts using the principles of green building. According to the report, “We can safely say that green building is no longer a fad, but an increasingly important new way of doing business.” You can apply environmentally sensitive construction services in any job, not just when you are going for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), Green Globes, or any other certification. I believe this is an exciting opportunity for you.
Do you have thoughts or suggestions on greening the construction industry? Feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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