By {{Article.AuthorName}} | {{Article.PublicationDate.slice(6, -2) | date:'EEEE, MMMM d, y'}}
{{TotalFavorites}} Favorite{{TotalFavorites>1? 's' : ''}}

In early April, the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its much anticipated Sixth Assessment report. It paints a dire picture for the future of the world. There are enormous implications for every nation—and every industry. As politicians haggle over what can and should be done, it is clear a shift toward sustainability is desperately needed, whether it is legislated or not. 

What does sustainability actually mean?

Sustainability is a societal goal with three dimensions: environmental, economic and social. All three are important, but the main goal of environmental sustainability is to avoid depletion to preserve resources. This becomes increasingly important as humans push ecosystems past their tipping point, which can trigger catastrophic consequences (or so it is feared). 

Environmental sustainability initiatives in particular tend to evoke a sharp response. Pushback is largely based on the economic argument that change will be more expensive and harmful to businesses or that it will cripple certain industries. This doesn’t have to be true.

we can’t deny environmental impact

Currently, the construction industry contributes 36% of final energy use and 39% of energy and process-related carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions. On top of this, statistics show that construction accounts for 50% of landfill waste, 40% of polluted drinking water and 23% of air pollution. 

Each phase of construction—production, use and demolition–requires tremendous energy and emits greenhouse gasses to the environment. Transportation is also a big contributor in terms of energy impact and carbon emissions. Along with heavy machinery, construction is notorious for using heavy-load, gas-guzzling commercial vehicles. These trucks emit 40% more CO2 when compared to an average car.

The hard work the industry is putting in to build and respond to societal needs is now at risk of being overshadowed by the impact of CO2. The UN report noted that greenhouse gas emissions generated by human activity have increased “across all major sectors globally.” 

So, how do we make construction more sustainable without hurting business or negatively influencing the quality of a project? Here are some ideas:

  • Production phase: One area of impact is the materials used. By opting for sustainable materials like high-density polyethylene pipes, concrete made from granulated blast-furnace slag, composite roofing shingles or bamboo floors, for example, contractors not only reduce the lifetime cost of a building but also make it more valuable by substantially increasing the resale value of the property.
  • Use phase: If we design more LEED-certified buildings, we can reduce stress on the environment. These structures are more energy and resource-efficient. They generate less waste and lower the use of energy, water and other resources. LEED certification is available for nearly all buildings, and there are numerous sources of funding available at the national, state, and local levels for homeowners, industry, government organizations and nonprofits to offset any increase in building costs.
  • Demolition phase: Demolitions are inevitable in construction, and dust seems to come with the territory, but one possibility to reduce it is a targeted water-based dust suppression system. The structure being torn down is kept wet before, during and after the demolition process. Contractors also typically put up temporary barriers around the site to block dust and similar particulates from seeping into surrounding areas.

While these are worthwhile changes for many organizations throughout the building process, there is also much more that can be done from an operations standpoint. When jobsites run more efficiently, materials are not wasted and less CO2 is produced.

technology is the key

There are countless examples of how technology is being integrated into construction today. For instance, construction teams are seeking to drive productivity and efficiency, particularly in an uncertain climate, by adopting project management and production tracking software. Designed to help jobsites run smarter—knowing where and when to place workers, tracking material orders, documenting what’s happening on a site and more—software now establishes clear workflows and timelines. It also addresses core business issues by automating manual processes, increasing collaboration between all of the constituents on a project, minimizing mistakes (and thus rework), and lowering costs overall by ensuring that resources are applied strategically.

Construction tech also plays a role in making smarter machines. Teams can operate with much greater precision. Modern cranes, for example, look like the inside of a fighter jet and enable operators to know exactly where materials need to be placed. This reduces a considerable amount of time—as well as the associated fuel costs—during which a machine needs to run.

Now, consider what happens if we look at how construction tech like these examples designed for business impact work to further sustainability as well.

Environmental Impact

With technologies such as drones, special cameras, 3D modeling, and even iPhones now capturing digital videos and images from jobsites, which are integrated into project management software, it’s possible to cut down on a significant number of trips to jobsites while still increasing productivity. This simple reduction in people required to be on jobsites coupled with lowering the number of trips workers have to make to jobsites drops CO2 emissions considerably.

To put this into context, a company’s analytics team conducted a bit of an experiment. The average distance between its customers’ offices and their jobsites is 15 miles. At times, team leaders also need to fly to check out what’s happening. By looking at actual data on which trips had been reduced or eliminated, the team found that customers using this type of technology saved almost 16 million driving miles and more than three million travel hours since early 2021. This offset 55,000-ton CO2 from tailpipe emissions, which is equivalent to taking 11,000 cars off the road for a year. And this is only a small sample based on one technology use case.

Imagine the impact of not having to run heavy equipment for long periods of time because of smarter systems that alert them exactly where they need to go, or if work didn’t need to be ripped out or redone because it had been documented all along, or if materials didn’t go to waste because there was no one there to receive them or space to store them. If organizations look at strategic applications of technology across the lifecycle of a project, they can make a monumental impact on the environment.

Economic Impact

As highlighted above, many technologies built for the construction industry were designed not for environmental impact but rather for the purpose of increasing efficiency and dropping costs. Inaccurate production rate tracking, for example, is one of the biggest sources of economic waste in construction. The production rate for construction companies is the rate at which workers should complete a certain task, such as building a wall. When the production rate of a trade is miscalculated, it results in delays to the overall schedule and causes a lot of waiting time for workers as well as disturbance to material order schedule. This results in huge dollar losses to all parties. To put this in perspective, up to 30% is waste in a trillion-dollar industry. Billions of dollars slip away unnecessarily now that various types of software exist to address such issues. Again, this is just one use case.

Social Impact

Construction technology digitizes, optimizes and electrifies the industry. By reducing time spent at jobsites or waiting around for deliveries or other work to be completed, by not having to sit on a machine for hours on end to place a beam in the right position, quality of life is impacted. Time could be spent on other jobs, interests or with the people workers care about. 

Technology can also eliminate much of the repetitive work associated with a job. This not only frees up time for people to focus on what they love to do and why they got into the industry in the first place, but by ridding workers of rote, manual tasks, automation gives them the opportunity to leverage their unique, human problem-solving skill sets and find intellectual challenge and stimulation in their work. This in turn makes the industry more appealing to those considering jobs in the construction industry, strengthening the worker pipeline at a time when we need labor.

These are just a few of the many, many use cases where technology can make a positive impact on the world around us. And this is just within the construction industry. If every sector looks to apply technology strategically and creatively, we can start making inroads to achieve true sustainability.


 Comments ({{Comments.length}})

  • {{comment.Name}}


    {{comment.DateCreated.slice(6, -2) | date: 'MMM d, y h:mm:ss a'}}

Leave a comment

Required! Not valid email!