12 ways contractors can help the environment and their wallets

12 ways contractors can help the environment and their wallets

The environment is facing pressure everywhere from human impacts. There are few places in the World untouched by human impacts, which range from plastic debris, to air pollution and smog, through to wholesale destruction of forests and rivers. Environmental damage is leading to the extinction of plants, birds and animals, and it’s impacting our health. More people are becoming environmentally aware of their actions and choices on our planet.

More and more companies are being forced by shareholders, clients and the general public to take a more considered approach to the environment. Banks aren’t funding some projects because of the environmental risks, and the danger of customer and public backlash. But often a lender’s refusal to fund companies and projects is based on pure financial considerations, and companies that are wasteful, or which carry out unsustainable and unproductive practices, are frequently companies which are less profitable and less successful.

Indeed, being environmentally aware and doing our bit for the environment usually has other benefits, and the biggest benefit is to our wallets.

12 changes to reduce your construction project’s environmental impact:

1.     Prevent rework. Frequently there are errors on construction projects. From items that are poor quality to structures that are the wrong dimensions or built in the wrong place. Demolishing items and rebuilding them results in extra materials and resources being used. In addition the demolished material has to be sent to the rubbish tip. Of course breaking the faulty item and disposing of the waste is costly, plus there’s the cost for the replacement materials and the work to redo the items. Some estimates have put the cost of rework on construction projects at 10% of the project cost. This may seem high, but even if the cost is 2%, it’s often a substantial number. Contractors can reduce the damage to the environment by ensuring that work is done right first time.

2.     Don’t waste material. In the course of construction projects many waste bins and trucks are filled with off cuts and bits of unused building materials. These materials have been paid for and they’ve impacted the environment in some way. In addition they are now carted to a rubbish tip at additional cost and environmental damage. Ordering the right quantity of construction materials, planning cutting to reduce waste, eliminating breakages, mixing the right amount of material, and installing the material correctly, will help eliminate waste, thus adding to your profits and reducing damage to the environment.

3.     Use the correct size construction equipment with the right tools. Hiring a large machine may seem efficient, but a large machine uses more fuel. Machines which are too small and under-powered are also inefficient and can use more fuel to do the same amount of work. Equipment that isn’t maintained or that has blunt cutting edges has to work harder using more fuel and costing more money.

4.     Protect finished work. I hate seeing completed work damaged by follow on trades. It costs time and effort to repair the damaged items. The damaged item often has to be removed and sent to the dump and replacement material fixed in place. Your construction team must be encouraged not to damage completed work and to take steps to protect their work from damage.

5.     Separate waste for recycling. Vast amounts of waste are produced on construction projects, and this includes packaging, containers and leftover building products. Disposing of rubbish is expensive, taking into account the dump fees and the cost to cart the materials to the dump. This is all a cost to the environment and a waste when materials that could be recycled are simply dumped in the general trash. Separating recyclables can reduce dump fees and it’s good for the environment.

6.     Use fuel efficient construction equipment. Hiring older machines is often cheaper than buying or hiring new construction equipment. But this can be false economy as older machines are often not fuel efficient, they may not be as easy to operate as newer machines so they’re less productive, and they could break down more frequently, even bursting hydraulic hoses and pipes and leaking oil onto the ground. Lost production while machines are being repaired costs construction projects time and money. Older machines may also belch more harmful pollutants in the air, they can be noisier and more prone to leaking oil on the ground.

7.     Ensure construction equipment is used productively. Productivity on most construction projects is poor and regularly we see machines idle, waiting for access, waiting for direction, or waiting for other equipment. Trucks wait to be loaded by excavators, excavators wait for trucks, graders wait for trucks, etc. Often the waiting equipment is left idling burning fuel. Poor planning is often to blame and it’s costing contractors money and it’s harmful to the environment.

8.     Reuse material. Many items are used once on construction projects, whether it’s formwork or protective coverings. Reusing items not only reduces the costs to purchase new items but you’re also reducing the amount of rubbish going to the tip.

9.     Eliminate water wastage. I’m sure we’ve all observed water running unabated from construction projects. Often this water is from leaking pipes or taps that haven’t been closed properly. Projects with flushing toilets may have leaking toilets that aren’t repaired. Yet water is a scarce commodity in many regions and usually somebody has to pay the project’s water bill.

10.  Save vegetation where possible. Some contractors move in and flatten the whole construction site destroying all the vegetation. Usually the stripped vegetation has to be carted to the tip which costs money. After the vegetation has been removed the bare soil is exposed to the wind creating dust when it’s dry, or the soil is washed away during heavy rain, often blocking drains and covering the local roads from where it must be cleared. Remove only the vegetation that must be removed for the work. Protect vegetated areas with fencing and tape to reduce damage. Mark trees that should remain.

11.  Use local products. Regrettably some designers specify materials which aren’t available locally. It may be possible with the designer’s permission to substitute these products with local materials which don’t have to be transported long distances and which are often cheaper.

12.  Be aware of where construction products and materials are coming from. Some factories cause excessive damage to the environment, belching fumes into the atmosphere, dumping waste illegally, and polluting waterways. Most quarries damage the environment, but some cause excessive damage. Contractors shouldn’t purchase products from companies damaging the environment. These companies often generate poor media attention and contractors and clients could also get this bad attention. Suppliers could even be shut down which could impact construction.

Contractors often can’t control the design of buildings, structures and facilities. Designers have a huge say on the environmental impact of buildings. From the materials they select, to the footprint of the structures on the environment, through to the energy consumption of the completed structure, there are many ways in which the design can be optimised to reduce energy and water demands of the facility, both during construction and when the facility is in operation. The right choices will benefit the owners and the environment in the long term. When contractors are involved in the design it’s important that they make the right choices for the environment. In a future article I’ll discuss how designers can help the environment while enhancing the finished facility so it’s cheaper to operate and more healthy to those using it.

Don’t be environmentally shamed

The public is becoming more environmentally aware. Clients are becoming environmentally aware. Shareholders are becoming environmentally aware. Construction companies and construction projects that are seen to be wasteful, that disregard the environment, will face public shaming and they will be in the media for the wrong reasons which will harm their reputation and business.

More clients are seeking contractors with good environmental credentials.

It’s imperative that contractors involve all their employees with reducing waste, improving productivity and instilling good environmental practices.

Aiming for zero waste helps the environment and helps the bottom line

We all need to do our bit for the environment. Construction projects are a large consumer of materials and they’re a large producer of greenhouse gasses. Construction projects are often very wasteful places with poor productivity. By eliminating waste and with careful planning construction projects can become less harmful to the planet, and in doing so the project will save money and the contractor’s reputation will be enhanced.

Do your bit for the environment. Do your bit for your children’s future. Walk your project today and see how you can reduce waste. See where you will save money. Go out and get your team involved.

What are you doing to help the environment?

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Need help managing your construction projects

Paul Netscher has written several easy to read books for owners, contractors, construction managers, construction supervisors and foremen. They cover all aspects of construction management and are filled with tips and insights.

The books are available in paper and ebook from most online stores including Amazon. Click on book image above to view books on Amazon or visit www.pn-projectmanagement.com 

Title image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Images 'Tap with money' and 'Thumbs Down' courtesy of Sira Anamwong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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