Making the Case for 'Clean Construction'

In the same way that LEED has transformed architectural design to improve energy efficiency and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, clean construction is emerging as the next big thing to revolutionize the building industry.

Clean construction brings new practices, equipment standards and jobsite management strategies to building projects.

Through a focus on the impacts of the building process, clean construction principles emphasize reducing greenhouse gas emissions from equipment, improving air quality, and minimizing site disturbances and community disruptions.

The recent EPA Clean Diesel 10 conference in Washington, D.C., marked a decade of progress in diesel emission reduction programs, the most common manifestation of clean construction specifications, and set the stage for changes still to come.

As noted at the conference, large strides were made in diesel emission reductions over the past 10 years, including the EPA's efforts to phase in emissions requirements for new on- and off-road diesel engines that are bringing NOx and PM [nitrogen oxide and particulate matter] emissions to near zero levels.

This is a tremendous improvement over older unregulated engines. Tana Utley, the CTO of Caterpillar, noted in her presentation at the conference that it would take roughly 32 new diesel engines to produce the same amount of emissions as one equivalent unregulated engine.

However, with a useful life of up to 30 years, millions of older on- and off-road engines continue to operate across the U.S. unregulated by the EPA's new model-year standards.

Part of the progress over the last decade was the encouragement of phase-out or retrofits of older engines, including the launch of programs to fund the improvement of state and local fleets through the Diesel Emission Reduction Act (DERA). DERA, part of the 2005 Energy Policy Act, established a national and state-level grant program to help reduce public sector emissions through engine retrofits. These initiatives, along with public project specifications, have been widely adopted to date in the public sector, targeting buses and other fleet vehicles.

The focus on construction jobsite sustainability has been led largely by city, municipal and state players. Illinois' Cook County and New York State both have good examples of the type of jobsite requirements that have proliferated in the public sector.