Making the Case for 'Clean Construction'


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.

Cook County's Green Ordinance designates required emissions reductions -- 85 percent PM in some cases -- on all county projects. This means that contractors and subcontractors will need to either have new equipment, or invest in retrofits on older equipment to control the engine emissions. The ordinance provides several years to comply, mitigating potentially large financial burdens from engine upgrades.

The state of New York has several different contract-based specifications in place today, including the Department of Environmental Protection's requirement that certain engines in use on state construction projects use the "Best Available Technology" to control emissions. In addition to equipment specifications, nearly all jobsite requirements include specifications for ultra-low sulfur diesel (ULSD) and idling controls.

These public clean construction trends are increasingly exposing private sector construction equipment owners to new jobsite restrictions on emissions, regardless of equipment age.

There are a few private sector early adopters of clean construction practices, including Columbia University's Manhattanville project and Highland Fairview's distribution center for Sketchers USA.

After a contentious public debate with the local Moreno Valley community in California and the Sierra Club, Highland Fairview agreed to include clean construction items such as limiting the use of diesel-powered generators in their jobsite requirements.

Columbia University's Manhattanville project, a multi-million dollar campus expansion in New York City, includes some of the most progressive clean construction specifications put in place to protect the dense urban population living alongside the construction site.

Equipment manufacturers and service providers are also starting to take note of these public and private sector mandates. United Rentals, a large equipment rental company, has entered the clean construction conversation with the publication of a white paper on the subject. (Full disclosure – GreenOrder has worked with United Rentals in the development of their sustainability program) United Rentals' white paper presents a review of current clean construction requirements on both public and private construction projects across the country, and uses those examples to make recommendations for the crafting of future public or private regulation.

Future regulatory efforts are just one part of the growing clean construction movement, as meaningful involvement from the private sector will be necessary for any widespread and substantial emission mitigation. It will be interesting to see whether clean construction practices will continue to follow in the footsteps of LEED, building momentum and spreading from the public sector, to private projects, and finally into mainstream practice, dramatically changing our construction sites in the same way that LEED has had a widespread impact on building design and performance.

Image CC licensed by Flickr user fottoo.