In a world where building and related materials produce 11% of global carbon emissions, sustainability is no longer a nice-to-have concept to get to someday. It’s the rapidly approaching future state of the industry. To overcome the challenge of embodied carbon and its significant environmental impact, construction leaders must look to meet sustainability targets and find lower-carbon options.
Top construction firms are already taking this challenge head-on and increasing their competitive factor because of it. In this article, we’ll highlight several of these trailblazers who are taking sustainability to the next level and finding business opportunities because of it.
Based in Sweden, Skanska is a multinational construction and development firm. As the fifth-largest construction company globally, it serves as a guidepost for the future of construction. Skanska is one of the most sustainable construction firms in the world.
The firm is currently working toward a goal of achieving net-zero carbon emissions within its entire value chain by 2045. This initiative requires close collaboration with suppliers and customers, particularly those involved in the production of materials. The Skanska team predicts increased demand for low-carbon solutions in the future. In light of that fact, they are preparing for related business opportunities and “the expected market conditions resulting from new regulations and taxation.”
One of the most innovative tools Skanska has developed is its Embodied Carbon in Construction Calculator or EC3. This tool calculates and evaluates embodied carbon within building materials. Skanska developed the EC3 calculator with C Change Labs. The project was jointly seed-funded and made open-source by Skanska and Microsoft.
The public can search the open-source database of construction materials to find its environmental product declaration (EPD) data. The database contains over 16,000 materials which can be filtered by material performance requirements, design specifications, project location, and global warming potential.
EC3 provides a concrete method for displaying the potential environmental impact of a project. Teams can work together to make strategic decisions around materials and carbon footprint. Development projects that participated in the initial pilot period of EC3 realized an embodied carbon reduction of up to 30%. Skanska points out that these reductions are “achieved without significant additional financial impacts for piloting companies, and in most cases are cost-neutral.”
Skanska is also reimagining what sustainable construction looks like. The firm was the general contractor for the Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design. This multidisciplinary, nondepartmental building at the Georgia Institute for Technology is net-positive and regenerative. Currently, the Kendeda Building is pursuing full certification from the Living Building Challenge. This challenge is the most ambitious building performance standard in the world. It centers around seven petals: place, energy, water, materials, health and happiness, equity, and beauty.
Skanska also used 25,000 linear feet of salvaged two-by-fours from the local film industry for the building. This innovative approach to sourcing materials proves that sustainability doesn’t have to cost more. The material was kept out of landfills and saved the project hundreds of thousands of dollars.
You can see more groundbreaking approaches to building in the Kendeda project documentary.
Founded in 1989, Mace is an international consultancy and construction company with headquarters in London. The construction leader has been at the forefront of sustainability for years. Notably, the company’s large, international workforce began training in sustainability in 2016. Just two years later, Mace reduced single-use plastic usage by 80% at the corporate level and 20% at their construction sites.
Mace met its target of becoming a net-zero carbon business by 2020, last year. This goal was achieved through a variety of methods, including a ban on diesel generators, an increase in the use of cement alternatives, a 5% increase in renewable energy, and a 75% reduction in business travel emissions. Next up, Mace has set targets to reduce its carbon footprint by 10% each year and deliver biodiversity net gains.
Currently, Mace is working with AFC Energy in a strategic partnership to replace diesel generators with zero-emission hydrogen generators on construction sites. This initiative is a key step to decarbonizing the construction industry. The partnership is part of Mace’s commitment to reducing carbon emissions from its operations by 10% and completely removing diesel generators from its sites by 2026.
3: Balfour Beatty
Balfour Beatty, the British multinational infrastructure group, refreshed its sustainability strategy last year to reduce its environmental impact. The strategy focusing on thinking globally and acting locally. Each international arm of Balfour Beatty has developed its own Sustainability Action Plan. These plans are all centered around three core ambitions:
- Beyond Net Zero Carbon
- Generate Zero Waste
- Positively Impact More than 1 Million People
Balfour Beatty launched its EcoNet system in May 2020 on its East Leeds Orbital Route project. This system leverages technology to reduce carbon emissions on jobsites by as much as 80% by controlling and reducing energy output from appliances.
EcoNet manages power on demand, turning appliances on and off when needed. While many jobsites are powered through grid connections or diesel generators, EcoNet reduces reliances on these two sources through demand control. In just the first six months of using EcoNet, Balfour Beatty reduced carbon emissions on-site by 83%.
Headquartered in Australia, Lendlease builds sustainability into its real estate and investment solutions. Its sustainability vision is centered around:
- Economic growth
- Vibrant, resilient communities and cities
- Healthy planet and people
Lendlease has set targets to be net-zero carbon in scope one and two emissions by 2025 and completely zero by 2040. Its corporate social value target is to create $250 million in value by 2025 through its foundation and partnerships.
In its roadmap to reach absolute net-zero, Lendlease Europe plans to become a 1.5°C aligned company. This initiative focuses on preventing global temperatures from rising above 1.5°C to reduce the impact of climate change. Lendlease’s Sydney Barangaroo is an example of this commitment to sustainability. The building received a six-star Green Star rating and was the first carbon-neutral precinct in Australia. Barangaroo offers sustainable office space with high-rise towers.
What’s Next for Sustainable Construction
These leading firms demonstrate that building sustainably isn’t about giving up business opportunities and productivity. Instead, sustainability can be used as a basis for solving problems more strategically, uncovering cost savings, and building future-proof spaces. What steps are you taking to bring sustainability into your organization? Join the conversation in the comments.