It's Becoming Easier for Building Contractors to Go Green
By Debra Hilmerson
There’s been a noticeable uptick in green construction practices over the last 10 years or so. Owners, architects and engineers are making conscious efforts to reduce buildings’ carbon footprints and preserve our dwindling natural resources. We’re all learning how to do things differently to protect our planet.
But while rooftop solar gardens and sustainable bamboo flooring may add the pizzazz, few people outside our industry are aware of other less-visible — but highly impactful — green contracting practices. For me, green is all about what is (or is not!) going into dumpsters and landfills.
LEED and proud of it!
Almost every U.S. commercial construction company is trying to be green in some sense or another.
We’re involved with many LEED- (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified projects. LEED is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. Administered by the US Green Building Council, LEED certification is a source of pride. Points are awarded for everything from choosing a sustainable site to water efficiency, the use of renewable energy and indoor air quality.
Even if it’s not specifically LEED, most contractors have some sort of sustainability component to their business. New technologies, materials and systems are creating newer, more efficient options that simply didn’t exist a decade ago.
Which brings me back to the subject of dumpsters and landfills.
Waste a tree or plant a forest?
Construction sites typically have one or more dumpsters. A lot of contractors try to separate the garbage from recyclable materials. We were doing that years ago when I was working on the Mall of America project in Minnesota. The money we made from recycling steel helped pay for our lunches.
Still, there are many unmet opportunities to minimize waste. And while I’m no expert, it seems that achieving zero waste is one of the biggest things we can do to protect our environment for our future and our family’s future. For contractors, using durable equipment instead of single-use materials is a smart financial decision and kinder to our environment.
Back when I visited construction job sites around the country as a safety consultant, it drove me crazy to see 2 x 4s used for safety guardrails, then tossed into landfills. That’s our environment going to waste! When our team set out to design safer guardrails, it was also essential for them to be robust and reusable.
Lightweight powder-coated steel corrodes, rusts and bends. Cast iron bases crack. So we settled on 13-gauge hot-dipped galvanized steel. Yes, I know galvanized steel isn’t exactly eco-friendly. But we make it once and if you take care of it, it lasts for decades. That means fewer resources end up in landfills. We only source U.S.-made steel, which is associated with lower production emissions than foreign steel.
We also created a kit system to eliminate the waste associated with guardrail storage and transporting. No more wooden pallets and banding straps going into dumpsters.
Our guardrails are now sold across 44 states. A few years ago, we estimated that we’d saved 265,488 linear feet of 2 x 4 lumber from going into landfills.
We also plant a tree in a U.S. national forest for every 10-foot guard rail panel we sell, on behalf of the contractor who bought it. As of July 2022, we’ve planted 5,258 trees in our national forests.
That’s quite the payoff!
I’m astounded by all that can be accomplished
Our guardrail system was used in the construction of Climate Pledge Arena in Washington State. The goal of this project was, “to be the most progressive, responsible and sustainable arena in the world” and I’m in awe of what they’ve accomplished.
The arena uses no fossil fuel. All mechanical systems, heating, cooking and dehumidification systems, etc. have been converted to electric. Solar panels provide renewable power. A “rain to rink” system collects water off the roof and turns it into the “greenest ice in the NHL.” It’s like the utopia of all that is currently possible.
Our world is changing. Green construction is a big movement, and we’ll continue to see it grow. I’m continually inspired to design and produce durable, sustainable equipment that will support our industry’s mission of taking better care of our planet. And I’m thankful for the inventiveness of others who are creating more environmentally friendly building materials and systems.
As greener options become more easily accessible, we all benefit.
About the author:
Changing a mindset takes a mountain of grit, something that describes Deb Hilmerson perfectly, from her hard hat to her steel toe boots. Her 30 years in construction as a field laborer, Safety Director and Consultant at companies like 3M Worldwide and Mort