Contractor-led task force drives climate change recommendations for efficiency, resiliency

By Riley SimpsonAugust 03, 2021

Climate change can be both a challenge and an opportunity for the construction industry (Photo courtesy of Reuters)

In spring 2021, representatives from 18 Associated General Contractors of America (AGC) member firms from different construction sectors formed a task force to combat climate change and craft recommendations for both government officials and industry contractors to lessen their carbon footprints and push for less carbon-intensive projects.

“The construction industry is the delivery vehicle for building a greener, more climate-friendly future,” said AGC CEO Stephen E. Sandherr. “The industry that’s best-positioned to combat climate change is construction.”

According to Sandherr, construction activity accounts for less than 2% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., and the built environment accounts for approximately one-third of greenhouse gas emissions.

Although the climate change initiative includes steps construction firms can take to operate more efficiently, AGC said the bulk of the effort is focused on pushing for public and private project owners to build more efficient projects and discovering how the task force can support them in that process.

Sandherr and Les Snyder, president of Shikun & Binui America and chair of the AGC climate change task force, discussed the initiative in a virtual press conference, and they said the task force’s purpose is to help construction transition to a more efficient and resilient future – along with the rest of the world.

“The climate issue is of global importance,” Sandherr said.

Last month, the task force published a report detailing recommendations, addressed to both government officials and contracting partners withing construction, for advancing discussion of climate issues and tangible action items.

Here is a sampling of four of the 11 listed government recommendations:

  • Support a national strategy to invest in physical infrastructure that will make our communities more resilient while providing flexibility for regional, local, and project-based concerns
  • Increase investment and maximize existing funding mechanisms for public and private infrastructure including dedicated funding, loans, etc.
  • Support government initiatives that encourage innovative owners and promote voluntary efforts for sustainability, including but not limited to tax incentives (e.g., Section 179D deduction for energy efficiency or the historic tax credit) and expedited permitting consideration
  • Support tax incentives for investments to modernize existing construction equipment, such as the funding of Diesel Emissions Reduction Act grants, and for purchasing new equipment, while allowing for the use of existing equipment during its expected term of service

The AGC task force also recommends against mandating labor and workforce policies that will “impede the success” of projects updating buildings for energy efficiency and climate change.

Here are four of the 14 recommendations the task force established for contractors and industry partners:

  • Engage with equipment manufacturers to improve engine efficiency and emission performance without sacrificing safety or power output
  • Research and communicate how much the construction industry already recycles, as well as what policies inhibit increased recycling and reuse or repurposing (and related carbon emission reductions) such as constraints on the recycling market, restrictions on the use of recycled materials in current mixes, stigma against beneficial use/reuse
  • Highlight the business case for green construction practices and recycling/reuse
  • Discuss the relationship between environmental justice and the construction industry at the national level given new federal policy directives to address environmental justice

The task force also intends to work with designers and property owners to influence the use of materials and designs that are better for the environment.

Snyder said that most of AGC’s members are small- and medium-sized contractors who, in addition to weathering the Covid-19 pandemic, are also willing to consider a greener outlook.

Forming the task force was also about assisting all AGC member companies with these efficiency aims.

“Government help for these firms is great, but as an association, we want to see what our larger firms can contribute and if our smaller members can use those resources [to become less carbon-intensive],” Snyder said.

According to Snyder, the task force is aligning its long-term infrastructure and climate goals with the administration of President Joe Biden. For example, the rising number of electric vehicles means that the nation needs to construct more charging stations and highway updates.

“You can’t wish for a greener future, you have to build it,” Snyder said.

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