When people talk about green building, construction waste management is rarely given top billing. But for contractors, it is a priority.
According to McGraw-Hill’s SmartMarket Report, “Sustainable Construction Waste Management: Creating Value in the Built Environment,” 61 percent of contractors rate sustainable waste management as the second most important aspect of a green building, just behind energy efficiency.
“People do not see the immediate link to reducing your carbon footprint and wastes,” says Michele Russo, director of Green Content & Research Communications at New York-based McGraw-Hill Construction. “But for a contractor it really hits home. They need to figure out what to do with these resources to make them more efficient.”
Overall, 55 percent of the contractors surveyed have stated sustainability positions and 41 percent have waste diversion goals of 50 percent or more. Customer demand, state and local government regulation, company sustainability policies and green building certification programs drive waste diversions at these firms.
Typically, one of the biggest challenges associated with green building is higher first costs. Interestingly, among challenges impacting the use of sustainable waste practices, costs are less of an issue than concerns about decreased productivity (41 percent) and the lack of readily available suppliers and vendors (38 percent).
“I think this speaks to the regional nature of recycling markets and tipping fees,” Russo says. Dense urban areas, like New York and Boston, with space constraints and high tipping fees, tend to have more mature recycling markets. But in areas like Texas, with abundant land and low tipping fees, finding a vendor is a big obstacle.
When the data is examined more closely, concerns about productivity boil down to contractor experience with green building. “Firms that are not experienced perceive it to be much more cumbersome and different than their standard way of operating so it takes longer to do on a project,” Russo says. “The more a firm becomes experienced, then the more they report back that this is not a challenge.”
Despite the recession, 66 percent of contractors said the economic downturn was actually encouraging sustainable waste management practices. “This may seem counterintuitive,” Russo says. “But we have found that the building that is happening right now is more likely to be green and specifically built for LEED.”
While total construction starts fell 13 percent in 2008 and are expected to drop another 25 percent in 2009, green building’s market share grew by 15-20 percent of new construction starts in 2008, according to McGraw-Hill Construction Dodge project data. By 2013, the market share of green buildings is projected to hit 25 percent.
Green retrofits are also expected to grow from 5-9 percent to 20-30 percent in 2014, representing $10-15 billion of work.
Given the growth in green building, sustainable waste management practices have the potential to significantly reduce the amount of construction waste dumped in landfills. In 2008, the U.S. generated over 143 million tons of construction and demolition waste in 2008, according to Waste Business Journal. Only 28 percent was recycled while the remainder was sent to landfills.