Construction Practices For A Sustainable Future

By: Brian James, Business Communications Specialist
May 3, 2019 10:00 AM ET
Blog

Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts.

Target 13.2. Integrate climate change measures into national policies, strategies, and planning.

Problem

According to the International Energy Agency, buildings and construction account for nearly 39 percent of energy-related CO2 emissions. The embodied energy of a physical asset or its components is calculated by adding things like the raw materials production process, energy used during the transportation and manufacturing of materials, and the energy used to move and assemble material around the site. The 2017 Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction Global Status report suggest the amount of embodied energy used per square meter of a given project needs to improve by 30 percent by 2030 to meet global climate ambitions outlined in the Paris Agreement.

Reducing GHG or CO2 emissions takes a concerted effort, and the engineering and construction industry plays an important role in supporting a low-carbon future through innovation, enhanced practices, and the future of work.

Solution

The engineering and construction industry continues to evolve its sustainable practices. When companies like Bechtel work with customers and communities to explore alternatives to reduce CO2 emissions, we turn to innovation. Across the industry, new technologies are being deployed to meet this growing demand, including electric or hybrid vehicles and equipment, renewable fuels for on-site power generation, and sustainable construction materials and procurement practices.

Approach

Bechtel’s continuous improvement approach to reducing CO2 emissions on projects includes looking at all available means, through demonstrations, pilots, and tests - in collaboration with our customers - on projects all over the world.

For example, an analysis of our supply chain for rail projects found that steel and concrete are two of the main drivers of embodied CO2 emissions. On the Reading Station expansion project, Bechtel worked with our customer to implement three design changes on that project; all focused on reducing the amount of concrete and steel used during execution. Early collaboration between engineers and the customer helped ensure the technical performance of the design was never compromised, and the result was an estimated savings of 15,000 tons of CO2 equivalent (GtCO2eq), and around US$15 million in cost.

Elsewhere in the company, as construction planning and execution technology like 4-D planning improve, the precise scheduling that our computer-aided, 4-D simulation contributes to work plans allow our engineers to optimize the use of energy-intensive machinery, such as cranes and trucks while minimizing the emissions they create. For construction equipment, electric and hybrid-fuel work vehicles are gaining in popularity as heavy equipment manufacturers develop and sell efficient machines across the industry. These next-generation dozers, excavators, and loaders boast impressive fuel efficiency, such as improving fuel economy by 25 percent to 40 percent (in gallons per hour), extending operators time-on-tools, and improving emissions performance.

Key Learnings

The inputs into major projects are as important as the output. In other words, the “how” we build is as important as “what” we build. A full spectrum analysis of inputs like the materials, personnel, and equipment for a major project is an essential step toward identifying new opportunities to drive sustainability, reduce costs, and improve quality. The industry is already embracing innovation like design thinking, testing, and deploying enhanced processes and new technologies. For example, supply chain innovations such as 3-D printing or additive manufacturing could yield significant savings by reducing the need for excessive procurement of material and moving manufacturing on-site.