Green building has global staying power

Departments - Editor’s Letter

Decarbonization and sustainability efforts continue to make waves through the U.S. construction and demolition sectors.

May 4, 2022

On its surface, a water and environmental services expo half a world away from our media group’s Cleveland office seems an unlikely place to find news of interest to North American demolition contractors and C&D materials recyclers.

However, both exhibits and panel discussions at the 2022 CleanEnviro Summit Singapore event provided examples and reminders of how sustainability and recycling goals and practices have reached deeply into the construction and demolition sectors.

“If your investment is nonsustainable, you can’t even raise any money; that’s already the case,” stated one panelist, an employee at an equity investment firm.

Another panelist, from Maryland-based Marriott International, said that while the hospitality sector was particularly hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, “Sustainability is now right back at the center” of the company’s plans and goals. He said sustainability continues to affect “how we build hotels” at the multinational firm, including adhering to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) scorecard.

The reference to LEED is perhaps inevitable when considering how corporate sustainability practices have changed the way C&D materials have been handled in the U.S. in the past two decades.

The United States Green Building Council (USGBC), overseer of the LEED program, was founded in 1993, just six years before this publication was established.

Much of the organization’s first five years were dedicated to developing the LEED program, with the first draft of LEED version 1.0 introduced in 1998 to provide a green building rating system.

In addition to market drivers and cost-effectiveness, the availability of LEED scorecard points for diverting materials from landfills and incinerators has been among the biggest boosters of increased C&D recycling activity this century.

The ongoing success of LEED has provided ways for property owners, developers, architects, engineers and ultimately contractors and subcontractors to demonstrate contributions to decarbonization and other energy- and resource-saving efforts.

Subsequently, LEED has produced modified versions of its system and scorecard (It currently is on version 4.1.), and the number of building projects attaining LEED certification has grown steadily and, sometimes, rapidly.

According to USGBC, at the end of 2006, a cumulative total of 5,000 projects had been registered with the organization. By the end of 2019, that total was nearing 70,000.

Decarbonization and sustainability efforts seem to have withstood the late 2000’s financial crisis and COVID-19. Recyclers and contractors are likely to find that inflation, war in Europe and supply chain issues will not knock the momentum greatly off course, either.