Event Takeaways: What Will It Take? Constructing Carbon-Free Buildings

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Leadership

Recorded Nov. 16, 2021

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Speakers

  • Christie Gamble, Senior Director of Sustainability, CarbonCure Technologies
  • Julia Gisewite, Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer, Turner Construction Company
  • Lucas Hamilton, Manager, Applied Building Science, Saint-Gobain North America
  • Jim Martinoski, Vice President, Miller and Long Co., Inc.

The Hub and Clark Construction Group recently hosted a conversation on the role building construction plays in energy use and carbon emissions, the fourth and final event in the series, “What Will It Take? The Path to 2050 And Carbon-Free Buildings.” Theresa Backhus of the Building Innovation Hub set the stage explaining the need to think beyond compliance to leverage buildings as a tool for climate action. Still, there is a challenge of segmentation within the building industry. Fernando Arias, Clark Construction’s director of sustainability, moderated the discussion. The robust and insightful discussion is worth watching in its entirety, but here are five of the key takeaways:

 

1. The construction industry can reduce carbon by focusing on materials, suppliers, and transportation

Christie Gamble explained that much of the carbon emissions from buildings are embodied. Therefore the construction industry can play a huge role in helping reduce the amount of carbon emitted in producing and distributing building materials.  Lucas Hamilton argued that by valuing carbon (and not just cost,) construction firms can indicate demand for more efficient manufacturing. Julia Gisewite emphasized prioritizing this demand with subcontractors and suppliers by making procurement choices that reflect sustainability commitments. Jim Martinoskwi called for a focus on transportation, both supplies to the job site and on the site itself. Similarly, Fernando Arias discussed the importance of choosing local suppliers and reducing vehicle emissions related to deliveries of construction materials.

 

2. We need to adopt a circular approach to building materials

Martinoski and Hamilton both highlighted the promise of recycled materials, as well as the challenges of changing business behavior. Martinoski argued that opposition to change is often related to perceived risk and to anticipated costs of designing and implementing new processes and trainings. Hamilton talked about the need to make materials recycling the most lucrative and convenient option. Gisewite pointed out the need for more lifecycle carbon accounting and more awareness of where the carbon is in a building to change how we specify materials.

 

3. We need to have conversations about sustainability at all levels and to use language that makes sense to others

To identify and scale best practices in sustainability, Gisewite argued that we need to collaborate with competitors.  Gamble agreed, proposing the industry considers “coopetition” as a framework. Hamilton says that suppliers worldwide may not understand terms like “embodied carbon,” but they are already experiencing climate change and may respond to a discussion about reducing impact. Gamble suggested that even having a statement about sustainability in an email tagline can clarify to vendors that the issue matters.

 

4. Change is hard, but greater application of technology in construction and manufacturing will bring new perspectives

Hamilton discussed the many job openings and opportunities for master mechanics and manufacturing engineers. He further said that introducing technology into manufacturing processes with carbon management in mind can help remove some of the inefficiencies that exist that are causing us to have a more significant carbon debt than we should have.

 

5. Innovation will help the industry attract new and diverse workers

Gisewite argues that construction is consistently ranked low in terms of investment in research and development. It is a barrier to both technology development and new ways of thinking about sustainability. The next generation of workers wants to be part of the solution, not part of the problem, so change will help bring them in. Martinoski agreed that innovation would bring in new faces, especially if they see the work as exciting and rewarding.  Gamble asserted that greater diversity will foster new perspectives and industry innovation, likely in areas related to sustainability.

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