By Jackie Mustakas, Sustainability Manager
As we prepare to celebrate Earth Day 2022, it’s encouraging to think about how far we’ve come since the first Earth Day in 1970. A 2021 study by MasterCard revealed that 85% of adults worldwide are willing to take personal action to combat environmental and sustainability challenges. We also know from numerous surveys over recent years that more than four out of five consumers expect companies to act on environmental issues.
This year’s Earth Day theme, “Invest in Our Planet,” encourages all of us to consciously consider not just investing monetarily but investing our time and effort as well. Within the construction industry, we have opportunities to invest in the planet by operating efficiently and by partnering with clients looking to enhance their projects’ environmental outcomes. Though much of the built environment’s impact is determined by design, function, material cost and availability, constructability and economic feasibility, construction firms can identify additional opportunities to reduce environmental impact. We can make conscious decisions to be more sustainable in how we build to design requirements – the idea behind BuildingGreen’s Contractor’s Commitment to Sustainable Building Practices.
The Contractor’s Commitment: Sustainable Investments in Our Planet
The Contractor’s Commitment challenges the construction industry to focus on opportunities within the construction process. Unlike other green certifications in construction – such as LEED and Green Globes – that are focused on the client’s goals, the Contractor’s Commitment measures the things construction companies can control. In 2021, Robins & Morton was among the 14 construction firms to sign on to the Contractor’s Commitment in its inaugural year.
According to BuildingGreen, “The Contractor’s Commitment is the industry’s new way of assessing what it means to be a green contractor.” The Commitment was developed by the Sustainable Construction Leaders peer network, which includes representation from Robin & Morton. It focuses on five key areas where contractors have control:
- Carbon reduction
- Jobsite wellness
- Waste management
- Water management
- Material selection.
The Contractor’s Commitment challenges us to “invest in our planet” through the choices we make as builders.
During the inaugural year, the signatories have been helping BuildingGreen refine the commitment, validating what is feasible, meaningful and measurable. Throughout that process, Robins & Morton has been providing feedback on thresholds and developing tools.
We’ve also been sharing the progress we’ve made through our existing Sustainable Jobsites Policy, another way we’re investing our efforts. Since 2012, Robins & Morton has had a Sustainable Jobsites Policy for our project teams and a Sustainable Operations Policy for our offices and support functions. In many areas, the Contractor’s Commitment covers what we have been doing internally for the past decade; signing on adds third-party validation of our initiatives. More importantly, though, the Contractor’s Commitment is challenging us to push further in some areas. As a result, we’re making additional advancements in reducing emissions and carbon tracking.
These efforts are also engaging departments across our company through collaboration – for example, it takes a partnership with accounting to pull metrics related to the carbon impacts of operational activities, such as travel. Departmental collaboration throughout the company has enhanced awareness and deepened our team members’ sustainability knowledge. This has given them the ability to pinpoint additional processes, outside of the commitment, that could be more efficient and furthers our investment in the planet.
We recently completed our reporting for 2021, which tracks metrics from the fourth quarter, when we signed on. I am proud to report we met the goals established for our first-year of participation in the Contractor’s Commitment. We also identified opportunities for future improvement within each of the five focus categories.
Helping Our Clients With Their Investments In Our Planet
Our Green Building Services support partnerships with our clients and design teams. Our more than 90 LEED, Green Globes, WELL and ParkSmart credentialed professionals advise clients pursuing sustainable certifications and identify opportunities to utilize sustainable construction practices and building materials for all projects. Over the last fifteen years, we have developed processes to support comparative cost and payback analyses for environmentally favorable practices, materials and equipment. We can assist our clients in identifying options that meet their program goals for the project, as well as goals for environmental sustainability and community wellness – all while maintaining economic feasibility. This supports a triple-bottom-line approach to sustainable design and construction. We’re also helping clients understand life cycle assessments (LCA). An LCA measures the environmental footprint of construction materials, components and even entire buildings, beginning with raw material extraction and extending through deconstruction and disposal.
Through this work, we’re seeing two exciting trends. First, material suppliers are key collaborators, developing creative solutions, such as concrete mixes that use recycled alternatives or capture carbon, to reduce environmental impacts. Second, environmentally favorable choices can also be economically feasible, with options that are cost-neutral or provide a rapid return on investment – often with ongoing operational cost savings.
A Commitment Across the Construction and Design Community
The Contractor’s Commitment and green building practices are just two examples of how the construction and design community reduces environmental impact. The Architecture 2030 Challenge, Structural Engineers (SE) 2050 Challenge, MEP (Mechanical, Electrical Plumbing) 2040 Challenge and sustainable building certifications demonstrate that clients, design teams and builders are all working together to invest in our planet.
For Earth Day, Robins & Morton is also extending the Invest In Our Planet challenge to our team members. We’re asking them to commit to supporting the Contractor’s Commitment, and to identify a personal action they or their families can take to invest in our planet. According to EARTHDAY.ORG more than 1 billion people in 192 countries now participate in Earth Day. If we each take one step to invest in our planet, we can have a major impact together. If you’d like to join us, please visit EARTHDAY.ORG for ideas.