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Supply Chain Link in Low Carb Construction

In the last Low Carb Construction piece, I end with a statement intended to evoke the mental image of the treadmill of business operations. As businesses grow and the climate in which we all work shifts, a company has to allow itself the flexibility of shifting right along with it. Think of the seismic forces of an earthquake. Buildings can be engineered to dynamically move with the forces. In a person this can be equated to flexibility. Flexibility is a quality that allows for increased mobility. As a person ages and flexibility diminishes so does mobility. As a company ages, flexibility can diminish and mobility can shutdown, sometimes completely. Companies that exercise their nature to be flexible remain mobile. This quality is essential to the life of the building. Either the building will remain standing or ultimate failure occurs. Either way we have come to know that when anything man-made is put up against the forces of nature, nature always wins. When there is enough of a movement to tilt something off its original course, that course is changed. Either ride the wave of change or be pummeled by it.  All companies in every cross section of our lives are called to action on the wave.  Some will ride it others will fold under the vortex.

The U.S. construction industry, never having been asked so pointedly about the construction process, is experiencing an awakening.  While we general contractors begin to take a look at the actions of construction, the larger component of our indirect emissions is, yes, in the supply chain.  This is fact. We as general contractors are a service provider: if no demand for buildings existed, neither would we.  We look to the manufacturers of building products to be more innovative in their production of those products, understanding that some things will equate to cost and some things will equate to savings. Ultimately the goal is for the supply chain to take care of their piece of the carbon emissions puzzle.

For example, it is EPA measured fact that the cement industry is the largest industrial contributor to green house gas emissions. The GHG situation in the cement industry was not something that general contractors created and are now pushing off the responsibility back to the cement industry. Interestingly enough, given this fact, what is one of the industries at the forefront of changing? The cement industry. The use of fly ash, and more so slag, as a substitute for cement has made enormous progress over the last decade.  This “waste material” destined for landfills can be widely used in the concrete industry and others. Drywall manufacturing uses it to make 100% synthetic gypsum board. Someone had a great idea to set up shop next to a coal fired power plant and use this “waste” material in usable product.  What of the durability of the product? The resultant concrete product using the “waste” material is stronger than the conventional counterpart.  Other product characteristics are also maximized such as flowability and crack resistance. The resultant drywall board is undetectably different than conventional gyp board.  The only distinguishing quality to the naked eye is the run stamp on the board which identifies the plant in which it was made.

These are the kind of construction supply chain efforts that exhibit the qualities of flexibility. These are the kind of efforts that will keep a manufacturer growing and mobile. These are the kind of efforts that inspire viable change in how things are made.   These are the kind of efforts that will mitigate climate change.

Recommended reads on this topic is “Natural Capitalism” and “Tipping Point.”

For next time, consider this information paraphrased from a research interview with an architect and a construction management intern who tallied the delivery carbon emissions for the concrete structure of a building on  www.nwpublicmedia.typepad.com:

“An architect and a construction management intern tallied hundreds of hours of travel and idle time for a number of vehicles, including large diesel pump trucks. Each pump truck or mixer consumes about 6 gallons of diesel each hour, which means 133 pounds of CO2 emissions. The total of what they call ‘delivery emissions’ for concrete on that job is estimated at 180 metric tons of CO2.  According to one carbon calculator, it would take a 45 acres forest one year to absorb that much CO2.

That’s a 45 acre forest to offset just the jobsite delivery emissions of concrete for ONE project.”

All factoids are from recognized and well known research institutions.

Kim Pexton is Director of Sustainable Construction for HITT Contracting Inc., dedicated to bringing the ECO back in eco-nomics; through relatable analogies and information for making informed, well balanced ecologic and economic business decisions.

Kim Pexton
Kim Pexton is Director of Sustainable Construction for HITT Contracting Inc., dedicated to bringing the ECO back in eco-nomics; through relatable analogies and information for making informed, well balanced ecologic and economic business decisions.
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