Carbon Cleanup

This article is included in the Great Things: Issue 10 edition of the DPR Newsletter.

Working toward a healthier planet takes teamwork

While sustainability is talked about as creating a healthier planet, what that ultimately means is a healthier living environment for people. Improving the shared environment isn’t up to any one organization, person or action, but rather the collective efforts of many.

DPR Austin office interior view

Since we spend a significant amount of time indoors, creating safe and healthy environments is important.

Healthier Planet=Healthier People

Humans spend more than 90% of their lives indoors, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and in cases of poor indoor air quality, those spaces can negatively influence health. Reducing carbon emissions from construction and operation of buildings (decarbonization) and other green building practices are important for air and water quality and the surroundings people touch every day. As an industry, construction contributes about 40% of the total global carbon emissions.

“There are two main contributors to a building’s environmental impact—embodied carbon and operational carbon,” explained Monica Chhatwani, decarbonization leader at DPR. “It's important to think about how to bring down both—to decarbonize.”

Embodied carbon is emitted during the lifecycle of the building, including the construction phase. Operational carbon is emitted while operating the building. Employing a combination of tactics, with environmentally conscious partners and customers, can reduce emissions to net zero, meaning a balance between carbon emitted and removed from a space.

A snapshot of programs shows how planning and teamwork can change the environment and lead to better life quality.

There are two main contributors to a building’s environmental impact—embodied carbon and operational carbon. It's important to think about how to bring down both—to decarbonize.

Monica Chhatwani

DPR decarbonization leader

Using Technology for Preconstruction Lifecycle Analysis

“DPR uses software to design the building and perform life cycle assessments or calculations for its carbon footprint,” said Chhatwani. “Tools can help with determining the footprint and material selection.”

Most analysis happens through digital building information modeling (BIM). Virtual design and construction (VDC) is integrated into DPR’s approach to plan ahead for construction and reduce rework, which not only causes project delays and added cost, but also results in additional waste and carbon emissions during construction. This allows DPR to see conflicts before ordering and installing material, reducing unnecessary waste taken to landfills.

Waste Diversion Through Deconstruction

Demolition accounts for 90% of construction waste, which inherently carries embodied carbon through its production and decomposition.

DPR’s self-perform work (SPW) teams can also perform deconstruction, achieving over a 95% diversion of waste on numerous projects across the country. For example, a project in Georgia had 97% of deconstruction waste diverted, and most of it through facilities within four miles of the location, further lowering carbon emissions.

Deconstruction efforts on a project in Georgia
Using Building Material Alternatives

Chhatwani noted if the cement industry was its own country, it would be the third largest carbon emitter in the world.

“A focus in the industry is how we decarbonize concrete because it is a big deal in terms of percentage of contribution to emissions,” she said.

DPR uses digital tools, together with supplier and constructability knowledge, to procure low carbon concrete, steel, and insulation. In addition, alternative building materials are gaining ground. For instance, mass timber is prefabricated for ease of installation, and it is engineered for loads similar in strength to high-emissions structural materials. It allows crews to build tall, with a lighter, natural, low-carbon and high-quality resource.

Photo of mass timber during construction

Mass timber provides a variety of benefits, including strength, resiliency and a reduction in carbon footprint. Photo: Danny Sandler

Carbon Reduction: Getting Started

The path to sustainability can be complicated, but having a partner with the right expertise can simplify the process and help get the intended results. Here's how to get started:

Understand the owners' carbon reduction goals.

Include carbon budgets in the owners’ program requirements.

Provide specs requiring environmental product declaration and/or meeting certain embodied carbon thresholds.

Perform whole building life cycle analysis studies.

Discuss low carbon and design strategies early in programming stages.

Collaborate with the design team, owner stakeholders and construction team.

Sustainability efforts require planning and commitment, but the results mean a safer and healthier environment for all of us.

Phoenix Solar Panels

We believe in building spaces that are healthy for both the planet and the people who use them. We pair that with how we build, prioritizing operations with sustainability in mind.

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