As the world continues to grapple with the impacts of climate change, the construction industry is being called upon to play a critical role in mitigating its contribution to the problem. As a result, construction companies are increasingly moving away from environmentally damaging practices and toward more sustainable approaches. This shift is being driven by a combination of regulatory requirements and client demands for more sustainable construction practices.
However, making the transition to sustainable construction practices can be a daunting task for many organizations. Balancing the need to meet contractual obligations and comply with environmental standards while also maintaining sustainable practices can seem like an insurmountable challenge. But, with the right approach, organizations can work toward achieving this important balance.
To help meet sustainability goals, the key is to develop a comprehensive environmental protection plan with multiple elements that provide a structured framework for success. This plan should include the following seven essential steps:
1. Environmental management system
A good first step for any company is to establish an environmental policy by assessing its own services, processes, and green goals.
Jeff McCully, Hazardous Materials Manager/Deputy Environmental Compliance Manager at North Tarrant Infrastructure, LLC, recently spoke at Groundbreak 2022 and underscored the importance of such a plan. A well-designed strategy provides organizational structure, planning activities, responsibilities, practices, procedures, processes and resources, environmental project plans, and support to achieve environmental policies.
Overall, the direction of a company’s environmental management system should aim to minimize environmental impact. It can do this by complying with legislation, identifying environmental risks, promoting awareness and innovation, seeking continuous improvement, using energy efficiently, and developing reporting systems and channels of communication.
2. Environmental protection training program
It’s critical to keep everyone on the same page. For example, things can go wrong when a company has great environmental rules but the workers aren’t trained to recognize potential situations in the field, much less deal with them.
To prevent accidents and incidents, contractors must provide a working knowledge of issues that might affect the environment, regulations related to environmental quality, and which actions are available in order to respond to and report incidents of noncompliance. This can be achieved by offering an environmental protection training program to all employees to ensure everyone is aligned and working toward the same goals.
3. Hazardous materials management
A hazardous materials management plan must be developed early on. This plan facilitates the proper management, handling, storage, remediation, removal, transport, and disposal of hazardous and regulated materials that occur during a project’s design and construction phases.
The plan’s information must include which hazardous materials might be encountered at the construction site (for example, asbestos); a complete inventory of hazardous materials that are transported to the site; safety data sheets; and procedures on handling, storage, and disposal. Other critical elements include hazardous materials training and a Spill Prevention, Control, and Countermeasure (SPCC) plan.
4. Environmental communication plan
Environmental communication is the strategic use of communication channels and processes to develop effective policies around a company’s sustainability goals. A good communication plan can streamline the efforts to foster better reception and understanding of messages, accessible and thorough training for every single project stakeholder, and maintain a reduced environmental footprint.
5. Recycling plan
A recycling plan plays a major role in sustainability. Unlike the mining of raw materials, most recycled materials pose no danger to the environment. Even better, almost all construction materials can be reused in building projects.
A dedicated recycling plan must outline a company’s recycling goals, steps to minimize waste, and how to incorporate more green products during the project’s design and construction phases. A recycling plan can certainly also maximize the benefits (and profits) of reusing materials by addressing all opportunities and challenges that might arise.
6. Environmental compliance mitigation
An environmental compliance mitigation plan (ECMP) fully documents all procedures and compliance strategies that must be followed during a project to minimize or eliminate harmful impacts on humans and the environment. An ECMP must also be prepared in compliance with the contractual Facility Agreement and Technical Provisions, which states that the company’s ECMP will detail mitigation requirements contained in the Governmental Approvals.
7. Construction monitoring
Monitoring keeps everything running smoothly, so it’s essential for a company to dig in and find out which aspects of each project need to be closely monitored for success. A construction monitoring plan’s purpose “defines the organization and individual responsibilities with respect to environmental monitoring of construction,” explains McCully.
It should also establish and document schedules, protocols, and methodologies for monitoring work, including reporting procedures, corrective actions and adaptive management, incident mitigation, and emergency response. There should also be an emphasis on creating and implementing an efficient notification procedure in case anyone observes actions or events that violate emergency environmental laws or present an imminent threat to people’s health or the environment.
Ready to Craft and Maintain Effective Sustainability Goals?
Since no two construction companies are alike, there is no single environmental protection plan that will help all contractors to ace their sustainability goals. But the aforementioned elements present a solid framework that can naturally strengthen all aspects of a company and help push it toward better sustainability while also keeping the company more productive and competitive in a world that is becoming increasingly pro-environment.
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