Thriving on sustainable practices

Skanska, with activities in the US, Europe and Latin America, is one of the world’s leading construction and development companies and an industry frontrunner when it comes to sustainability. Sustainability is just another aspect of good business practice for the company, which selects suppliers who share this opinion.

When it comes to sustainability issues, the construction industry, at least in some parts of the world, has made major strides in the past five years. “There is a much greater commitment to safety, there is more attention to waste reduction by the construction industry and people are starting to wake up to the issues of embedded carbon in materials and energy efficiency,” says Noel Morrin, senior vice president Sustainability at Skanska.

The demand for green building keeps rising as the business case becomes much clearer, says Morrin. “Today we have a lot more empirical information showing that investments in building more energy efficient buildings are a sensible thing to do from a business perspective.”

Legislation designed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions has also helped drive the environmental efforts, yet Skanska is actively advocating for much tougher legislation in its own industry.

“The legislation hasn’t caught up to what the industry can deliver,” Morrin explains. “Today we have the technology and solutions to deliver low-carbon and low-energy buildings, but the lack of tough legislation is slowing down market penetration.”

Traditionally, the construction industry has been one of the biggest producers of solid waste, and reducing the amount of landfill is a focus area in most sustainability efforts. By the end of 2015, Skanska’s goal is to divert 99% of waste from landfill, mainly through avoiding, reducing, reusing and recycling. Today, about 8% of the company’s waste ends up as landfill and reaching the 1% target is especially challenging in many parts of the US.

Where there’s more carbon, there’s more waste, which is why Skanska uses carbon footprinting to identify – and avoid using materials with high amounts of embedded carbon.
As Skanska aims to reduce its total carbon footprint, its suppliers, such as ASSA ABLOY, will increasingly be required to provide Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs), including embedded carbon data, for all of their products.

Skanska aims to source products that contain no hazardous materials. Even legal hazardous materials are unacceptable. “This is the direction we are heading in,” says Morrin. “We don’t want to incorporate any hazardous materials in our projects. Asbestos was once legal,” he adds, drawing an analogy.

Morrin stresses the importance of transparency regarding product materials, adding that an open dialogue with suppliers, along with readily accessible information, makes it easier for Skanska to select products. More and more established suppliers will be required to open themselves up to scrutiny by uploading information on purchasing databases concerning the raw materials in their products, the carbon intensity of the products, sustainable sourcing, and manufacturing.

“If suppliers can’t supply that sort of information, they may not have a business in the future,” says Morrin.