Sustainability Takes Center Stage in US Construction

Story by Gemma Beasley / January 4, 2024

Buildings account for nearly 40% of global emissions, putting immense pressure on construction firms to prioritize sustainable and net-zero practices.

Cities like New York and states like Colorado have implemented first-of-their-kind regulations capping building emissions and ramping renewable energy adoption. Corporations, investors, and LEED green building benchmarks push for net zero from the private sector side. And an influx of young talent prioritizing sustainability in their job searches creates recruiting and retention demands.

These conditions have led to renewable energy commitments, waste reduction tactics, and circular economy partnerships becoming the norm amongst contractors. This article explores those regulatory drivers, client sustainability goals, and construction leaders who are steering the industry toward a lower carbon future.

Key Regulations Tackle Emissions

One major driver pushing contractors and real estate firms to tackle emissions is regulation at the city and state level. In 2019, New York City passed Local Law 97, considered one of the most ambitious building emissions laws in the country. It requires large buildings over 25,000 square feet to meet strict new energy and emissions guidelines by 2024, with those limits getting tighter by 2030. The goal is a 40% emissions reduction by 2030, and 80% by 2050.

While few places have emissions caps as aggressive as New York, other cities and states have been introducing their own sustainable building codes. Project developers must also consider how regulations are likely to shift over the course of a commercial building’s lifespan, which is around 75 years on average.

User Demands Push Sustainable Construction

Governments aren’t the only ones turning up the heat for environmentally responsible construction. Deloitte found that over 90% of companies have fielded embodied carbon reduction requests from clients, while over a third aim to boost their green building portfolios in the next 3 years. To control operational costs and future-proof buildings, they’re willing to pay more upfront for green design that pays off long-term.

Corporations with internal sustainability targets are demanding net-zero and LEED certified green buildings, while investors prefer assets with strong environmental credentials. And prospective tenants, especially large companies with their own ecological goals, increasingly factor energy efficiency into leasing decisions – with resource efficiency ranking as a high priority for those organizations planning new facilities.

Talent Seeks Greener Pastures

Sustainability is key for construction firms looking to recruit and retain talent now and into the future. Surveys show Gen Z and Millennial candidates prefer working for and staying loyal to companies aligned with their environmental values, and even ask about sustainability commitments earlier in the hiring process!

Employees across age groups report greater satisfaction and pride in working for sincerely environmentally responsible organizations. Construction firms getting ahead on sustainability will find it easier to attract emerging talent, while those failing to take tangible climate action will likely face steeper recruitment and retention challenges in coming years.

Intelligence Drives Carbon Reduction

With the industry united around the goal of cutting both operational and embodied carbon – everyone’s looking for new ways to reduce emissions from the manufacturing, transporting and disposing of construction materials. Data sharing across project life cycles provides deeper sustainability insights, while strategies like prefabrication, 3D printing, using natural and recycled materials, and running optimization software are key to reducing waste.

To reach net zero emissions while keeping costs manageable, materials, methods and business models all need rethinking. The path forward requires coordination across architects, engineers, builders, trades, and owners alike.

Industry Leaders Set the Pace

While sustainability was once considered a luxury, it’s now a necessity for firms wanting to follow regulations, win business, satisfy investors, and attract skilled workers. Colorado emerged as an early leader with the most LEED square footage per capita, while architectural leader Gensler stands out for the most LEED accredited experts and sustainable projects.

With growing stakeholder pressures, expect even more construction firms to expand their sustainability commitments to stay competitive. Those getting ahead of the curve fastest will be the firms that thrive as priorities shift even further toward carbon neutrality.

As specialist construction recruiters, Hudson Cooper is committed to building a future where environmental responsibility and business success go hand-in-hand. Get in touch to learn how we can help you recruit specialized talent to drive your firm to net zero.


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