Going Green with Construction Projects

A long while back, Macy’s, Inc. increased the use of sustainable materials in construction projects as a standard practice. And now, our construction and renovation sites across the country are even greener.

“Building more sustainably is in our DNA. This is how we look at construction projects now,” says Elena Pfarr, Macy’s director of environmental services, who has been leading waste-reduction efforts for the Store Planning Architecture Construction Engineering and Environmental Services (SPACE) group since 2009. Now, we're is turning our focus to a new area: diverting our waste stream and increasing recycling of construction materials.

With our three-year sustainability goals launched in 2016, Macy’s decided to take a concerted look at reducing waste in daily operations, as well as in construction. “We have looked at waste reduction processes in a lot of different areas, but this is exciting, because it’s a comprehensive view of our construction waste stream. What gets measured, gets managed. If you don’t have measurement, it’s hard to make improvements. But once those are in place, it becomes much easier,” says Elena.

And with those measurements in place, our goal is to increase waste diversion and recycling from construction projects by 15 percent over the next two years. It’s an ambitious target, especially given the regional variability of construction waste recycling capacity. Elena shares an analogy to illustrate the point: “Similar to curbside recycling in different markets across the United States, what we can recycle varies from location to location.”

In some states, laws dictate the percentage of materials that must be recycled from construction projects, while others are more generalized. “We’ve seen that where targets are in place, there’s a much higher rate of recycling. We hope that as recycling markets and capacities evolve, we’ll be able to recycle more from multiple locations,” says Elena.

Carpet, drywall, ceiling tile, metal, concrete and wood are among the materials being recycled in many locations. California pulls apart cardboard, plastic and even concrete, which Elena says is particularly impactful: “It’s such a huge thing, because it can be a high-volume material in construction demolition.”

Construction material recycling is very dependent on the recycling capabilities and markets in a given area, because it’s not feasible or cost-effective to transport heavy materials, such as concrete, from a market that can’t recycle them to one that can. Beyond the logistics, the fossil fuel impact alone would be prohibitive.

Lessons learned from efforts to date include the impact of regional variability, including that policy drives infrastructure, and that many contractors were already recycling construction materials because of the value in some construction materials. Metal is a great example of this. Elena says much of the time, it’s just about asking the right questions.

While increasing waste diversion is a priority, that doesn’t mean SPACE is abandoning other opportunities, such as increasing the use of sustainable materials in construction and renovation projects. “We’re continuing to pursue those opportunities, evaluating new technologies and techniques,” says Elena. “There’s always something new to research.”

 

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