Are Contractors Committed to Sustainability?

Donna Laquidara-Carr, Ph.D., LEED AP, Industry Insights Research Director

How engaged are contractors with sustainability? The latest publication of the USG + U.S. Chamber of Commerce Commercial Construction Index (CCI) includes a feature section on this question, and the answer is somewhat complicated.

On the one hand, contractors as a whole report that green is a smaller share of their work than it was in 2017. This finding is surprising because many studies, including the World Green Building Trends SmartMarket Report published by Dodge, clearly show that green projects continue to grow in number. However, there are a few data points that may help explain the reduced share of green work reported by contractors. First, the data also show that large contractors are much more likely to have a much higher share of green projects than smaller companies, which suggests that green work may be increasingly concentrated among fewer firms. Also, the level of backlog reported by contractors in the second quarter of 2019 is the highest since the study was first published in 2017. This suggests that contractors have an unusually high volume of work currently, and the share of green projects may not be increasing at the same rate as their overall work.

On the other hand, several data points reveal that many general contractors are committed to using sustainable practices and products. The findings show that, on average, general contractors implement an erosion and sedimentation control plan on 79% of their projects, they divert at least 50% of their waste stream on nearly half (45%) of their projects and they conduct training with workers onsite about sustainable jobsite practices on over one third (39%) of projects. Since only about one fifth of their total share of jobs qualify as green, it is clear that they are conducting these green practices on more than just their green projects, which demonstrates their commitment to high performance building.


In addition, the study shows that green attributes also influence their purchasing decisions. 80% of general contractors are influenced by whether a product or system is energy efficient. Nearly two thirds (65%) are also influenced by whether products contain harmful chemicals, and almost as many consider water efficiency (64%) and increased building resiliency (61%) in their purchasing decisions as well. More than half (52%) also are influenced by whether products and systems are made from recycled or renewable materials. In all, it is clear that many general contractors consider green attributes when making product or system purchases.

The study also explored the reasons general contractors have for not selecting a green product. The top reason, selected by two thirds (66%) of general contractors, is when a green product costs more than a non-green equivalent. About one third (36%) are also influenced by the performance of the product compared with green alternatives. However, as the number of green products continues to increase, price and functionality differences are less likely to appear, and the study certainly suggests that in the absence of those two factors, contractors would prefer products that have less impact on the environment.

For more information on the sustainability findings or contractors’ perspectives on their backlog, new business, revenue/profit margins, workforce availability, access to financing and material and equipment trends, you can download a free copy of the Q2 Commercial Construction Index here.



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