Step 1: Focus
With your client and project team, choose areas of sustainability to prioritize on the project, leading with low-waste (see below for strategies including increased diversion through recycling/redistribution, specifying secondhand or low-waste products, etc.) Other sustainability areas to consider: healthy materials (natural and nontoxic), low carbon (electrification or offsetting embodied carbon), avoiding plastic (also lower carbon). Don’t know where to start? Visit the GFDA Toolkit online to find consultants, services, and apps that can help you along the way.
Step 2: Budget
Discuss how sustainability could impact the budget early on in a project so that your client can fully understand the impact of their decisions. There are likely things that you can do that will have little to no impact on the budget, changes that will impact it slightly, and changes that will increase the price point. Based on your client’s interest and budget, decide together the project’s tolerance for price increases associated with sustainability (perhaps a percentage), and a process (for example, identifying at least x number of sustainable options per decision).
Step 3: Timeline
Discuss the impact sustainability will have on the timeline. Help them understand that it’s quicker (and more affordable) to incorporate sustainable design decisions early on in the process, and that some sustainable decisions could increase timeline, like choosing ground shipping instead of air to reduce carbon emissions, or researching and procuring more sustainable options.
Step 4: Deconstruction and diversion
Assess what you can keep, restore, or redistribute to reduce your landfill waste. This goes for anything structural like roofing, beams and stairways, architectural like cabinetry and flooring, decorative like handrails and hardware, as well as fixtures or furniture. See the Deconstruction section below or Toolkit Redistribution Resources.
Step 5: Municipal diversion
City regulations for recycling and waste reduction vary in each municipality. Set your company standards for waste reduction to exceed those of the city you’re working in.
Step 6: Collaborators
One of the best ways to reduce your waste as a contractor is to partner with architects and interior designers who minimize waste and overage. Choose a GFDA architect who is already engaging in these practices, or ones who agree to prioritize low waste and sustainability.
Engage in honest, frank conversations with your architect about low-waste strategies to ensure you can design and build with as minimal waste as possible. The only way to decrease our waste as an industry is to collaborate across sectors.
Step 7 : Deconstruction
With existing buildings, plan to deconstruct materials for reuse rather than demoli- tion. Here’s a primer on deconstruction. And we love this deconstruction fact sheet from the Tahoe Regional Planning Agency.
Step 8: Tax breaks and cost benefits
Although deconstruction is time-consuming and more expensive than demolition, there are ways to offset the cost through tax breaks. (Check with your municipality for specifics.) It’s a low-waste practice that can have one of the largest impacts on getting to our 50% goal. Discuss with the owner of your project and your team whether this is an option for your project.
Design and Deconstruction
Step 9 : Specify low waste and sustainable
Design to minimize waste in your initial plans and drawings by reducing material usage (i.e. studs, concrete, etc). This includes calculating and reducing overages for materials like lumber, tile, and flooring.
Choose products made of natural and recyclable materials that can be deconstructed for maintenance, and proper disposal per material at end of life.
One of the easiest and most sure-fire ways to cut your waste is to increase your collaboration with sustainability-focused professionals and source from vendors who adhere to low-waste practices already. We’ve created this Bay Area-based approved vendor list to make your search for low-waste partnerships easy.
Source locally to minimize energy and likely carbon emissions associated with transportation.
Contact vendors to make sure they don’t use styrofoam, packing peanuts, non- recyclable or non-compostable materials in their packaging. Ideally, packaging is plastic-free.
Cut your waste by sourcing from vendors who adhere to low-waste practices. We’ve created this Bay Area approved vendor list to make your search for low-waste partnerships easy, with more national resources to be added as we open additional chapters.
Step 10 : Design for deconstruction
Where possible, specify rigid materials in lieu of sprays and foams that adhere to other materials and render them unrecyclable.
When layering and joining materials, specify mechanical fasteners in lieu of adhesives, to allow for future deconstruction and redistribution.
Reduce your contribution to our landfill system by designing with as few composite materials as possible. Materials made from multiple blended materials often contain glue/resin and cannot be recycled. They go straight to the landfill if they are not salvaged or redistributed.
Step 11 : Debris diversion
The bigger the debris box, the easier it is to fill it. Aim to use the smallest debris box possible for each project.
Do your due diligence! Know who is disposing of your debris waste and what hap- pens at the end of the waste line. Ask your hauler to which facility they are taking your debris and find out what the recovery (i.e. not landfilled) rate is for that facility. For reference, Recology San Francisco has an 82% recovery rate for construction and demolition debris.
Minimize your waste stream by minimizing the amount of debris that goes into your debris box or hauling truck. Separate salvage-worthy items (i.e. a perfectly good sink or fridge). If they end up in your debris box, they will not be salvaged at the distribution center. They will get recycled and maybe landfilled, depending on the materials.
Add a recycling dumpster/bin to the construction site. These are widely available through waste management companies.
Step 12 : Divert: donate, consign, recycle, and redistribute
For the things you aren’t keeping but are still in good condition (appliances, cabinetry, etc.), make plans to redistribute. See our redistribution contact list here.
Excess materials: return or redistribute materials you don’t use, or protect and store for future use.
Samples: Return or recycle unused ones. Or, join Material Bank to get material samples on loan, with the option of keeping ones you like.
Step 13 : At the office and on-site
Set up a three-bin system for recycling, compost, and landfill. Establish a point person to ensure items get sorted properly.
Post guidelines from your local waste management company to eliminate contamination (yes, a sheet of paper is okay to prevent contaminated recycling).