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Supply Chain


Managing supply chains in the construction industry can be very challenging. Roadblocks have a tendency to develop throughout the chain, which leads to higher project costs, wasted materials and a lower quality of the completed structure. But these pain points can be avoided by making certain choices in logistical planning.

Responsible sourcing is continually becoming more achievable, thanks to new sustainable materials and technologies. This focus not only improves the building process, but also the overall end product. From choosing building materials sourced in innovative ways to reducing carbon in the transport of those materials, there are many facets of supply chains that can be improved.

Strategize Transportation of Materials

Six to eight percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions for a construction project are attributed to the transport of materials, according to a recent study conducted by Northwestern University. This means a construction project emits gasses before the building has even begun.  Although this is just a fraction of the overall emission sum, it is one of the easiest things to influence through proper planning. To reduce the impact of material transit, your company should choose the most environmentally friendly methods to move materials. 

For example, rail and waterway transportation are significantly less harmful to the environment than road or air travel. Since 1980, freight trains have more than doubled in efficiency and can now move a ton of freight more than 450 miles on a single gallon of fuel, whereas the average semi-truck only boasts 6.5 miles per gallon. 

Focus on Reducing Carbon 

The International Union of Architects recently voted to phase out carbon emissions from the building sector by the year 2050, which means industry professionals should implement initiatives now for a carbon-clean construction industry in the future.

Plan the job site ahead of time to further reduce emissions. Consider where materials will be placed in the project area for the most effective use of space and resources. Avoid building temporary structures for storage to conserve materials, reduce carbon emissions and improve the energy usage of machinery and tools. 

Also, avoid modifying the natural environment for storage purposes. Any disturbance to the natural landscape results in environmental impact, but moving soil particularly affects the amount of carbon released during a building project. Many ecosystems sequester carbon underground, so disturbing soil to create a place for building materials will release this into the environment. 

Choose the Best Materials

The most impactful change to the construction industry is the reuse of recycled materials or the use of sustainable products. In this case, sustainability can mean two things: how a material is sourced and its longevity. 

Obviously, certain products take more of a toll on the environment than others. Ask your supplier for the full breadth of product options and look for those produced with more environmentally friendly substances and materials, such as insulation made from shredded denim or wool, countertops made with recycled glass and timber products that aren’t treated with toxic chemicals.  Sustainable materials have a longer lifecycle, conserving more energy, reducing the need for replacement and lowering the cost of maintenance.

One example of a product excelling in both types of sustainability is concrete. Many are now made up of recycled materials to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. Concrete also rarely needs to be replaced due to its durability. It can even withstand, and be recycled after, natural disasters, fires and earthquakes. There are many other sustainable products on the market, such as modified wood, fiberglass insulation, metal roofing and air-cleaning drywall.

Collaborate with Your Peers

The lack of collaboration among logistics professionals in the construction industry slows down the process of implementing new sourcing methods. When working independently, contractors spend significant amounts of time researching new products, conversing with supplier companies and determining how to make logistical changes. To alleviate this problem, partner with subcontractors who have experience working closely with the local community of supplier companies. Their networks will speed up the process and expose you to a wider breadth of products. 

This sort of collaboration allows companies to save time and money, as well as raise the standards of responsible building across the board. You can also seek out research reports to better inform your staff on the state of the industry and attend supply chain management conferences to hear from other professionals on solutions their own logistics teams have implemented. For example, The Logistics and Supply Chain Forum is a conference held twice annually, bringing together senior logistics and supply chain professionals across industries to expose attendees to new perspectives and methods of developing more effective supply chains. 

Incorporating sustainable products and strategizing their transportation and storage is a necessary first step in eco-building. Many companies are still in the process of educating themselves about these new practices, but green building trends are helping to guide responsible sourcing in the right direction for better building in the future. As these practices become more commonplace, the industry and consumers both benefit.