20  March 2012  – Here’s a handy tool for calculating pollution from your building project and solutions for avoiding it and compensating for it.

It’s free, a gift from Burr and The Fifth Estate.

It allows anyone who has a construction project to quickly get some estimates of how much embodied energy and water a project will use and how much it will cost to offset it.

If you can calculate project costs and profits using a spreadsheet such as Excel you can calculate your pollution from your project; it’s that simple.

Think of the spreadsheet as you might when choosing a cleaning product; you can buy an expensive one, all packaged and marketed with sparkling images and smelling of lemons, or you can buy vinegar or get the juice of lemons and get the same result.

Just ask your costs and quantities estimator to do it when they do your cost estimates.

Just as real estate agents are learning and skilling up about sustainability – how to value buildings, what the market is, etc – so, too, can quantity estimators calculate the climate impacts of the materials they’re costing.

The energy, water and pollution caused by building things can be greater than the pollution caused by the use of the building. (1)

Say, for example, your project is a new house and road on the outskirts of town.  You’ll have builders going to and from the site, delivery trucks, waste from the site, food eaten by the workers there and all the services and materials needed to build it over, say, four months.

The spreadsheet tells you what the pollution is for the particular vehicle or product or work practice.  It says that building a small access road over 11 days will put up over 22 tonnes of carbon pollution and use over 40 tonnes of water.

Excavating and building the access road for one big excavation over 18 months causes over half a million tonnes of carbon pollution and uses over 500,000 litres of water.  There’s the hundreds of workers coming and going each day, dozens of trucks and deliveries and loads of waste and food being consumed by workers and services – all that’s pollution the project has caused and which is sitting in Earth’s atmosphere. Some of it’s mixed up in NSW’s floodwaters and the other bits of Earth’s broken climate.

What about the food eaten on construction sites?

With the calculator all you have to do is insert the number of workers and it works out which proportion would be omnivores and vegetarians and works out total project emissions from food from that.

If you’d like to pay your way for the pollution when you cause it the calculator is one option for you.

If you want to market your project as “sustainable” and make claims about that in the marketplace to help sales then such a claim, absent you offsetting your pollution, may be misleading and deceptive and expose you to litigation under various trade practices laws.  Burr will deal with that topic another time.

The carbon tax laws do zip about your project’s pollution.  It’s up to you.

The calculator only offers carbon farming and food waste composting as the solution to take you carbon pollution out of Earth’s atmosphere. Trees and other solutions are not offered. The idea of planting trees to offset pollution is silly; they only take carbon out of Earth’s atmosphere after 30 or so years – if they’re still growing in those climate hotter times. (2)

But carbon farming does it from the week your money is paid and goes into the farm.  And by investing in carbon farming you’re supporting Australian farmers, productivity and local economies.

The calculator also assumes you compost food waste from the site and you arrange for food waste to be brought to the site to cut pollution from city food waste and to grow soil there on landscaped areas during construction.  Of course, once the project is finished the building owners and tenants can use any composting resources you wish to leave as part of the project and they may then cut their own pollution over the life of the project.

Any project (home, office, subdivision) saves more water by reducing food waste than with water efficient taps and toilets you may install there. In my sustainable house, for example, by being disconnected from mains water and sewer, the systems save over 100,000 litres of dam water a year.  But in ten days of eating the typical Australian diet there’s over 100,000 litres in my food.  That’s why I’m growing as much food as I can where I live and work.

To underline this point here’s an almost indigestible fact; the water wasted in the US would grow enough food to feed 500 million people. (3)

The calculator allows you to calculate the climate change from the food wasted from food eaten on construction sites.   It’s yet to have the embodied water put in; but if you get the calculator you can do that easily.

Some tips for saving construction money and avoiding pollution:

  • Modular, prefabricated construction causes less pollution than site-made projects
  • Using existing site materials causes less pollution eg recycling materials, using soil and water on site
  • Harvesting and storing rainwater on site for future use during construction causes less pollution than importing water from offsite

To get the excel spread sheet just click here.

If you download the spread sheet you can easily expand the data in it to suit your project.  This version is only intended as a starting point for any project. It doesn’t cover all project pollution.

It only takes a moment to add data sources; use the one already given or find them easily on the web.  The web’s made it possible for any of us to easily get data about pollution from construction.

Have fun with it. Enjoy your project .

I wish you lots of profits and choices to renew and sustain our lovely, torn Earth and her broken climate.

(1)   https://www.natural-building.co.uk/environmental_impact.htmlhttps://www.sustainablebuild.co.uk/pollutionfromconstruction.htmlhttps://www.sustainablehomes.co.uk/upload/publication/Embodied%20Energy.pdf;   https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zero-energy_building

(2)  https://www.ieabioenergy-task38.org/description/task38folder.pdf; to find out where carbon is stored in Earth have a look at: https://cdiac.ornl.gov/ftp/ndp017/table.html

(3) Lundqvist, de Fraiture, D Molden, “Saving water: from field to fork – curbing losses in the food chain”, Stockholm International Water Institute

Solutions for Construction Pollution Estimator

How to Estimate & Compensate for Development Pollution                                                                                   During the Project Without Slowing it Down.
Work Example: Three workers to pour a small & non-structural 5sqm concrete slab. One worker lives 23km away and drives a ute (46km there and back). Another lives 12km away and drives a 4WD (24km there and back). And the boss works 15km a day (30km there and back) and drives a Tabletop Truck carrying 3.8m3 of sand and 1.3m3 of cement for the pour. All workers drive to work from home, and then drive straight home at the end of the day. Each worker eats one average lunch with a red meat protein.
How to Use This Calculator:
Fill in the blue fields in this calculator with numbers relevant to your project to work out its environmental impact. Then work out how to offset these emissions by tweaking different scenarios in the Solutions section.
Determine the Carbon Emissions of Your Project
Step 1: Determine the environmental impact of the project due to transport.
Transport Emissions (per 20km)Fuel Con. (L/20km)CO2* (kg/20km)Total Trip Distance (km)Total Trip Emissions (kgCO2)
4WD 8-Cylinder2.726.256247.5072
Ute 6-Cylinder2.345.3824612.3786
Tabletop Truck (Izuzu)2.15.67308.505
Crane Truck6.617.8200
*   Emissions for Vehicles taken as 2.3kg/L for Unleaded Petrol, & 2.7kg/L for Diesel (https://www.environment.gov.au/settlements/transport/fuelguide/environment.html)Sub-Total:28.3908
Step 2: Determine the environmental impact of the project due to embodied energy of materials.
MaterialEmbodied Energy (MJ/kg)CO2 Conversion** (kg)Density (kg/m3)Amount Used (m3)Equivalent Emissions (kgCO2)
Kiln dried sawn softwood3.40.33561.000.000.00
Kiln dried sawn hardwood20.20561.000.000.00
Stabilised earth / Sand0.70.071520.003.80396.23
Fibre cement4.80.470.000.00
Insitu Concrete1.90.192400.000.000.00
Precast steam-cured concrete20.200.000.00
Clay bricks2.50.251920.000.000.00
Concrete blocks1.50.152400.000.000.00
Galvanised steel383.720.000.00
** CSIRO Conversion – 1MJ of Embodied Energy is equivalent to 0.098kgCO2Sub-Total:1470.67
Step 3: Determine the environmental impact of the project due to food consumed during working hours.
No. of Workers on Project:3
DietEmissions*** (tCO2/year/person)Emissions (kgCO2/meal)Workers on Each DietDuration of Project (Days)Total Emissions per Diet (kgCO2)
Average Australian4.54.113336.99
Vegetarian (incl. eggs & dairy)2.42.19000.00
*** CSIRO Home Energy Saving Handbook – pg52Sub-Total:36.99
Total Project CO2 Emissions (kg):1536.05
Pollution Solutions: Offsetting the Carbon Impact of Your Project
1. Reducing Food Waste Emissions Through CompostNo. of 10kg Milk Crates SubmittedCO2 Saved (kg)2. Carbon Farming DonationNo. of DonationsCO2 Saved (kg)
10kg of Food Waste to Compost Saves 38kg of CO2e411558$100 Donation00
$300 Donation00
$500 Donation00
Total Project CO2 Emissions Offset (kg):1558
Have Emissions Been Successfully Offset?:Yes
For more info, see: https://www.carbonfarmersofaustralia.com.au

+ Each $100 Donation to Carbon Farming results in 4000kg of CO2e being taken out of the atmosphere