Sustainability Practices and Metrics for the Construction Phase of Capital Projects

RT-304 Topic Summary
RT 304


Construction sustainability is the construction phase implementation of practices, strategies, and actions that address current and future environmental, social, and economic needs, while considering capital project safety, quality, cost, and schedule. This research identified 54 unique actions that project teams can take during construction to enhance overall project sustainability. Capital project owners and constructors increasingly seek guidance and resources to integrate and evaluate sustainability decisions and actions into their project construction services. Major project stakeholders desire enhanced and transparent sustainability strategies and metrics in order to promote project sustainability culture, engagement, participation, and performance.

To respond to this trend, RT-304 established structured approaches to determining, executing, and judging effective sustainability solutions during the construction phase of capital projects. The scope of this research is limited to the construction phase, which the team defined as starting at the contractors initial planning for jobsite presence and as ending with the final commissioning report. Examples of such construction discretionary decisions and activities include the following: temporary facility design and construction; construction means and methods; and management of the worksite, workforce, subcontractors/suppliers, and temporary facilities. Examples of sustainability actions out of the research scope include those required by either project designs or broad-based regulatory compliance. Also, although safety is a factor in any successful sustainability implementation, the team excluded actions that affect only safety.

The research identified optional construction phase actions to enhance capital project sustainability, then catalogued these actions, sorted them by relevant construction function, and termed them Construction Phase Sustainability Actions (CPSAs). The team pursued four concurrent developments:

  1. A model of the construction sustainability process
  2. CPSA-specific implementation guidance (for 3 example CPSAs)
  3. A tool for screening or prioritizing CPSAs for individual projects
  4. A list of construction sustainability input and output metrics

RT-304 builds upon the pioneering research conducted by RT-250, Sustainable Design and Construction for Industrial Construction.

Key Findings and Implementation Tools

1 : Construction Sustainability Process

The research presents the recommended process for incorprating or integrating sustainability on capital projects during construction. Each of the seven distinct steps is important, regardless of construction contracting approach or division or responsibilties between owner and contractor. Implementing this process will be optimal in early construction planning stages.

Step 1 – Establish Objectives

Step 2 – Rank Top Actions

Step 3 – Select Actions

Step 4 – Plan Action Implementation

Step 5 – Implement Actions

Step 6 – Measure Outcomes

Step 7 – Improve Process

The research elaborates on step descriptions and associated implementation resources. (RS304-1, p. 9)

Reference: (RS304-1)

2 : 54 Construction Phase Sustainability Actions (CPSAs)

RT-304 identified 54 unique CPSAs that project teams can take during construction to enhance overall project sustainability. The CPSAs are organized into eight primary construction functions:

  • Project Management
  • Contracting
  • Field Engineering
  • Site Facilities and Operations
  • Craft Labor Management
  • Materials Management
  • Construction Equipment Management
  • Quality Management, Commissioning and Handover

Nearly two-thirds of the 54 CPSAs pertain to three construction functions: project management, field engineering, and site facilities and operations. The assessment identifies two common barriers to successful implementation for each CPSA. IR304-2 presents the entire CPSA catalog in its Appendix A, where the CPSAs are sequenced according to construction function. The research also provides a sample CPSA catalog entry. (RS304-1, p. 11)

Reference: (RS304-1)

3 : CPSA Screening Tool

Choosing from a catalog of 54 CPSAs may seem challenging to project teams seeking a limited number of CPASs for their projects. To meet this challenge, RT-304 developed a screening tool to help project managers determine the most applicable CPSAs for any given project. The screening tool solicits user input on project-specific sustainability priorities and general project characteristics, to generate a prioritized list of CPSAs. To process user input, the tool relies on tool-resident fixed data on CPSA sustainability impact types and magnitudes, along with CPSA benefit-leveraging conditions – variables covered in the CPSA catalog (RS304-1, p. 25).

Reference: (RS304-1)

4 : Sustainability Metrics

One of the primary objectives of this research was the development of construction sustainability metrics. Such metrics can help project teams assess their sustainability implementation efforts or measure performance against set targets. They can also measure sustainability implementation progress over time. In general, metrics come in one of two forms: input-oriented and output-oriented metrics.

  • Input metrics typically measure the breadth and/or extent of effort applied in the pursuit of an established goal.
  • Output metrics focus on the actual achievement of one or more performance goals.

RT-304 developed the CPSA Implementation Index, an input metric, as a numerical measure of the breadth and extent of a project’s implementation for all 54 CPSAs. (RS304-1, p. 27 or IR304-2, p. 33)

Performance-oriented output metrics are generally preferable to resource- or process-oriented input metrics, and the research team identified a wide range of construction sustainability output metrics. Following are the seven most predominant output metrics (RS304-1, p. 28):

  1. Percentage of projects with sustainability performance section in project reports
  2. Cost savings
  3. Portion/volume of total waste recycled or diverted from a landfill
  4. Street value of recycled material
  5. Equipment environmental performance
  6. Size of carbon footprint from project
  7. Number of complaints from community, agency, or camp residents
Reference: (RS304-1)

5 : Implementation Tool #1

IR304-2, A Framework for Sustainability During Construction

  • CPSA Screening Tool – This tool enables users to find the CPSAs most applicable to their projects. 
  • CPSA Implementation Index Calculator – The calculator determines a numerical measure of the breadth and extent of CPSA implementation.
  • Appendix A – Catalog of Construction Phase Sustainability Actions
  • Appendix B – CPSA 28 Checklist Tool: Sustainable Temporary Site Facilities/Services
  • Appendix C – CPSA 30 Guidance: Source of Onsite Power
Reference: (IR304-2)

Key Performance Indicators

Improved environmental, triple bottom line

Research Publications

A Framework for Sustainability during Construction - IR304-2

Publication Date: 11/2014 Type: Implementation Resource Pages: 145 Status: Tool

Sustainability during Construction: Process and Actions - RS304-1

Publication Date: 10/2014 Type: Research Summary Pages: 31 Status: Supporting Product

Study of Sustainability Opportunities during Construction - RR304-11

Publication Date: 09/2014 Type: Research Report Pages: 204 Status: Reference

Presentations from CII Events

Session - Tools and Tips to Implement Sustainability on Your Project

Publication Date: 03/2015 Presenter: Number of Slides: 50 Event Code: PIW315

Plenary Session - Who Wants to Be... More Sustainable?

Publication Date: 08/2014 Presenter: Tom Szkut Number of Slides: 2 Event Code: AC14

Implementation Session - Who Wants to Be... More Sustainable?

Publication Date: 08/2014 Presenter: Tom Szkut Number of Slides: 48 Event Code: AC14