Note: EPA no longer updates this information, but it may be useful as a reference or resource.
The Construction sector consists of establishments engaged in constructing, renovating, and demolishing buildings and other engineering structures. The sector includes contractors in commercial, residential, highway, and heavy industrial (e.g., tunnels, airports, and dams) and municipal utility construction (e.g., wastewater treatment plants). Specialized trades within the sector include work that is commonly subcontracted such as plumbing, heating, masonry, and painting.
EPA and the states regulate construction site stormwater runoff, dredge and fill activities in U.S. waters and wetlands, oil and chemical spills, air emissions, asbestos handling, and solid/hazardous waste storage and disposal. Construction practices may also affect indoor air quality, materials recycling, energy use, and vegetation and habitat quality.
In response to increasing awareness of the environmental impacts of building, "green construction" is a growing trend. Green construction seeks to minimize the impacts of construction activities on the environment. This is achieved through materials selection, recycling and reuse, sustainable design, energy efficiency, etc.
Although residential construction has slowed considerably in recent years, spending on overall construction nearly doubled over the past decade. In 2006, the value of construction put in place totaled $1.1 trillion, or 9 percent of the U.S. gross domestic product. Spending on residential construction totaled $647 billion; nonresidential spending totaled $545 billion. More than 90 percent of construction companies have fewer than 20 employees.
You can find recent data and trends for this sector in the Construction chapter of the most recent Sector Performance Report.
Compliance Assistance Guide for the Construction Industry
EPA's Office of Compliance published the Managing Your Environmental Responsibilities: A Planning Guide for Construction and Development (the MYER Guide). This assistance tool reflects significant input from stakeholders and is a product of a joint effort by the industry, states, other federal agencies, non-governmental organizations, and EPA.
The MYER Guide contains two sets of checklists and detailed discussion/case studies on major environmental areas (including stormwater) affecting the construction industry. It is designed to help the construction industry understand which environmental regulations apply to them, and it can be used during different phases of a construction project. The industry can use the Guide at the pre-bid phase to learn about the applicable environmental requirements so appropriate costs can be taken into consideration early. The industry can also use the responsibility-assignment checklist during the pre-construction phase to facilitate allocation of environmental responsibilities to all parties before breaking ground. In addition, the readers will find answers to many environmental questions and can conduct self audits by using the self-audit checklists included in Part II of the Guide, during the construction phase.The MYER Guide is designed so that each of the checklists and chapters can be pulled out and used in the field. Hard copies are available at no cost from the National Service Center for Environmental Publications (NSCEP) at (800) 490-9198. Please specify document number EPA305-B-04-003 when you request a copy.
Construction and Climate: Potential For Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions In the Construction Sector
No single construction company is a significant greenhouse gas contributor, but the carbon footprint of the entire sector is substantial because the industry is so large. EPA's February 2009 report, Potential for Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions in the Construction Sector (PDF) (49 pp, 803K About PDF), documents the industry's emissions and examines ways to reduce them. The report presents one scenario for cutting emissions by millions of tons per year.
Diesel Emission Reductions
Cleaner Diesels: Low-Cost Ways to Reduce Emissions from Construction Equipment (PDF) (38 pp, 433K About PDF), published in March 2007, documents a research project designed to study and identify low-cost ways to reduce emissions from non-road construction equipment. It reports on the costs and benefits of a number of these strategies/actions that may be taken by small companies (and medium or larger ones as well) in the Construction sector to reduce their emissions. Air pollution from diesel emissions is a public health concern that reaches every part of the country. The two main pollutants of concern in diesel exhaust that affect human health are nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM). The Construction sector is a significant contributor to these emissions, creating 32 percent of all mobile source NOx emissions and 37 percent of PM emissions.
Emission Reduction Incentives for Off-Road Diesel Equipment Used in the Port and Construction Sectors (PDF) (94 pp, 588K, About PDF), published in May 2005, documents the development of incentives to reduce diesel emissions from off-road equipment used in the Port and Construction sectors. This report contributed to the EPA Clean Air Act Advisory Committee's Recommendations for Reducing Diesel Emissions (PDF) (92 pp, 530K, About PDF).
In 2007, a cross-EPA team examined appropriate measures of performance and availability of data from sources outside EPA. The September 2007 report, Measuring Construction Industry Environmental Performance (PDF) (42pp, 424K, About PDF), recommends ways to chart the industry's progress in green construction, debris management, diesel air emissions, stormwater permit coverage, energy use, and greenhouse gas emissions. The recommended measures were used in EPA's 2008 Sector Performance Report (PDF) (138 pp, 11.6MB, About PDF).
Tracking the environmental performance of the Construction sector presents challenges due to the large number of construction companies and construction sites, the prevalence of small businesses, and lack of data. Data that are commonly available for manufacturing sectors, such as chemical releases from EPA’s Toxics Release Inventory, are either not applicable to or not available for the Construction sector. To address the measurement challenge, in September 2007 EPA recommended measures of performance for the sector covering energy use, greenhouse gas emissions, diesel air emissions, stormwater compliance, construction and demolition debris management, and green building practices.
These measures indicate several trends:
- Construction-related energy use is increasing faster than the growth in construction activity.
- Many construction companies have begun retrofitting older diesel equipment, reducing air pollution.
- More construction sites are complying with the requirement to obtain stormwater permits, although the percentage of construction sites in compliance is still unknown.
- The percentage of construction and demolition materials that are recycled varies widely from state to state; materials are recycled more in highway construction than building construction.
- In addition to constructing more green buildings, many contractors are “greening” their own operating practices.
Environmental Management Systems
In September 2004, EPA released a business case brochure highlighting the benefits of EMS implementation at construction facilities. Environmental Management Systems: Systematically Improving your Performance (PDF) (12 pp, 787K, About PDF) was created with assistance from the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC).
According to AGC, its EMS template will help AGC members achieve and maintain compliance with environmental requirements; meet owner demands for green construction (including recycling and use of sustainable materials); and if a company desires, achieve environmental certifications (such as ISO and LEED).
Associated General Contractors of America offers many environmental services, including information on its collaborative efforts with Sector Strategies, green construction and recycling advances, environmental management systems, and environmental issues (some resources are for association members only).
U.S. Green Building Council is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit community of leaders working to make green buildings available to everyone within a generation. Its web site focuses on the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system, which encourages and accelerates global adoption of sustainable green building and development practices through the creation and implementation of universally understood and accepted tools and performance criteria.
- Environmental Management Systems: Systematically Improving your Performance (PDF) (12 pp, 787K, About PDF)
- Managing Your Environmental Responsibilities: A Planning Guide for Construction and Development (the MYER Guide)
- Cleaner Diesels: Low Cost Ways to Reduce Emissions from Construction Equipment, March 2007 (PDF) (38 pp, 433K, About PDF)
- Emission Reduction Incentives for Off-Road Diesel Equipment Used in the Port and Construction Sectors, May 19, 2005 (PDF) (94 pp, 588K, About PDF)
- Measuring Construction Industry Environmental Performance (PDF) (42pp, 424K, About PDF)
- EPA-sponsored Construction Industry Compliance Assistance Center gives plain English explanations of environmental rules for construction sector.
- National Environmental Compliance Assistance Clearinghouse provides quick access to compliance assistance information.
- Compliance assistance publications—Federal Environmental Requirements for Construction and List of Compliance Assistance Tools for Construction Sites
- Construction & Demolition Debris
- Green Building
- EPA Small Business Ombudsman
- EPA EMS Web site provides an overview of environmental management systems with links to EMS guidance and programs.
- EPA's Pollution Prevention Resource Exchange Network is a residential construction hub.
- P2Rx Topic Hub: Residential Construction is a guide to basic information with links to additional online resources.
- ENERGY STAR provides links to home builders and developers that build ENERGY STAR–qualified new homes, lenders that offer energy efficient mortgages, utilities that offer special incentives to buyers, and home energy raters that can verify the energy efficiency of a home.
- Construction and Demolition Debris Recycling
- Engineering News Record features a variety of construction industry data, including a number of lists of top-ranked firms in several different categories
- BuildingGreen, Inc. publishes “Environmental Building News,” a newsletter that focuses on green construction practices, trends, products, and related information