Port Authority Breaks Ground On Clean Construction

Central Hall under construction at LaGuardia Airport
Central Hall under construction at LaGuardia Airport

This week, in celebration of Climate Week 2020 and as part of its ongoing commitment to sustainability, the Port Authority unveiled one of the most ambitious clean construction programs in the United States.

Recognizing that construction activity has environmental impacts and with the urgent need to mitigate effects of climate change wherever possible, the program has been created to reduce emissions, air pollution, and waste throughout the entire lifecycle of agency construction processes.

Those goals became clear earlier this week as the Port Authority hosted a two-session, interactive seminar titled “Breaking Ground on Clean Construction.” Hundreds of participants heard panels of experts from the public and private sectors, non-governmental organizations, and academia as part of Climate Week NYC.

With 39 percent of all global carbon emissions coming from buildings and construction, innovative practices such as the Port Authorities are critical in helping curb emissions and slow the effects of climate change. The agency’s Clean Construction Program implements strategies such as diverting concrete, asphalt, and steel waste from landfills; requiring low emissions vehicles on construction sites; and incorporating LEED and Envision-equivalent standards for sustainable design to do just that.

Executive Director Rick Cotton, who began his law career as an environmental lawyer, kicked off the program by reaffirming the Port Authority’s commitment to sustainability, one of the agency’s six core priorities.

“Climate change is an existential threat, and we’re committed to responding to that threat in everything we do,” he said. That includes working towards achieving the emissions reduction goals of the Paris Accords through strategies such as green building, which extends to the PA’s Clean Construction Program.

After a lively discussion, where panelists shared their optimism about the potential to change the construction industry for the better, Office of Energy and Environmental Programs Director, Christine Weydig, closed out the first day by highlighting the Port Authority’s duty to lead others towards cleaner construction practices.  “We can show the world how it can be done differently,” she said.

If the first day of the conference focused on the big picture, Day 2 focused on the innovative strategies that panelists have employed to cut down on carbon emissions during construction, such as new data-gathering mechanisms and efficient on-site recycling practices that can help reduce costs and the use of natural resources.

For its part, the Port Authority is exploring a new platform that can track the carbon footprint of the materials contractors use, said Dorian Bailey, an environmental scientist in the Materials Engineering group. She added that the Port Authority has already decreased carbon emissions 17 percent by driving down the cement content of certain mixes.

The panelists seemed hopeful that new technologies for reducing and tracking carbon in the construction process will become more available as companies begin to see it as a priority.

Mary K. Murphy, the Port Authority’s Director of Planning and Regional Development Department, closed out the seminar by encouraging participants to think outside the box when coming up with solutions to combat the threat of climate change. “Each of you has influence. We will have to fight a few battles, but we will all be able to make a difference,” she said.

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