Reducing carbon emissions is a hot topic in the construction industry and many equipment manufacturers are making strides toward developing more eco-friendly equipment. Ford’s new F-150 is all electric; Volvo is testing the world’s first hydrogen-fuel cell articulated dump truck; and Bobcat unveiled its latest electric compact excavator in May. But what if your fleet doesn’t need expanding? Is reducing carbon emissions even worth worrying about?
Construction Business Owner spoke with Oded Ran, co-founder and CEO of Clue Insights, a fleet management platform. In the conversation that follows, Ran shares insights into CO2 emissions and how contractors and business owners can reduce emissions to reduce costs and increase productivity.
CBO: What qualifies as CO2 emissions? Why are they hazardous to the environment, jobsites, people on jobsites, etc.?
OR: Clue defines CO2 emissions as the measurable carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere based on the burning
of fossil fuels: diesel, gas, propane and the like.
At the field level, CO2 emissions alone aren’t directly hazardous. However, the exhaust output from construction equipment contains an assortment of additional toxins that have been known to cause headaches, dizziness, eye, nose and throat irritation, and the list goes on. So please, don’t hang out too long around unventilated exhaust fumes.
The impact of CO2 comes as you zoom out and look at the bigger picture, the global picture. It’s no secret that CO2 is impacting our environment: the greenhouse effect — greenhouse gasses, CO2 being the main culprit, creates a cover that traps the sun’s heat energy in the atmospheric bubble. This leads to increased temperatures, droughts and severe weather events. It paints a grim picture of the future.
It’s why the United Nations considers a move toward net-zero emissions by 2050 necessary to begin reversing the impact CO2 has already had on our planet. We’re not just playing for profit, but for a livable future.
CBO: How can a contractor pinpoint the severity of their own fleet’s emissions?
OR: Measuring emissions isn’t a particularly easy thing to do right now and contractors only have two options: a hardware solution done by installing a sensor that takes a direct measurement or a software solution that analyzes operations and engine data to extrapolate and define emissions. Hardware solutions are often cost prohibitive and sometimes impossible as equipment is often being rented or sensors are incompatible with particular makes and models. Software is obviously much more reasonable to implement. The downside being that if the algorithm being utilized isn’t particularly good, you can have inaccurate readings and a skewed view of what your carbon emissions actually are.
CBO: Are government regulations, programs and guidance making it easier for business owners to be more environmentally conscious?
OR: The answer here is a resounding yes. Development in the space of emission awareness and tracking is obviously being supported and pushed as a priority. It’s clear that there are moves from administrations globally to educate, regulate and incentivize business owners to reduce their emissions. If I were to leverage any criticism, it would be that governments and bureaucracies are often slow moving, which means that the more agile private sector will likely be developing the technology that ultimately makes the lofty goals on emission reduction attainable.
CBO: How can technology play into the reduction of carbon emissions?
OR: There are lots of ways. From cleaner machines and new materials to machine hour reduction techniques, the complexity of the subject is vast and it’s that complexity that must be solved for contractors in the field.
Emissions shouldn’t be a black box
that needs to be unraveled or deciphered. Technology’s job in this struggle will be reducing the complexity of the issue into well-defined, actionable steps that can be followed and maintained to reduce not only carbon emissions, but some of the underlying inefficiencies that produce those emissions in the first place. Even tracking and reducing something as simple as how long a machine idles can significantly reduce CO2 emissions.
CBO: What’s Clue’s mission when it comes to emission reduction?
OR: Clue’s very first business plan was to track and reduce equipment idling. That was our first use case. Even then, our mission was to revolutionize the inefficiencies in the construction industry. We’ve expanded with the clear vision of transforming construction into a more innovative and productive industry.
Emission reduction is naturally a part of that vision. We want to give everyone the ability to track and understand their impact. That way, as regulations roll out and become more restrictive, contractors already have a roadmap into the future where net-zero emissions isn’t just an abstract dream, but a concrete reality with defined steps to achieve that goal.
CBO: Why should contractors be aware of or interested in carbon reduction?
OR: I suppose the terse response is because we all want a sustainable
future, but I think the driving forces will be fuel and operational efficiency. Being aware and interested in reducing carbon in the field means being interested in reducing costs and increasing productivity.
CBO: What are the benefits and drawbacks of carbon reduction?
OR: At the end of the day, contractors should be interested in carbon reduction because it will increase their profits. The benefits, especially of software methods, is that reducing emissions cuts costs, increases productivity and improves total cost of ownership.
Drawbacks become apparent and breed hesitancy when reduction is focused heavily on return on investment. Things like electric or more green equipment purchases, retrofits and upgrades are certainly impactful but can be completely unrealistic or cost prohibitive. In comparison, software solution costs are negligible, especially for what you get back.
CBO: What kind of costs are involved?
OR: Costs often depend on your approach and what you’re looking to achieve. Purchasing a fleet of electric vehicles will obviously be a huge investment, whereas implementing an integrated equipment management solution like Clue is much, much more reasonable. In the latter case, you’re looking at software installation and implementation costs along with service fees for the features provided by the fleet management software.
CBO: How do contractors get started?
OR: The first step is internal buy-in from owners. As a business owner, if you’re reading this, you’ve already passed the biggest hurdle. The next step would be to assign a lead — equipment manager, vice president, fleet manager, sustainability manager or even yourself — to schedule demos from relevant solutions providers like Clue and find what works for your company. I can say from experience that one of the main drivers towards sustainability are clients, and more and more clients are expecting contractors to run clean operations, so it’s never too early to get ahead of customer expectations.
CBO: Which contractors are leaders in this space?
OR: I’d say look to Michels Construction (michels.us) and Graham Construction (grahambuilds.com) as models for moving forward in the emissions space.
CBO: Why is this important for contractors to acknowledge? And where can they get more information?
OR: If contractors ignore where the industry is headed, they’re going to lose bids. Soon, regulations will be in a place where they may not be able to even make a bid if their emission standards are suspect. Emission reduction is here to stay. Acknowledging that is necessary for surviving and being profitable in the industry. If for some reason contractors can’t or won’t do that, their opinions and businesses are much like the typewriter: obsolete. More information on emissions can be found through the United Nation’s website. Our own articles and podcast The Full Scoop touch on many topics related to productivity, efficiency, emissions and forward-facing technology. And industry-leading publications are always a strong resource for the most up-to-date information.