A New Mindset to Reduce Waste in Construction  

reducing waste in construction

A recent National Geographic article posed a compelling question: is a world without waste possible? In the construction industry, there’s no denying that waste is an issue, and has been for many years. Globally, construction uses three billion metric tons of natural resources to manufacture building materials every year. Up to 30% of this is wasted, with rework, overestimating, and inaccurate data all contributing to the problem. According to a report by Transparency Market Research, worldwide construction waste could nearly double to 2.2 billion tons by 2025. So, is an industry without waste even a possibility?

“But really, to get along on this Earth, we must do just one thing: Stop wasting so much of it.” - Robert Kunzig, Senior Environment Editor at National Geographic

In other words, you don’t have to be an environmental scientist to understand that we in construction have a problem. Luckily, there are many forward-thinking construction professionals waking up to both the detrimental environmental and financial impacts of demolition and material waste. While we still have a long way to go as an industry to achieve zero waste, there are immediate steps we can all take to reduce it. 

Systematically reducing waste ultimately impacts your bottom line and requires a focus on how we manage projects, leading to smart, ecologically sustainable management of construction materials and demolition waste. It starts with a new mindset.

How to Reduce Waste in Construction: What’s Up for Discussion

Projects are becoming bigger, and in some instances, more complex with increasingly aggressive deadlines. Reducing waste doesn’t just impact our natural resources and environment; it also negatively affects the financial stability of construction firms. The more your company expands to larger-scale projects, the greater the need to rethink your current processes and how to reduce risk that ultimately leads to waste. 

At CONEXPO 2020, in my session, “Feel Like You're Wasting Away? How Connected Workforces Reduce Construction Waste,” I will be discussing the what and how of maintaining a new mindset when reducing waste in the construction industry – one that solves both project and business outcomes that are most important to you. 

While I won’t get into too many specifics in this post, here is what you can expect to learn at the session:

Need for Project Predictability

No matter the size of your company or scope of the projects you work on, one thing contractors of all sizes try to solve for is a way to create more predictability on their projects. Predictability is critical for achieving key business outcomes like waste reduction and improved efficiency. For many contractors, technology has helped. Yet, creating predictability through repeatable processes has still remained a challenge leaving many contractors wondering which technology or technology stack is right for their businesses. 

Getting to the Root of the Issue

To improve predictability with technology, it’s crucial first to understand the root cause. For instance, let’s say you want to reduce costs on your project. Start by identifying which areas of your current projects are seeing the highest cost overruns. Are they a result of excessive material waste due to rework? Are they due to inefficiencies in labor or poor scheduling?  

Whatever it might be, it’s important to identify the root cause, or at the very least, understand some of the inefficiencies that may be causing overruns. 

Taking a Step Back to Move Forward

Now that you understand the root cause, start thinking about the end – as in what outcome do you want to achieve? With an expected outcome in mind, you need to work backward:

  • Identify the outcome you expect to achieve.
  • Define any roadblocks that are preventing your construction firm from achieving this outcome.
  • List all of the processes your team needs to carry out to reach the anticipated outcome.
  • Look for any processes that need improvements and manage those.
  • Identify the key people who will be involved in the project or processes.
  • Decide on the technology, software, and other tech solutions that your company will procure in order to achieve the desired outcome.

By identifying that end goal you want to achieve, you are able to develop a strategy with clear steps on how you will get there. Costly issues of rework and time on a construction site, as well as construction material waste and demolition waste, can be reduced if a strategy, including a technology plan, is adopted across the project and organization. This formula has proven to be the right solution for many of the customers I work with to help predict and plan for issues related to waste.

A New Mindset in Action

Consider the following case study:

MWH Treatment saw additional “time on site” as a significant contributor to project cost. By cutting down on time on site, MWH Treatment could improve ROI for projects quite simply. The issue was figuring out which factors were causing time on site to be such a burden.

The main problem turned out to be their inspection and coordination workflows. Using an analog workflow was preventing team members from sharing information. This caused discoordination in the end design, which led to an increase in rework. Some solutions that worked for this company to reduce waste in construction were:

  • Autodesk BIM 360 to manage construction project strategy and implementation
  • BIM 360 Community at Autodesk provided additional online support including answering questions and receiving feedback

The results have been that MWH Treatment reduced rework costs and time on site by 7.3% weekly. Over the course of a year, the company projects they are saving £1.02M. That is a substantial savings for a company of any size, and far worth the risk of investing some time and money in new technology. It is more about identifying the source of the rework and coming up with a plan to make a process change.

Alyssa Schear

Industry Outcome Lead, Construction, Autodesk