Facilities (Campus Spaces)

Green Demolition

green demolition


According to an April 2018 report, at least 50 buildings of 10 stories or more are going up in Chicago. Now that we have entered the summer season—when building construction typically picks up—even more buildings may be under way or about to be completed.

It’s getting difficult to keep up with them all. In response, what one local business publication has done is create a “cranes report.” They publish how many cranes are found dotting the city, and use that as an indication of how much construction—and demolition—is going on.

Now, Chicago is the second-most urban city in the country, right behind New York. That means there is little or no empty space, whether that’s in the business district or on one of Chicago’s many urban college campuses. In most cases, for a new building to go up, an old one must come down.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), more than 534 million tons of construction and demolition debris is generated in the U.S. each year. However, here’s the zinger: demolition represents more than 90 percent of this debris; the actual construction of the new facility generates only about 10 percent.

So where does all this debris go?

You guessed it: to landfills.

Solving the Landfill Problem

It doesn’t need to be this way. Whether we are talking about a new office building, a new apartment building, or new construction on a college or university campus, there are ways to bring sustainability into the demolition process. These opportunities are all too often unrealized or overlooked in the haste to get the new structure up and running.

To be fair, if the facility being torn down has historical significance or is filled with artifacts and building materials of importance, these may have value and are sold or may even be reused in the new facility. However, this does not happen all that often.

What other steps can campus administrators take to both reduce the amount of debris generated and also make the entire demolition procedure more environmentally responsible? Here are some ideas.

Consider deconstructing the existing building. Deconstructing refers to the selective dismantlement of a facility and its components for the purpose of reusing all or most of the salvageable materials in the facility. It can also refer to reusing the old building’s structure or foundation.

Employ planned demolition. This strategy does not go as far as deconstruction but involves examining the current property for building materials that can be sold, reused, or recycled. A building material that often falls into this category—and that is found in many older facilities—is brick. If the bricks are more than 50 years old, they may not be recommended for construction. However, they can still be reused in other ways. For example, they may be crushed and used as aggregate material to strengthen poured concrete.

Identify and manage harmful materials. Older facilities may contain materials now known to be detrimental to human health and the environment. Often, these materials do not pose a problem once the building has been constructed and is in use. However, when the facility is being torn down, the materials can become dangerous. As part of the demolition planning stage, these materials should be identified and then removed safely so that they do not pose a health hazard to workers or the environment during demolition.

Hire a sustainability-focused demolition contractor. A sustainability-focused demolition contractor can demolish an existing facility with sustainability in mind. These contractors are trained to look for ways to reduce waste and recycle or reuse building materials. They should be brought in during the early stages of the project. College administrators can turn to trade associations such as those listed in the sidebar on page 30 to find such a contractor in their community.

Write sustainability into the contract. Even with a sustainability-focused demolition contractor hired, make sure the agreement emphasizes that all demolition work is to be performed with sustainability as a priority; that demolition is to be completed in an environmentally responsible way; and that all regulatory and environmental rules and regulations are to be followed.

Use high-efficiency demolition equipment. High-efficiency demolition equipment typically releases fewer greenhouse emissions and uses
fuel more efficiently. For instance, some systems now use diesel engines, or they have hybrid attachment packages. Both allow demolition work to be performed using less fuel and releasing fewer emissions than comparable traditional equipment. Some equipment also has heavy-duty magnets that capture metal building materials. The magnets then deposit these metal materials in specific areas for possible reuse or recycling.

Purchase materials locally. Materials will invariably be needed for the demolition project. Purchasing these materials locally can speed up the demolition project as well as reduce the amount of fuel consumed and greenhouse gases emitted to transport these materials.

Emphasize efficiency. “Efficiency” is a key word when it comes to sustainability. It means selecting products and materials that reduce waste, energy, fuel, water, and other natural resources. This should be emphasized in both the demolition and construction processes.

Introduce green cleaning. If the structure and foundation of the facility have been preserved, and certainly once the new facility has been built, new-construction cleanup will be necessary. This is a perfect opportunity to introduce the use of green-certified cleaning solutions into the facility. These products are made from renewable resources, so they promote both health and sustainability.

Involve students, staff, and the community. Just as efficiency is a key word when it comes to sustainability, transparency is a key word when it comes to student, staff, and community relations. Make sure everyone is aware that during the demolition, steps are being taken to reduce waste, protect the environment, and safeguard the health of all on campus.

This article originally appeared in the College Planning & Management July/August 2018 issue of Spaces4Learning.

About the Author

Stephen P. Ashkin is president of The Ashkin Group, and the professional cleaning industry’s leading advocate for promoting sustainability. He is also CEO of Sustainability Dashboard Tools, which offers a cloud-based dashboard that allows organizations to measure, report and improve their sustainability efforts. He is the coauthor of both "The Business of Green Cleaning" and "Green Cleaning for Dummies."