N.J. can become national model for sustainable construction

Momentum is mounting in our nation’s capital for the passage of a nearly $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure deal negotiated by President Joe Biden and Republicans in the Senate.

Recently, the Problem Solvers Caucus in the House of Representatives backed the plan, moving it one step closer to receiving the broad support it will need to pump billions into modernizing vital infrastructure, including electrifying our transportation sector and upgrading bridges, rail and other public transit systems.

That’s certainly good news for New Jersey, where leaders such as U.S. Sens. Robert Menendez and Cory Booker (both D-N.J.) have vowed to ensure the state gets its fair share of funding from the massive deal.

Early reports say the trillion-dollar plan could advance the Gateway Tunnel project, pump as much as $30 billion into Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor and help build projects like a $1 million pedestrian and bike bridge over the Passaic River and a $1.6 million upgrade for the New Jersey Transit bus terminal in Passaic. If passed, the deal would be a major boost to infrastructure and addressing climate change through greener building.

The good news is that New Jersey is already helping to lead the way on both of those fronts.

A recent analysis from the White House shows that 57,139 New Jersey residents hold jobs in clean energy, a strong starting point for additional investment in a green American economy. I know the power of these investments firsthand, as the New Jersey Sustainable Business Council promotes green construction at every turn.

Our dedication to energy efficiency helps reduce our region’s carbon footprint and helps build smarter for future generations, at a time when climate change has reached the boiling point, so to speak.

We believe, as the federal Environmental Protection Agency does, that energy efficiency is the first step to green properties. This is also in line with Biden’s call to “Build Back Better” after COVID-19 and the recent economic difficulties.

The New Jersey Sustainable Business Council is eager to play a role in rebuilding America in a smarter, more environmentally friendly way that reduces our carbon footprint and helps beat back the escalating risks from climate change.

The “Build Back Better” plan has a range of other supporters, as well, including Menendez and Booker, who should be applauded for their fierce advocacy in championing green infrastructure.

We won’t win on climate, though, just by constructing more efficient homes and buildings.

We’ll also need to tackle tough challenges, such as so-called “hard-to-abate” sectors, such as heavy manufacturing and heavy-duty transportation. These sectors are major sources of carbon and have historically proven difficult when it comes to lowering greenhouse emissions. The good news is that at least one major emissions source, aluminum, has a promising path forward.

New technology and approaches are making it possible to produce low-carbon aluminum, a valuable commodity used worldwide for both construction and components parts in manufacturing. Using low-carbon smelters and cleaner energy sources such as hydropower, low-carbon aluminum produces just a fraction of the greenhouse gas emissions as traditional aluminum manufacturing processes.

This is precisely the kind of low carbon input that can help ensure the upcoming infrastructure deal meets Biden’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and should be a model for reducing emissions from other hard-to-abate sectors.

Just as I work to reduce emissions in my own work as the leader of the business council, I urge builders and manufacturers to use low-carbon building materials to help build American infrastructure “back better” in a green way.

Leaning on our ingenuity and the political will of our state’s leaders both in D.C. and locally, New Jersey can continue building a model for sustainable construction that can inform how to enact an infrastructure package that builds smarter for the future. By doing so, we can reduce our greenhouse emissions and protect our climate for future New Jersey generations.

Richard Lawton is executive director of the New Jersey Sustainable Business Council, a network of companies working to advance market and policy solutions for a more vibrant, sustainable and equitable economy.