‘Green’ builders can do more to reduce our carbon footprint

With scientists from the United Nations reporting this week that climate change will be intensifying over the next 30 years because of our planet’s addiction to fossil fuels, it is now incumbent for all business sectors to make changes.

Even if corporations across the world decided — finally and uniformly — to cut emissions today, we are learning that global warming will still occur, around 1.5 degrees Celsius within the next two decades.

But this report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change does not indicate all is lost. We can collectively prevent the situation from becoming even worse — if global corporations stop pumping more and more carbon dioxide into the air over the next 30 years. That requires an immediate shift away from fossil fuels.

The U.S. is considered among the 10 worst emitters of fossil fuels in the world — an alarming fact for any builder who uses coal-fired materials. I can only imagine how the mass build-out of New Jersey since the end of World War II has contributed to the environmental catastrophe the globe is now facing.

Within the state’s homebuilding industry, we must do more to reduce our carbon footprint and build smarter, reversing the trend.

As an environmentally conscious builder in New Jersey, we use LED lighting, Energy Star windows and sensor lighting to minimize energy consumption. We are also strong advocates for solar energy, which I advocated for 15 years ago, when many homeowners doubted if these strange-looking panels would even work.

At Needle Point Homes, we incorporate high-efficiency, multizone HVAC systems and Energy Star appliances. We also reduce waste on the construction site, ensuring cardboard, glass, low-carbon aluminum and other preferred materials are recycled.

I’ve now seen momentum across the entire green building sector, which is promising. But this latest United Nations report shows, sadly, that our industry will not play a major role in fighting climate change by just constructing more efficient homes, with the latest programmable thermostats or energy-efficient air conditioners that better respond to a hot climate just getting hotter.

We must also raise awareness of the 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, this building material produces just a fraction of the greenhouse gas emissions as traditional aluminum manufacturing processes.

This is precisely the kind of low carbon input that should serve as an example for the green building sector, as the alarm bells from this United Nations report ring loud.

Leaning on the ingenuity of green builders and the political will of our state’s leaders both in Washington, D.C., and locally, New Jersey must become a model for sustainable, low-carbon construction, especially aluminum. By doing so, we can reduce carbon emissions and slow, if not stall, the steady destruction of our climate.

Steve Needle is president of Needle Point Homes of Cranford.