GUEST POST: Green Alternatives for Construction Equipment

The Problem

Construction equipment is a leading contributor to dangerous diesel pollution. According to the US EPA Clean Air Act Advisory Committee, “A single bulldozer engine can emit as much particulate matter as more than 500 cars.” As diesel exhaust carries carcinogens, soot (scientifically referred to as “fine particulate matter”) and ozone smog-forming compounds, diesel-powered construction equipment leaves our society more susceptible to asthma attacks, strokes, lung cancer, heart attacks and premature deaths.

The Government Steps In

Local and state governments are creating initiatives towards green construction using pollution controls and cleaner diesel. The US EPA has developed the Clean Construction USA program in order to reduce the impact of nonroad diesel engines, fine particulate matter and nitrogen oxides. The program has set new emission standards for new construction equipment engines. Unfortunately, these regulations do not apply to existing construction equipment, which can operate for up to thirty years. In this sense, it will take several decades to completely replace old environmentally threatening equipment with greener alternatives.

In the meantime, the EPA’s Clean Construction USA program seeks to provide older construction equipment owners with methods of reducing unhealthy emissions, including proper maintenance of equipment, use of cleaner fuels (such as ultra-low sulfur diesel fuel), retrofitting diesel engines with greener technologies (such as 90% soot reducing diesel particulate filters), cutting down on engine idling time and repowering old parts (such as engines) with cleaner options.

Private Companies Discover a New Market

Volvo, seeing a new market in green construction equipment, has developed green-friendly options for construction companies and contractors. Volvo’s going green initiative promotes the use of bio-degradable hydraulic fluids, high-pressure diesel injectors (which cut harmful nitrogen oxides and non-methane hydrocarbons by 38 percent), optimized air management systems, measures to reduce hydraulic oil spillages, and the reuse of equipment components to conserve resources. As with all trends, other construction equipment companies are sure to follow suit to stay relevant in the market.

According to Andrew P. Studdert, CEO of aerial equipment company NES Rentals, recycling is already a significant part of their business. “We recycle all the waste fluids that we generate, lightbulbs and paper products,” he said. “We try to reduce our carbon footprint wherever we can.” Still, the company (like many others) can do more.


On November 2008, by a two-thirds majority, the gas-guzzling county of Los Angeles voted in favor of Measure R, a $40 billion project aimed at traffic relief and improved public transportation. According to estimates from the Los Angeles County Economic Development Corporation, the project is slated to add numerous new transit and highway options for Angelinos, in addition to over 210,000 construction jobs – bringing a whopping $32 billion back into the county’s struggling economy.

Of course, a project of this scale requires an enormous influx of construction equipment. As Los Angeles is already suffering from widespread construction-related diesel pollution (contributing to approximately 2,000 premature deaths in California every year), as of June 16, 2011, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) instituted a green construction policy. The policy seeks to reduce harmful emissions from construction diesel engines to reduce dangerous PM, NOx, and greenhouse gas emissions using the most cost-effective solutions. Greener practices for construction contractors will include replacing older construction equipment with green models and retrofitting existing equipment.

The South Coast Air Quality Management District, the region’s air quality agency, has dedicated several millions of dollars to funding these efforts.

Hopefully this collaborative project will not only raise the bar for construction equipment standards but also improve eco-friendly public transportation in Los Angeles. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for the smog capital of America.

What You Can Do

Don’t sit around and wait for change. While you may not directly be involved with construction, you are directly affected by its harmful emissions. Check out what actions your local or state governments are taking to improve construction pollution, and inquire about ways you can endorse their efforts.

Photo: FEMA