Forest Net(work) Installation Wins 2023 SEGD Awards
The SDF Forest Net(work) installation , design and constructed by NBBJ, Berger Partnership, and GLY volunteers, wins two 2023 SEGD Awards.
In 2020, GLY became one of the first signatories nationwide of the Building Green Contractor’s Commitment, a voluntary program that asserts that contractors can and should apply a yardstick to how they use their control over the jobsite to progress sustainable building practices. Since then, we’ve made changes across the company to lower carbon emissions. This includes choosing low-emitting building materials, requiring EPDs from manufacturers, and sourcing local materials to reduce transportation emissions—to name a few. However, it's glaringly clear that our biggest operational emissions are due to fossil fuel, from company vehicles to generators and forklifts.
Our first steps to reduce this dependency included implementing a strict anti-idling policy across all jobsites and switching from regular diesel to renewable diesel [R-99] in our Yard-based truck fleet. Our next step is a bit more involved: incorporating electric vehicles [EVs] into our fleet.
While it’s clear that EV operational emissions are low to zero—supporting our carbon reduction goal—the transition to EVs isn’t so straightforward. What trucks are out there? What about first cost, operational cost, longevity, maintenance, and recyclability? What about the embodied carbon of their batteries? There are many layers to the decision, which called for research by a focused GLY group to ensure electric vehicles—whether one or many—makes sense financially, operationally, and environmentally.
After two major rounds of research and conversations with experts, industry partners, and general contractor peers, we can comfortably proceed with our first EV purchase in 2025, when we estimate that our next fleet addition or trade-in will occur. Plus, the technology's rapid improvements suggest we can expect more options, higher ranges, and more availability, as well as a more established charging infrastructure in the Puget Sound region.
The pursuit and integration of sustainable practices within our business has proven invaluable in shaping our near and long-term priorities. We invite you to leverage the insights from our research and analysis, outlined below, as you make decisions in your own firm’s carbon reduction journey. Together, we can advance the greater community’s progress towards a more sustainable future.
Early in our analysis, two things became apparent:
However, these were not the only considerations. In our research and outreach, it became clear that unraveling the complex pros and cons wouldn't be straightforward.
We decided to apply a nested dependencies model, a sustainability process widely used by universities and organizations. This would consider the economic, societal [and operational], and environmental impacts of each option. The model recognizes that economics is a subset of [or nested in] society, and society is a subset of our environment.
The Nested Dependencies Model of Sustainability
Each of the three major categories above includes many considerations, which we address in more detail below. We have data and perspective on some points—which we will continue to update—and plan for further analysis on others.
Based on our analysis, EVs and hybrids clearly bring some environmental benefits vs. gas and diesel vehicles but also add some risks.
While EVs become increasingly more efficient in their material use [such as smaller batteries], material acquisition remains problematic. Current models typically require six times the mineral inputs of a conventional car outside of basic steel, aluminum, and upholstery because of the make-up of their lithium-ion batteries.
As the world rapidly electrifies across all industries, demand for these batteries puts a strain on the supply of rare earth minerals, including copper, lithium, nickel, cobalt, and others. The majority of this material comes from overseas, sometimes in countries with lower environmental protections, though last year's Inflation Reduction Act incentivizes production in the United States and other countries with greater responsibility. Extraction tends to be carbon- and water-intensive even in the best circumstances.
While lithium batteries offer numerous benefits in terms of reducing carbon emissions and dependence on fossil fuels, there are also concerns about the environmental impact of the battery production and disposal.
For example, a single Tesla Model S battery requires 138 pounds of lithium. Lithium comes from mining and breaking down hard rock or extracting it from saltwater brines called salars. Both processes consume significant water and energy and can damage local ecosystems. Source materials are rare in the United States, and we have only one production plant so far. New discoveries such as the McDermitt caldera in Oregon and Nevada may expand United States' sourcing and refining, but this will take several years, and the process remains a tradeoff even with protections.
Most hybrid vehicles can reduce manufacturing impacts due to their smaller batteries and lower use of rare earth minerals. However, like both traditional gas-powered vehicles and EVs, the exact impacts vary greatly depending on the exact make and model. With so many hybrid options, the nuances warrant their own dedicated case study.
As for gas-powered cars, the manufacturing process emits about half of the carbon emissions of a similar EV option. This delta is almost entirely due to the carbon intensive lithium-ion batteries required for an EV.
Still, the embodied carbon of an EV will eventually be offset by the stark contrast in operating emissions—similar to what we see in the construction and operation of a new building. As a building becomes more energy efficient, the embodied carbon associated with its construction becomes a larger component of the total lifecycle carbon. In the case of an EV, the initial emissions tied to manufacturing make up much of its total carbon output, whereas the predominant carbon output of a gas-powered vehicle occurs during its operation. We share more about this in the next few sections below.
EVs tend to have lower overall emissions over their lifetime compared to traditional internal combustion engine vehicles. Although there's an initial carbon footprint from manufacturing, including lithium extraction for batteries, the emissions during EV operation eventually balance out or even offset this initial impact.
This one is simple. As we just mentioned above, EVs don't emit greenhouse gases when driven, resulting in much smaller operational carbon footprints. This is arguably the key selling point and advantage of EVs and hybrids.
Combustion engines in gas-power vehicles, on the other hand, create emissions and require enormous global infrastructure for their fuel supply, much of it highly-polluting and resource intensive. According to the EPA, the United States’ transportation sector accounted for 29% of global greenhouse gas emissions in 2021. This includes cars, trucks, aircraft, trains, and other sources of transportation.
If you’re curious to learn more about how annual carbon emissions compare between a typical EV and various gas vehicles, check out the EPA’s website, but for quick perspective, if you drive a car with an average 20 MPG for 10,000 miles, the yearly carbon output is 5.6 metric tons. An EV with the same annual mileage only emits 1.5 metric tons.
Operational emissions may be zero, but EVs still require energy to run, and this energy needs to come from somewhere. In Washington state, a large percentage of electrical energy comes from hydropower and other renewable sources vs coal or other fossil fuels. However, hydropower comes with costs. For example, dams are problematic for salmon and other species, and some are being removed. Also, some power is lost when it is transmitted from distant sources vs generated onsite, offsetting the efficiency of centralized generation. Given the enormous potential electrical demands from the EV shift, our hope is expansion of other renewable sources like wind and solar.
In our region, battery lifecycles present the largest challenge for EVs. Today's lithium-ion batteries are estimated to have eight-year lifespans per EV sales pitches. We know anecdotally that battery performance tends to diminish within their life cycles. EV batteries can be replaced, though at a significant cost. Recycling rates are also currently lower for lithium-ion batteries than the acid-based batteries found in most gas vehicles, and the recycling process is itself energy intensive.
Gas powered vehicles, on the other hand, have great recycling rates. The auto industry has some of the best rates compared to other industries and vehicles are considered the most recycled object in the world. About 95% of end-of-life vehicles are recycled each year. That is not to say that the entire vehicle is actually recycled, but some estimates claim that 86% of auto parts are recyclable and end up getting re-used in some facet. The lead-acid based batteries used in a gas-powered car are some of the more commonly recycled components and many companies will actually pay you for your car battery.
But good things take time. Gas-powered vehicles may be the winner in the recycling category today, but lithium-ion battery technology continues to improve, and several organizations are developing and implementing effective recycling methods. As EVs become more prevalent, we’ll start seeing more data on their recycling rates and continue to weigh this critical information in the future of GLY’s fleet decisions.
The transition to EVs is a complex and multifaceted process involving not just technological advancements but also changes in infrastructure, policies, public perception, and user preferences. In certain areas of the United States, EVs are rapidly proliferating due to their benefits, public policy, and convenience—and Washington is among the states leading the EV transition.
Sure, gas stations are everywhere, but EV charging stations are rapidly on the rise, especially outside the metro core. According to the Alternative Fueling Station Locator provided by the US Department of Energy, Washington state has 2,081 public charging stations and 5,317 charging ports as of February 2, 2024. This might not seem like much—until you start looking at other states. For perspective, Wyoming has 91 stations and 236 ports. Alaska—57 stations and 109 ports. Most of Washington’s charging stations are also found in the Puget Sound region, making “fuel ups” easier to come by when out and about. The emergence of charging stations isn't slowing down either. On February 1, 2024, the WA State Department of Commerce announced plans to fund 5,000 new electric vehicle [EV] charging stations in communities throughout the state.
A standard Level 2 charger can charge an EV to full battery in four to six hours. This may be an issue on long-distance road trips, but when planning ahead, drivers can easily charge their vehicles overnight using chargers at home or in GLY’s case, at our equipment Yard or Main Office. Given the ease of overnight charging, it can potentially be more convenient to charge for daily commuting than to fill up weekly at a gas station. In those emergency charge-up scenarios, drivers can rely on Level 3 fast chargers now available at many shopping centers and parking garages.
In February 2024, the Washington State Department of Commerce announced plans to fund 5,000 new EV charging stations throughout the state. The WAEVCP Funded Sites Map, shown above, includes locations for public [green], multi-family [purple], and fleet depot + workplace charging stations.
Another consideration that we evaluated is the complexity of social acceptance and education surrounding EVs. Not everyone shares the same opinions of EVs, making a fleet transition a bit trickier. While some parties feel it is the next big step for the auto industry and society, not everyone agrees that the benefits and potential warrant the switch quite yet. Opposition to EVs often revolves around environmental impacts, longevity, safety concerns, and range anxiety. However, the expansion of EV charging networks, enhanced safety ratings, and the rise in domestic EV production are poised to alleviate these concerns.
Finally, payload concerns are very real. Operationally, we need to have confidence that our fleet will be able to transport materials and support GLY’s projects. Current studies show that even though most EV trucks have high payload ratings, the range of a truck with a fully loaded bed reduces significantly. One study shows that an F-150 Lightning loaded down with 93% of its payload capacity had a reduction in range of 24.5%. These reports are only heightening the range anxiety concerns we are seeing in the industry.
Trucks are expensive to buy, fuel, and maintain, particularly given the long distances and hard work they take on. Imagine the cost of a whole fleet of them. Yet EVs and hybrids might save as much operationally as the new trucks cost to buy.
The cost of an EV truck is comparable to the cost of a similar make and model diesel- or gas-powered truck. One potential EV model such as a Ford Lightning F150 XLT Extended battery can be purchased for $70,000, roughly $20,000 more than a comparable F-150 XL SuperCrew equivalent gas version. However, current Federal Clean Vehicle Tax incentives can account for as much as $7,500, bringing that purchase price much closer together. Hybrid models such as the new 2024 Toyota Tundra Hybrid CrewMax start at $39,965 MSRP for the work truck.
This is where we see stark differences. In 2022 we calculated $637 in monthly fuel and maintenance costs for a typical gas-powered truck vs. just $163 for a Ford F-150 Lightening EV, aided by Puget Sound Energy [PSE] and other research. Since then, PSE has released a pretty slick Total Cost of Ownership Calculator on their website. The current prediction from PSE’s TCO calculator puts our operating cost savings at $5,510 per year.
In multiple scenarios we estimated savings of $5,510 to $7,173 per year per truck—potentially totaling over $50,000 each over an eight-year life span. It may be counterintuitive, but a gas-powered truck often costs more for operations than for its initial purchase.
Hybrids fall in the middle, using less gas than a typical vehicle [and just as much maintenance] but more than an EV.
The above summary consolidates months of research, which ultimately revealed clear economic, environmental, and sustainability benefits in adopting EVs, prompting us to kick off the transition in 2025. We’re kicking off next steps including EV selection and look forward to sharing more about our journey of change. If your company has insights or experiences to share in regards EV integration, we'd love to hear from you!
The SDF Forest Net(work) installation , design and constructed by NBBJ, Berger Partnership, and GLY volunteers, wins two 2023 SEGD Awards.