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PCL Construction works with suppliers to find ways to reduce carbon footprint during construction.Provided

When he joined PCL Construction 26 years ago, says Mike Wieninger, chief operating officer, Canadian operations, the push for a greener industry was already culturally ingrained in his company. “But that has accelerated markedly in the last four or five years as we’ve put more rigour, more emphasis on sustainability,” he says.

“That really matters a lot to PCL people, of whatever generation. A question we hear a lot from young professionals, who all have a green mindset, coming into our industry is, ‘What are you doing about sustainability?’ So we walk through those things,” says Wieninger.

And there’s a lot to go through, adds the COO, including the $2.8-billion in solar projects PCL has recently built. “We started producing those in Ontario, then moved it across Canada into the United States, and now in Australia,” Wieninger says. “We just finished a solar farm here in Alberta, at Travers, that will power 100,000 homes annually. At five kilometres by six kilometres, it’s huge, the largest ever in Canada.”

Even that pales in comparison to PCL’s part in a massive project to transition existing, federally owned infrastructure to help Ottawa achieve its 2030 climate goals. “That is going to be very impactful,” says Wieninger – who, like PCL’s three other COOs, works closely with the company’s Denver-based director of sustainability – “given the expectations, the timeline and the extensive number of buildings involved. So I think that’s where PCL’s leadership role will really be quite impactful.”

That’s because construction giant PCL is, in ecological terms, a keystone species – large enough and influential enough to alter the way an industry functions. “We have lots of conversations upstream in our supply chain,” says Scott Sharun, senior manager, procurement and equipment, with PCL’s Edmonton industrial office. “If companies like PCL aren’t pushing for sustainability, then our vendors don’t feel pressure because the small and mid-size folks aren’t going to get much traction in that regard.

“Having the biggest construction company in Canada say to a large multinational, ‘I can’t use your products because they cost too much to ship or we have to throw away all the packaging they come wrapped in,’ that has an effect,” Sharun says. “We are aware of it, and where we see opportunity, we’ve definitely pushed for it 100 per cent.”

But it’s a two-way street, Sharun emphasizes. “A lot of the manufacturing companies are already getting there,” he says. “That’s what makes the supply chain a doorway for innovations for a company like PCL. For example, on project sites, exhaust is a real concern, and we’ve been doing what we can to mitigate it.

“A strategic partner and supplier asked, ‘Do you really believe there are going to be gas engines or even electrical cords on your site in the next five to 10 years? What are you waiting for?’” continues Sharun. “PCL is always thinking about what’s ahead for our industry. It was clear to both of us that the future of construction will be electric and battery powered. When you find the right suppliers with the right people, the push comes from them and the pull comes from us.”

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Advertising feature produced by Canada’s Top 100 Employers, a division of Mediacorp Canada Inc. The Globe and Mail’s editorial department was not involved.

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