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Constructing conversations: sustainable construction

The Builder Project’s Constructing Conversations series aims to promote dialogue throughout the industry, across trades and companies, on topics that affect us all.

As energy costs rise and questions are being raised about sustainability, we surveyed woman-owned company Tompkins Excavating about their experiences with and opinions on the state of sustainability in construction. With their input, we hope to spotlight the current state of sustainability and explore how the impact on this family-run commercial excavation construction company is representative of the industry’s larger labor market.

Justin Tompkins, Senior Operations and Business Development Associate

What are some ways in which the work of excavating could be made more sustainable?

This is a tough question because of the nature of the work that we are in. Our day-to-day revolves around operating large pieces of heavy equipment and trucks that burn several hundred gallons of diesel fuel a day. As the battery technology gets better, I am sure we will begin to see smaller machines and pieces of equipment be introduced in electric models, but I think we are a long way away from being at the point where electric excavators become the norm.


In the meantime, though, a big thing that we have been focusing on as a company is cutting down on machine idling time. Average equipment idle time throughout the industry is almost 40-50% percent. This means that nearly 50% of the total hours on a piece of equipment are from its just sitting stationary while still running. We estimated that cutting back our idle time on our fleet to roughly 25% will save us 30-50 gallons of diesel fuel per day. This will also reduce the wear and tear on the engine, result in fewer oil changes/services, increase the life span of the machine, save money, and ultimately help to make the industry a little more sustainable. Another thing that can be done is incorporating more recycled aggregate products into new development projects. Instead of having to use virgin quarry item #4 or crushed stone, you can make a variety of materials from crushing and screening down broken concrete and blacktop that has been replaced. Repurposing these materials helps to save room in landfills and could reduce the amount of excavation and energy consumption it takes to remove the rock from the earth that needs to be processed.

What factors, if any, are most holding the industry back?

I think the skilled labor shortage will hold back the industry for the next several years.

What is currently the most common process for becoming an equipment operator?

I feel like everyone has a slightly different path and that there is not one common process in particular to follow. I know there are schools that people go to that familiarize people with operating different types of equipment, but they are not exposed to enough to come out as adequate equipment operators most of the time.


We feel that the best way to become an operator is to start as a laborer with ambition and desire to become an operator. Understand the scope of work that we do from a ground level, and you will have a better understanding what to do when you are in the machine. Take advantage of any opportunity that you get to be in a machine, show the people around you that you want to learn, and be open to feedback. On-the-job operator training can be hard sometimes, so put yourself out there and be willing to come in on a weekend or stay after work on your own time if there is a right situation where you can get some seat time in. Ultimately, it takes thousands of hours of seat time to become a skilled operator, so be patient and keep applying what you are learning daily.

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