RoofViews

In Your Community

Creating Net-Positive Communities: GAF Taking Action to Drive Carbon Reduction

By Jennifer Keegan

May 31, 2023

Rolling out cooling GAF Streetbond® coating in blue and white, Pacoima, L.A.

Companies, organizations, and firms working in the building, construction, and design space have a unique opportunity and responsibility. Collectively, we are contributing to nearly 40% of energy-related carbon emissions worldwide. While the goals, commitments, pledges, and promises around these challenges are a step in the right direction, no one entity alone will make major improvements to this daunting issue.

We need to come together, demonstrate courageous change leadership, and take collective approaches to address the built environment's impacts on climate. Collectively, we have a unique opportunity to improve people's lives and make positive, measurable changes to impact:

  • Buildings, homes, and hardscapes

  • Community planning

  • Consumer, commercial, and public sector behavior

Our Collective Challenge to Reduce our Carbon Footprint

According to many sources, including the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), the built environment accounts for 39% of global energy-related carbon emissions worldwide. Operational emissions from buildings make up 28% and the remaining 11% comes from materials and construction.

CO2 built environment emissions shown by source

By definition, embodied carbon is emitted by the manufacture, transport, and installation of construction materials, and operational carbon typically results from heating, cooling, electrical use, and waste disposal of a building. Embodied carbon emissions are set during construction. This 11% of carbon attributed to the building materials and construction sector is something each company could impact individually based on manufacturing processes and material selection.

The more significant 28% of carbon emissions from the built environment is produced through the daily operations of buildings. This is a dynamic that no company can influence alone. Improving the energy performance of existing and new buildings is a must, as it accounts for between 60–80% of greenhouse gas emissions from the building and construction sector. Improving energy sources for buildings, and increasing energy efficiency in the buildings' envelope and operating systems are all necessary for future carbon and economic performance.

Why It Is Imperative to Reduce our Carbon Emissions Today

There are numerous collectives that are driving awareness, understanding, and action at the governmental and organizational levels, largely inspired by the Paris Agreement enacted at the United Nations Climate Change Conference of Parties (COP21) in 2015. The Architecture 2030 Challenge was inspired by the Paris Agreement and seeks to reduce climate impacts from carbon in the built environment.

Since the enactment of the Paris Agreement and Architecture 2030 Challenge, myopic approaches to addressing carbon have prevailed, including the rampant net-zero carbon goals for individual companies, firms, and building projects. Though these efforts are admirable, many lack real roadmaps to achieve these goals. In light of this, the US Security and Exchange Commission has issued requirements for companies, firms, and others to divulge plans to meet these lofty goals and ultimately report to the government on progress in reaching targets. These individual actions will only take us so far.

Additionally, the regulatory environment continues to evolve and drive change. If we consider the legislative activity in Europe, which frequently leads the way for the rest of the world, we can all expect carbon taxes to become the standard. There are currently 15 proposed bills that would implement a price on carbon dioxide emissions. Several states have introduced carbon pricing schemes that cover emissions within their territory, including California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts. Currently, these schemes primarily rely on cap and trade programs within the power sector. It is not a matter of if but when carbon taxes will become a reality in the US.

Carbon tax rates by metric ton of CO2e, Europe 2022

Theory of Change

Climate issues are immediate and immense. Our industry is so interdependent that we can't have one sector delivering amazing results while another is idle. Making changes and improvements requires an effort bigger than any one organization could manage. Working together, we can share resources and ideas in new ways. We can create advantages and efficiencies in shared R&D, supply chain, manufacturing, transportation, design, installation, and more.

Collaboration will bring measurable near-term positive change that would enable buildings and homes to become net-positive beacons for their surrounding communities. We can create a network where each building/home has a positive multiplier effect. The network is then compounded by linking to other elements that contribute to a community's overall carbon footprint.

Proof of Concept: GAF Cool Community Project

An estimated 85% of Americans, around 280 million people, live in metropolitan areas. As the climate continues to change, many urban areas are experiencing extreme heat or a "heat island effect." Not only is excess heat uncomfortable, but heat islands are public health and economic concerns, especially for vulnerable communities that are often most impacted.


Pacoima, a neighborhood in Los Angeles, was selected by a consortium of partners as a key community to develop a first-of-its-kind community-wide research initiative to understand the impacts various cooling solutions have on urban heat and livability. Pacoima is a lower income community in one of the hottest areas in the greater Los Angeles area. The neighborhood represents other communities that are disproportionately impacted by climate change and often underinvested in.

Implementation:

Phase 1: This included the application of GAF StreetBond® DuraShield cool, solar-reflective pavement coatings on all ground-level hard surfaces, including neighborhood streets, crosswalks, basketball courts, parking lots, and playgrounds. The project also includes a robust community engagement process to support local involvement in the project, measure qualitative and quantitative impact on how cooling improves living conditions, and ensure the success of the project.

Phase 2: After 12 months of monitoring and research, GAF and partners will evaluate the impact of the cool pavements with the intent to scale the plan to include reflective roofing and solar solutions.

This ongoing project will allow us to evaluate for proof of concept and assess a variety of solutions as well as how different interventions can work together effectively (i.e., increasing tree canopies, greenspacing, cool pavements, cool roofs, etc.). Through community-wide approaches such as this, it's possible that we could get ahead of the legislation and make significant innovative contributions to communities locally, nationally, and globally.

GAF Is Taking Action to Create Community-wide Climate Solutions

With collaboration from leaders across the building space and adjacent sectors, we believe it is possible to drive a priority shift from net neutral to net positive. Addressing both embodied and operational carbon can help build real-world, net-positive communities.

We invite all who are able and interested in working together in the following ways:

  • Join a consortium of individuals, organizations, and companies to identify and develop opportunities and solutions for collective action in the built environment. The group will answer questions about how to improve the carbon impacts of the existing and future built environment through scalable, practical, and nimble approaches. Solutions could range from unique design concepts to materials, applications, testing, and measurement so we can operationalize solutions across the built environment.

  • Help to scale the Cool Community project that was started in Pacoima. This can be done by joining in with a collaborative and collective approach to climate adaptation for Phase 2 in Pacoima and other cities around the country where similar work is beginning.

  • Collaborate in designing and building scientific approaches to determine effective carbon avoidance—or reduction—efforts that are scalable to create net-positive carbon communities. Explore efforts to use climate adaptation and community cooling approaches (i.e., design solutions, roofing and pavement solutions, improved building envelope technologies, green spacing, tree coverage, and shading opportunities) to increase albedo of hard surfaces. Improve energy efficiency to existing buildings and homes and ultimately reduce carbon at the community level.

To learn more and to engage in any of these efforts, please reach out to us at sustainability@gaf.com.

About the Author

Jennifer Keegan is the Director of Building & Roofing Science for GAF, focusing on overall roof system design and performance. Jennifer has over 20 years of experience as a building enclosure consultant specializing in assessment, design and remediation of building enclosure systems. Jennifer provides technical leadership within the industry as the Chair of the ASTM D08.22 Roofing and Waterproofing Subcommittee; and as an advocate for women within the industry as the educational chair for National Women in Roofing and a board member of Women in Construction.

Related Articles

Team Rubicon Greyshirt volunteers in action
In Your Community

Becoming a Team Rubicon Greyshirt—An Enlightening and Humbling Experience

Team Rubicon, as noted on their website, "serves communities by mobilizing veterans to continue their service, leveraging their skills and experience to help people prepare, respond, and recover from disasters and humanitarian crises." So when the opportunity came to become a Team Rubicon Greyshirt and help people in need in the wake of recent natural disasters, the choice was obvious. I joined Team Rubicon (TR) with several colleagues after their initial visit to GAF's site in Ennis, Texas back in May of 2019. I didn't know at the time what TR was truly about, but I knew that I would enjoy hanging with veterans and providing hands-on assistance directly to others in immediate need. Both of these experiences were enlightening for me and humbling, to say the least. Helping in Houston Our first operation in 2019 sent us to the FOB (forward operating base) in Houston for rebuilds still ongoing from Hurricane Harvey. It had been two years since the hurricane, and it seemed almost unfathomable that there was still a need for this kind of help. This mission had been going on for well over a year—as we found out, not all homeowners have insurance, and there are more people out there than we might think that take advantage of the already weakened and oppressed posing as construction contractors. The neighborhood smelled of must and mildew. My teammate and I learned the Dos and Don'ts of tape and bedding of sheetrock for this second-generation family home. Working with vets, listening to them, and watching how they give respect to one another was awesome. These folks know some things we civilians may never know. Later on, several of us went on a single-day operation—following a tornado that went through Dallas—to an elderly woman's home that sustained significant tree and roof damage. She was very thankful and appreciative of the effort, as she had no living family. By the time that day was over, all 11 teammates were exhausted but satisfied with the day's work. A Hurricane During a Pandemic The last TR tour, earlier this year, was Operation Crying Eagle in Orange, Texas. The area was recovering from Hurricane Laura, which had landed on August 20, and there was a huge need for roof tarpings, mucking (clearing debris), and sawyer detail (chainsawing). Since we were in the middle of a pandemic, the restrictions to work in teams were seriously spelled out and audited. There were 68 men and women coming together to help from all areas of the country—from San Diego to the Carolinas to Massachusetts. Each day began with a 6 a.m. wake-up call, followed by breakfast and then safety discussions at 7:15 from several leaders. We'd then break out into assigned Greyshirt teams, with each team assigned an observer to ensure we followed our COVID-related guidelines. From there, every Greyshirt got their daily assignments with one thing in mind: 'Get ***t done.' Our Greyshirt team roofed and mucked homes for folks that did not have the means or physical ability to do it on their own. We completed work on about three homes per day. Homeowners were always very grateful to TR and the work we were on hand to provide. Beyond the work itself, I took away several memories from these experiences. It was very fulfilling to know that you are helping people in need through a time that they had no control over. We felt very secure knowing that the voluntary leadership puts top priority on our safety as we "step into the arena." There was good fellowship with different people, all volunteering for the same purpose: to lift others up. And at the end of each day, we had a post-dinner debrief to discuss the accomplishments, objectives, and challenges of each team. We all took the chance to unwind after a hard, rewarding day's work. This was fun, challenging work where the motto was, "Everyone has a role. Know yours." Team Rubicon is a diamond class organization held together by volunteers—veterans and civilians—and respect at its core. For anyone who has the chance, I would say: Step into the arena! If you're interested in getting involved, visit Team Rubicon's website to learn more and sign up to volunteer and earn your Greyshirt.

By Authors Randy Brumley

January 25, 2024

Carter Work Project team in front of house
In Your Community

Teaming Up to Build Skills and Shelter for the 2023 Carter Work Project

Work is getting underway in Greater Charlotte, North Carolina, as GAF supports Habitat for Humanity with the 2023 Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter Work Project. The five-day build event began in 1984 when former President Jimmy Carter and former first lady Rosalyn Carter led a group of Habitat for Humanity volunteers to New York, building alongside 19 families in need of safe, affordable housing. For 36 years, the Carters have worked side by side with professional builders and volunteers at locations around the world to build and raise awareness of affordable housing.From October 1st - 6th, more than 750 volunteers will cooperatively build 27 safe, affordable homes in Charlotte, where the homeownership rate of 26% falls far below the county average of 57%. A strong contingent of GAF team members will comprise the volunteer workforce, and the company is lending support in several other ways.Working Together to Build Better CommunitiesSince 2011, GAF has proudly partnered with Habitat for Humanity. For the 2023 Carter Work Project, GAF donated the roofing materials for all the homes built, offered training prior to the event, and will provide leadership while the work is being completed."We're focused on helping build more resilient communities, by making workforces, affordable homes, and ultimately families more resilient," says Jeff Terry, GAF vice president of corporate social responsibility and sustainability.The Carter Work Project has touched thousands of lives over the last few decades and means so much to all involved. "To know that we're making a small dent in the housing affordability crisis is something very near and dear to my heart," Hailey Von Dross, youth and young adult engagement coordinator for Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte, shared at a recent training session in Charlotte.Helping Leaders Grow While Doing GoodIn July, the high heat was no match for the great attitudes at the two-day, hands-on, on-the-roof training hosted by GAF CARE (Center for Advancement of Roofing Excellence) to prepare for October's construction work. The house and crew leaders who attended the GAF CARE training will use the roofing skills they learned to guide Carter Work Project volunteers and workers in proper shingle installation.Training these building leaders was a "really exciting opportunity" for the GAF CARE team, says Terry. "It ultimately gives them the tools to make these homes more resilient for the partner families who will be working alongside all of us and ultimately getting the keys to these homes."The GAF CARE training can also help shape future community leaders. Rachel Hurst, an AmeriCorps volunteer working with Habitat for Humanity, says, "GAF is here helping us learn the proper way to shingle a roof. It's actually really cool. It's really rewarding and shows volunteers that they have the ability to create something."The transformative power of these homes should not be underestimated. For example, Adam Hunter, new construction field manager for Habitat for Humanity of Charlotte, took a break from the GAF CARE training to reflect on his own journey with Habitat for Humanity. When he was five years old, his family bought a Habitat for Humanity home."That is still our family home," Hunter shares. "It's still the home we go home to every Christmas." Now, decades later, while helping prepare for the October 2023 build, he says, "When I look around, I see not only the work that's being done today, but I see the path that these new homes can set these families on."Honoring the Carters' Legacy of Service and ShelterThe 2023 Carter Work Project is particularly exciting, as construction is kicking off after a three-year hiatus between 2019 and 2022 due to the pandemic. This year's event also honors Jimmy and Rosalynn Carter, as it is the first project the couple won't participate in after retiring in 2019, following decades of humanitarian global service.Country music super-stars Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood will host the build event in Charlotte—while also celebrating their 13th year working on the Carter Work Project.Whether celebrities or volunteers, everyone is equal as they gather for this great event. The GAF CARE training is just one of many contributions from all those involved with the goal of building more resilient families and communities. That's why GAF is proud to support the Carter Work Project year after year."A good roof system means that a homeowner won't have to worry," Von Dross noted during the roofing training event in July. "It's quite literally a roof over their head, and we're making sure that roof will be strong and durable and won't leak."Getting Involved and Making a DifferenceWhile preparations are currently underway for the 2023 Carter Work Project, it's never too late to partner with your local Habitat for Humanity affiliate and support building safe and secure homes in partnership with families in your community. The GAF Habitat for Humanity Program works year-round to improve affordable housing and community resiliency. As part of the program, GAF Master Elite® and GAF Certified™ Contractors* donate their time and services to install GAF roofing materials donated by the company (complete with a GAF System Plus Ltd. Warranty).To learn more about how GAF is building resilient communities, read about their Community Matters initiative. There's always an opportunity to give back and help improve the quality of life of others—and as the Carters know, every bit helps.*Contractors enrolled in GAF certification programs are not employees or agents of GAF, and GAF does not control or otherwise supervise these independent businesses. Contractors may receive benefits, such as loyalty rewards points and discounts on marketing tools from GAF for participating in the program and offering GAF enhanced warranties, which require the use of a minimum amount of GAF products. Your dealings with a Contractor, and any services they provide to you, are subject to the GAF Contractor Terms of Use.

By Authors Annie Crawford

January 25, 2024

Officials cut the ribbon at Cheney Run Wetland Preserve
In Your Community

GAF Michigan City: A Commitment to Community

Michigan City has been home to a GAF manufacturing facility since 2000, supporting the community's residents through not only the nearly 200 jobs it provides but also countless hours of volunteering. The job creation and increased capacity for serving customers with the GAF Michigan City distribution center expansion is testimony to the company's dedication to building resilient communities.Since GAF is committed to investing in the communities where team members live and work, it's no surprise that team members are active in local nonprofits, including United Way of Greater LaPorte County Inc., The Salvation Army of Michigan City, and Boys and Girls Club of LaPorte County.During the process of constructing and opening the distribution center, GAF was also able to donate land back to the community that could strengthen their stormwater management and create new outdoor recreation areas. With the new distribution center and land donation, the GAF facility in Michigan City embodies their overall commitment to the area's people and environment.Investing in the CommunityThe new $30 million GAF Michigan City Distribution Center features 200,000 square feet of space and sits on 47 acres of land located between the GAF manufacturing plant and a major highway, providing improved access to transportation channels. Workers from the greater Michigan City area work in the center to manage the flow of products and materials to customers and ensure timely delivery. With over 20 forklifts and tablets to identify product location, GAF can quickly locate and transport materials despite the facility's significant size. This ultimately helps them to load trucks fully in a brisk average of 15 minutes.This investment in the community infrastructure benefits everyone, says Plant Manager Matt Hannon.He explains, "It was good for the city. It was good for all the people working at the manufacturing facility who could see the investment made in Michigan City."The construction of the distribution center generated deeper relationships with the community as well, relying on a local general contractor to manage the project and a local construction company to build the facility.Helping the EnvironmentBeyond the obvious benefits of providing employment opportunities for Michigan City residents, GAF was able to support the city's efforts to create a wetland area that would ultimately improve the water quality in Lake Michigan.Cheney Run, a small creek that ran through the GAF Michigan City property, was collecting stormwater runoff that flowed into nearby Trail Creek before eventually making its way into Lake Michigan. This polluted runoff threatened the salmon that spawned in Trail Creek as well as the water quality in Lake Michigan, which is an important water source for the community."The city had done some legwork to look at opportunities to improve the quality of the water as it got reintroduced into Trail Creek from Cheney Run," Hannon says. "They came up with this project that would actually divert the water in Cheney Run to spread across wetlands that were mostly on our property, and then use the wetlands to naturally treat the contaminants that were in the water before it was reintroduced back into Trail Creek."Hannon says the Michigan City Sanitary District reached out to GAF about the project. "We happened to sit on the land and didn't need to use it for anything, so we donated it to the city, and they were able to utilize it and complete the project."Improving Water Quality, Recreation, and Wildlife HabitatThe Cheney Run donation was not only about supporting the environment but also creating new recreational opportunities for the community. The area acts as a barrier between the park and invasive plant species, naturally filtering pollutants and releasing water to Trail Creek. In this way, the wetlands can improve the water quality in Trail Creek as well as Lake Michigan, while improving opportunities for recreation and plant and animal habitation.Hannon said the water treatment portion of the project has been a great success. "It's amazing the difference in the water quality after a storm event. Instead of that stuff rushing into Trail Creek, it's getting treated. The people I've talked to seem pleased with the project's results."Revitalization plans are still in the process of creating more trails to connect neighborhoods to existing trails and support the development of a new kayak launch area and fishing access points.Providing Year-Round Community SupportThe GAF team members in Michigan City are proud to support local community organizations. "If the community's not successful, then ultimately our team is not going to be successful. The people that work in this facility are the people that live in the community, so it means a lot to be able to invest our time and resources in the place we call home," says Hannon.Each employee can take advantage of 16 hours of paid time to volunteer in the community—they've supported local organizations like Habitat for Humanity, the Salvation Army, and more. Hannon says GAF tries to organize an opportunity to support their community every month as many organizations struggle to secure donations and assistance outside of the holiday season.Learn more about what GAF is doing to help build resilient communities and read stories about community heroes and other hometown efforts.

By Authors Karen L Edwards

January 25, 2024

Don't miss another GAF RoofViews post!

Subscribe now