ESG and drones: Using data to decrease emissions + worksite waste

Willow-Tree-Gravel Quarry

ESG and drones: Using data to decrease emissions + worksite waste

From mining for raw materials to carbon emissions, every part of construction has the potential to impact the planet. Some of the most significant impacts include:

  • Consumption of natural resources. According to the WorldWatch Institute, the construction industry consumes 40% of the world’s raw stones, gravel, sand, and virgin wood. Our natural supply of these building materials can’t keep pace with the rate at which we’re using them. 
  • Reduced biodiversity. Impacts on local flora and fauna include noise and light pollution from machines, habitat loss, and air and water pollution. Even pre-construction, traditional ground surveying can impact sites by disrupting the landscape.
  • Carbon emissions. The construction industry is responsible for approximately 39% of energy- and process-related carbon emissions worldwide, making it a significant contributor to climate change. From hauling earth to transporting building materials, pollution from earthwork emissions has a major impact on the path to Net Zero.

But the construction industry is also essential to sustaining human life as we know it, and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) change can’t happen overnight. 

In that spirit, this article will take a closer look at a few of the biggest contributors to earthworks waste. We’ll analyze the ways that drones and ESG technology can help contractors minimize impact so we can work toward a collectively reduced environmental footprint.

The problem: Inefficient machine usage + unnecessary fuel burn  

As haul trucks move on-site, they consume massive volumes of diesel fuel. If traffic patterns or workflows are inefficient or unclear, we risk consuming more fuel than necessary. Even simple road grades can make a big difference in fuel burn over time. 

If you have a machine that idles for an extended period of time, the productivity of that machine decreases while the fuel burn and labor costs are constant, leading to a relatively high waste for little reward. On top of idle time, if you have a machine that moves through the site inefficiently, you’ll burn more fuel than necessary to complete the job.

The solution: Optimize operations through drone surveying + machine tracking

The key to reducing the fuel burn associated with inefficient or idle machines is to increase visibility into worksite production and operations. With the help of drone surveys, site managers can quantify and measure the distinct zones of a project, making on-site operations more efficient than ever before. 

Drones also support effective haul road maintenance by calculating slope, ensuring that sites conform to safety standards, reducing fuel burn, and minimizing wear on equipment.

Where drone surveys tell you what is happening on your worksites and when, machine telematics fill in the gaps by telling you why. Drones capture data by flying over a worksite, but DirtMate collects critical day-to-day production data from the equipment on the ground.

What is DirtMate? DirtMate is an easy-to-install and cost-effective machine tracking system that’s unrivaled in the industry. With DirtMate, you get updated material volumes and productivity data every half hour from any device, so you can ensure your projects stay on track.

For example:

  • Daily progress (volumetrics): Accurate, 3D surface elevation data compatible with Propeller’s drone survey tools.
  • Machine utilization: Information about how and when your on-site fleet is used.
  • Tracking and insights: Machine location tracking, including location history.


From road grades and berm height to traffic patterns, site managers can easily see what’s happening on-site and make appropriate adjustments to increase efficiency, optimize machine usage, and reduce fuel burn.

The problem: Costly project delays and rework

Even with the best-laid plans in place, project delays can and will happen. The reasons can vary depending on the time of year, project complexity, stakeholders involved, geographic location, and more. 

Project delays are more than a nuisance—they’re a source of increased environmental impact and higher overall cost. According to the Construction Industry Institute, rework represents between 2% and 20% of total costs, averaging about 12%. Rework also extends project timelines, which can have ripple effects across an entire project lifecycle, including its overall environmental impact.

The solution: Proactive site management

Without a clear line of sight into progress, contractors are less able to get a handle on issues before they become major problems. That’s why drone surveying is one of the surest routes to minimizing project delays. 

Drone survey data and 3D mapping have proven to be a reliable source of information that helps prevent rework and resolve disputes when they occur. With continual progress monitoring throughout a project, site managers can make swift, well-informed decisions about how work is progressing against design. Catching problems early helps teams avoid costly, environmentally damaging rework. 


underground utility mapping gif

Not only does eliminating rework prevent the waste of natural materials, it also minimizes the movement of heavy machinery, keeping carbon emissions as low as possible.

The problem: Inaccurate scoping and estimating

Creating an accurate estimate for an earthworks project can be a delicate balancing act. Bid too high, and you could lose the business to another firm. Bid too low, and you could lose money. (Sometimes a lot of money.)

Traditionally, bids have been based on the overseeing engineer’s final design and the best data available on current ground conditions—which might come from old and inaccurate surveys.

Without good information about what a site will look like when work begins, contractors can’t possibly estimate a project’s scope, which includes its ultimate environmental impact.

The solution: Pre-construction insights from drone surveying

Drone surveying technology offers numerous benefits over traditional survey methods: it’s faster, more cost-effective, and produces easier-to-read results. Each drone survey yields millions of data points in the form of a 3D map that becomes a visual reference point, anchoring all stakeholders in accurate, up-to-date measurements throughout the project.

Flying a drone before bidding helps perfect the balancing act by preventing both under- and overbidding, helping teams craft competitive bids while maximizing their profit margins. 

Accurate earthwork estimates also help keep projects within environmental parameters. By starting with a more accurate scope of work, environmental impact estimates will more closely resemble actual project reporting, keeping on-site operations on the right side of regulators.

The sustainable benefits of drone surveys

Efficiency is the undercurrent that drives sustainability. Less waste isn’t just beneficial for budgets and timelines—it’s great for the environment, too. 

Drone surveying unlocks efficiencies at every project stage, from pre-planning phases to ongoing site operations. Here are just a few of the environmental wins that stem from drone survey accuracy:

  • Environmental protection: Traditional surveying methods require cutting sight lines and making room for a crew of surveyors. Drones can launch from almost anywhere, typically requiring no intervention on unspoiled sites. With lidar, drones can even survey sites with heavy vegetation before any clearing takes place.
  • Less rework: Job progress is routinely checked to ensure a project stays on schedule and on budget. Using drones, field engineers can verify on-site progress, including accurate measurements to compare with the intended design. As a result, drone surveying helps engineers catch problems early, reducing rework and preventing needless waste.
  • Reduced fuel burn: Drones can accurately quantify and measure different zones for a project, enhancing efficiency in site prep. Drone data provides clear directions that allocate earthmoving equipment in the field, keeping heavy machinery from navigating inefficiently or sitting idle for a long period of time, reducing unnecessary fuel burn.
  • Hazard identification: Drones help surveyors spot potential safety and environmental risks before workers even set foot on-site, ensuring they arrive fully prepared to address any challenges. This includes everything from planning around underground utilities to material storage in safe zones.

When a worksite functions as efficiently as possible, it means less waste, speedier project timelines, and—most importantly—fewer mistakes. Accuracy is a win for worksites, a win for project teams, and a win for the planet.

Ready to support your sustainability efforts with tech? Request a demo today.


We’re happy to show you how Propeller can power your worksite, and boost productivity. Simply request a demo now.

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