July 29, 2004
Going green? Try calling on your contractor
By ANN SCHUESSLER
The construction industry probably didn't even see it coming. For decades contractors thought nothing of sending tons and tons of construction debris to land fills. That trend may not abruptly cease, but it is certainly in a clear, and accelerating, decline.
Recycling, reusing and renovating have converged with conscious environmental protection, economic good sense and social policy. The green building movement will continue to expand, and more contractors are realizing that green building practices represent good building practices.
Contractors used to think of green building practices as something the design community, with their bow ties and artsy orientation, were primarily interested in. The prevailing notion was that construction waste was a natural by-product. They didn't have the patience or passion for it.
But some contractors realized that they are an invaluable link from the owner's development team, through design to implementation on the construction site, for the use of sustainable building products and methods. The less progressive contractors will be, or have been forced into it, by the surge of public opinion and regulatory oversight.
In short, it has been in the construction process that a dramatic shift has occurred to make green building practices successful.
On any project, a good contractor is one who understands the scope of the work, is able to stay in budget and on schedule while putting quality work in place. A good green contractor is all of that and more.
Any good green contractor understands the theory of sustainability, has good green product knowledge, is able to develop processes to manage green building practices, has the wherewithal to implement these practices, and weaves sustainability throughout the company.
Green building is not a phase we will pass through; it is not a specialty market. Human population and standards of living continue to rise; natural resources, air and water quality continue to decline. Whether we like it or not, change is afoot. Sustainability and green building represent a new way to approach the design and development of our built environment that is, hopefully, less harmful to our environment and ourselves.
In the past five years, the green products market has exploded. Some products are entirely new; some products are the same as they always have been, but they are just now acknowledging their green attributes; some products have legitimately changed their composition to improve their environmental attributes; and some products are just hogwash.
A good green contractor stays abreast of new green products entering the market and is able to evaluate their appropriateness for a given project. Issues to consider include:
Good planning is essential to a successful green project. The earlier a contractor is included in the design process, the better the planning will be.
During the design phase and throughout pre-construction, a good green contractor works with subcontractors and the project team to:
Prior to the start of construction, the contractor needs to establish working plans to successfully implement green building strategies. Examples include plans for erosion control, waste management and air quality.
Additionally, if the project is following a green rating system, the contractor needs to set up the necessary documentation and systems to allow accurate tracking and record keeping.
This is where the rubber meets the road. Understanding the theory, knowing the products and developing good planning processes are meaningless unless they are implemented. A good green contractor gives its field staff the support they need to implement green building practices.
This support is demonstrated through:
A good green contractor looks beyond individual green building projects and develops a companywide framework that supports the concept of sustainability. All employees need to be trained in the concept of sustainability so that they can look for opportunities within their sphere of influence to shift towards greener practices. While it is important to have "green champions" within the company, there needs to be support from the top leadership within the company.
Hurdles to green building practices
The biggest obstacle to greener building practices is attitude. Ya gotta want it. It takes extra time and effort to research new materials and methods; to lead the way towards building practices that reduce the negative environmental impacts associated with the construction industry.
Ultimately, green building practices represent good building practices -- quality, value, durability and longevity.
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