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Feature Story - November 2006

Taking the LEED

Contractors' Roles Intensifying In Sustainable Building Projects

by Sheila Bacon

Sustainable structures are not just the responsibility of the design team anymore.

As the popularity of "green" buildings has increased in recent years, the roles of project team members have significantly evolved. No longer is it the sole responsibility of the mechanical engineer or architect to meet earth-friendly guidelines by incorporating options such as low-flush toilets or operable windows into a structure.


While general contractors have long contributed to the sustainability of projects through jobsite recycling or green material procurement, their involvement has taken on increased significance as contractor-sponsored green initiatives have become more commonplace.

Overland, Mo.-based general contracting firm Alberici Corp. recognized this shift in thinking and launched its sustainability consulting arm, Vertegy, in January 2005. The firm offers construction-related consulting services to contractors-as well as owners and designers-who are looking for expert advice on green building practices.

"We tell people all the time that contractors have as much effect on the successful outcome of a sustainable project as anyone else on the delivery team," said Thomas Taylor, general manager of Vertegy and an Alberici vice president.

Vertegy's work with general contractors may start when the builder receives the contract documents and needs assistance determining how to bid a sustainably designed project. Consultants will also work with contractors after the project has been awarded by examining the drawings and specifications for any inconsistencies.

During the procurement phase, Vertegy will help the contractor educate its superintendents and subcontractors who may not be up to speed on the specifics of green construction.

"We've actually done superintendent training where we explain why this particular project is different and what needs to be done," Taylor said. "For example, we go over caulks and adhesives; how contractors manage indoor air quality protocols and how to stay compliant with LEED requirements for sediment and erosion control."

Vertegy's services extend to any arm of the project team. Consultants have helped owners assemble qualified design and construction teams and assisted architects who may not be intimately familiar with the cadre of sustainable design options and LEED requirements.

Vertegy was formed after the success of parent company Alberici's corporate headquarters building-a former metal fabrication and distribution warehouse that was converted to an office and parking structure.

There are other companies similar to Vertegy elsewhere, Taylor said, adding,

"I don't know of any that grew out of what we do that also encompass engineering, architecture and construction services."

During the remodel, portions of the existing building's materials were recycled, operable cleresory windows were added, raised floors were incorporated to support individually controlled air distribution and energy-efficient mechanical systems were built to reduce energy consumption.

After its completion in December 2004, the 110,000-sq.-ft. building was certified LEED platinum through the U.S. Green Building Council-garnering an astonishing 60 of 69 possible points-and remains the council's highest-rated project to date.

Since its inception, Vertegy has served as a consultant on 17 LEED projects, including the $16 million LEED-certified Anheuser-Busch Technology Center in St. Louis; the $158 million certified LEED gold General Motors Assembly Complex in Delta Township of Lansing, Mich.; the $23 million St. Louis Community College West County Campus building (seeking gold status) in St. Louis; and the LEED-certified Affinity Health System's Little Chute, Wis., clinic, which used recycled denim jeans to insulate the structure's interior walls.

Follow the LEEDer

General contractors throughout the U.S. are recognizing that their early, hands-on involvement in both the design and construction of sustainable projects adds to the jobs' success.

At Bovis Lend Lease's Chicago office, a Bovis-developed LEED training course is available for employees seeking LEED accreditation or simply looking to increase their knowledge about sustainable building practices.

Bovis has created a construction recycling program in conjunction with waste management service providers that can be implemented at each jobsite, and it also offers sophisticated cost analysis services during preconstruction to help keep green building costs and practices as streamlined as possible.

"In order for sustainability to work, owners, designers and contractors all need to be aware of the fundamentals and practices that go into good, responsible sustainable design and construction," said Bruce Watts, vice president of business development in Bovis' Chicago office. "If either one of those three entities is not aware of these principles, that becomes a weakness to the whole team."

In his former capacity as a project director for an owner organization in the 1990s, Watts managed the construction of a barracks complex at the Navy's Great Lakes Training Center in Great Lakes, Ill., which became the first LEED-certified building in the country under the USGBC's pilot program.

Watts' interest in sustainable construction followed him to Bovis, and two years ago he became one of three LEED-accredited professionals in Bovis' Chicago office.

Watts said the professional designation (which followed material review and a short exam administered at a training center) underscores his commitment-and that of his company-to green construction.

"A LEED accreditation on a business card tells someone that you know something about sustainability," Watts added. "If we can't speak to it, then owners and architects are going to view us as holding back the process."

Bovis has put its sustainable philosophies to work on a number of environmentally friendly Chicago-area projects, including 111 S. Wacker Drive, Midwest Construction's 2005 Overall Project of the Year and the first high-rise in the world to earn a LEED gold designation from the USGBC.

Sustainable construction contributions in the high-rise included the reuse of existing caissons and foundation walls from a previous building on the site, which in turn reduced the amount of material needed for the new foundation and the amount of waste diverted offsite.

Crews also incorporated a green roof, high-performance glazing, high-insulating building envelope, high-efficiency chillers and digitally controlled HVAC and lighting systems.

Bovis is also managing the construction of 340 on the Park; a 69-story condominium tower in Chicago currently under construction.

In an effort to guide the project towards an application for LEED certification, Bovis is assisting with an erosion and sediment control program as well as an indoor air quality control plan. Crews are tracking material use for recycled content and local manufacture and also assisting the owner's LEED consultant in obtaining commissioning paperwork for the mechanical equipment.

Sharing Sustainability

New York-based Turner Construction has taken its message of sustainable construction on the road.

The result of a commitment made at the Clinton Global Initiative Meeting in 2005, Turner this year has co-hosted a series of green conferences-in Washington, D.C.; Haverford, Pa.; and Los Angeles-promoting leadership in sustainable construction for both the K-12 and higher education sectors. A fourth and final conference is planned for either Chicago or Dallas.

Speakers range from educators who are promoting green construction at their districts or universities to high-level leaders at Global Green USA, a Santa Monica, Calif.-based environmental organization founded by former Soviet chief Mikhail Gorbachev, and the USGBC.

At the Los Angeles conference, the superintendent of schools for the Los Angeles Unified School District spoke about that district's commitment to building green. At the event in Pennsylvania, a Harvard University educator explained how the Cambridge, Mass., college has created a revolving loan fund from which money is "invested" into energy-saving campus design and construction. The loan is "repaid" by the energy savings that accrue.

"(The speaker series) is a chance to take advantage of the experiences of those who have already taken the leap of faith to use green building," said Rod Wille, Turner's manager of sustainable construction based in its Sacramento, Calif., office.

Beyond the conferences, Turner offices nationwide have made a commitment to building green. The firm has developed an online LEED training program in conjunction with the USGBC, and 132 employees nationwide are LEED-accredited professionals. Turner's goal for 2006 is to license 200 employees.

Turner offers the use of hybrid company cars to its employees, creates relationships with manufacturers of green materials and energy-efficient equipment and offers orientations for subcontractors new to the green arena.

"We're finding that the cost of green buildings for general contractors is significantly in the hands of our subs and suppliers," Wille said. "If they don't understand the principles of 'green,' the price of poker goes up."

In Chicago, Turner has contributed to a number of sustainable construction projects. At 1 S. Dearborn, a 1 million-sq.-ft., 40-story high-rise completed in December 2005, the combined value of the postconsumer and postindustrial recycled content as a percentage of total cost of all materials is slightly more than 20 percent. Forty-one percent of the materials in the building were manufactured within a 500-mi. radius of the project.

The project is pursuing and has been precertified for LEED silver status. It would be Illinois' first LEED-certified silver high-rise building.

Turner also provided general contractor services to at the $23.6 million, 84,000-sq.-ft. Ford Motor Co. Engineering Design Center for the Northwestern University McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science in Evanston, Ill., a project that received silver LEED certification.

"Our mantra these days is, 'It makes good business sense,'" for contractors to take the initiative in the development of sustainable projects, Wille said. "We can build a good, green building these days for virtually no change in cost."


It's Easy Being Green

National design firm Hellmuth, Obata + Kassabaum has taken a bold step in the sustainable design dance by approaching every new project with green design in mind-whether or not the owner has specifically requested it.

The companywide effort is unique because it puts the design giant in a position of being proactive, rather that reactive, to an owner's overall plan.

The St. Louis-based design firm has promoted sustainable design practices long before it was popular, said Clark Davis, HOK vice chairman, but formalized its commitment last year through a sustainable design initiative.

"We decided as a firm to apply LEED criteria to each new project HOK touches," Davis said. "Whether the client has conscious sustainable agenda or not, our team evaluates the opportunities against the criteria before we get into the design."

This doesn't mean HOK ignores the clients' agenda, but rather incorporates green design into each project at a level the owner is comfortable with, Davis added.

Most owners are on board with HOK's sustainable direction, although some are hesitant to embrace the concept wholeheartedly for fear of high costs, he said.

"Some clients who are cost-conscious want to do all they can but don't believe they can justify to their board or to taxpayers a significant cost premium for sustainable design features," Davis said. "So we focus on areas where it is possible to make a difference without adding features or practices that cost a lot."

In today's marketplace, it's not difficult to incorporate green design elements into a building while staying within a preset budget, he said.

For example, he said a building's position can be shifted on a site, which means stormwater flows and exposure to sunlight can be manipulated, and that creates cost savings in stormwater management and heating and cooling equipment.

Also, building materials that include a high level of recycled content are commonplace and comparable in price to their less-green counterparts, as are nontoxic materials such as glues and other adhesives.

"The whole industry has really come along," Davis said. "It has become easier to be green."

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