Taking the LEED
Contractors' Roles Intensifying
In Sustainable Building Projects
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
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
"I don't know of any that grew out of what we do that
also encompass engineering, architecture and construction
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
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
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
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.
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,
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 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
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
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
"The whole industry has really come along," Davis
said. "It has become easier to be green."
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