We’ve got to eliminate the silos, collaborate and share the rewards and liabilities that come with building in a sustainable way. And, we’ve got to engage all stakeholders. That was the rallying cry Wednesday at the “Making the built environment more environmentally friendly” session sponsored by the Associated General Contractors of America and other trade groups.

Right now, the built environment in the U.S. — highways, cities, energy networks, mines, water supplies, buildings — accounts for about 40% of greenhouse-gas emissions, and buildings alone consume about 40% of all energy used in the country.

Right now, the majority of development projects involve architects who design, engineers who implement and general contractors who build, but seldom do they get together to explore the best way to enhance efficiency, find environmental benefits in alternative building materials, or discuss the positive and negative effects of a project on its surroundings, said Chris Gorthy, LEED AP and sustainability manager at DPR Construction and a member of the National Capital Region Chapter board of the U.S. Green Building Council.

“What we’re doing is not working; we have to do it a different way,” said Michael Mucha, chief engineer and director of the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District in Wisconsin. He relayed a story about Olympia, Wash., doing just that. Studies indicated that a bridge should be expanded to four lanes to accommodate increasing traffic. The city decided to go with three lanes — and bike paths — because they thought alternatives to the car would become more prevalent.

It was a hard sell, Mucha said, and required a blending of balance — finding solutions for everyone; efficiency — doing what we’re doing now, but better and towards a greener future; and trust — a whole-systems solution where planners, designers, leaders and community all worked together.

And now, as investors and tenants alike see the bottom-line benefits of environmentally friendly buildings with efficient energy systems and environments that promote fewer sick days, many are climbing on the sustainable-building bandwagon. However, we still need to “safeguard our land and valuable natural resources,” said Stephen Sandherr, CEO of AGC, and do more to realize “green.”

The best way to achieve that is to work together across individual specialties, the panelists agreed, with Gorthy going a step further: “Sustainability is a value-based process,” he said. Use it as a value when talking to stakeholders rather than as something that just must be done, he added.

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14 responses to “On Earth Day, edge toward the sustainable by working together”

  1. Gil says:

    it is kind of sad that it has taken "sustainability" to get all parties involved in this industry to sit down at the table and logically discuss the best methods, materials, and designs to meet the needs of a project. For too long, owners have "envisioned", designers have "created" and builders have "constructed".
    This train has been too long in arriving. At least it finally got to the station.

    • jennifer_hicks says:

      Gil, patience is not one o my top character strengths, so I know what you mean. But yes, the train does seem to be at the station — perhaps it is up to us to help fuel it.

  2. The one simple no cost method to make buildings more efficient is to get the proper close out documents into the hands of the staff who maintains the building. This sounds so fundemental, but it rarely happens. The design team does not realy understand what information the maintenance staff needs. The builders and suppliers only supply what the specifications require. So what is left is the staff doing the best they can with little or inadequate information to run the building at its peak design efficency.
    So, the entire facility's team of designers, builders and owners can all get on the same page by using a common set of information on a universal platform. I do o think that BIM is the total answer, yet. The information of the built facility, not the designed building, is what the maintenance staff needs. Access to this accurate information via a bullet-proof digital tool, not through a software, is the most useful method to give the maintenance staff the information they need to make their building hum, save some money, and help save the planet.

    • jennifer_hicks says:

      Thom, you bring up a good point — and one that the participants raised — saying more needed to done to educate facility managers in how to operate the building — and work with the now more complex systems.

      • Jennifer,
        The education process goes both ways. The design team can learn from the facility staff also. Everyone contributes to the success of the building. It can be argued that the maintenance staff affects the total cost of the facility many times more than the design team and contractors. The desiners and builders are in a unique position to give the maintenance staff the information tools they need to run the buildings. The staff must be given the chance to do so. That kind of collaboration is the start of a successful building.

  3. It kills me that collaboration and partnering are still such a hard sell, when the mind-blowing case studies are out there (I just heard quite a few while attending a green business conference in Seattle this week). What can a building user/tenant, for example, teach an HVAC designer, or what can the janitorial crew help engineers better understand? So much!

    When we are kids, it is all about sharing and teamwork. When adults hit the business world, it's all about independence and rising "above" the rest. With sustainability, our collaborative hands are being forced. Only by interconnecting at every system level can we get the job done.

  4. Derrek says:

    This is exactly the type of encompassing outlook that the publication by American Society of Civil Engineers, or ASCE, advocates. The Vision for Civil Engineers in 2025, shows that in order to create a truly sustainable world with integrated systems on all levels, Civil Engineers must embrace managerial positions in society in order to facilitate and lead these Integrated Project Teams. In the publication this positionis known as the Master Planner and Designer.

    The publication is fairly short and a good read. I encourage you all to read it, it has changed my outlook as a student in Civil Engineering.

  5. To answer your second question first:
    What is needed to get the maintenance staff to work with the design team and builder team is, again, quite simple. It takes an owner willing to ask their staff what their staff needs. It is not rocket science. So it is a change of behavior on the owners' side. Let the maintenance needs help inform the facility's program right from the inseption of the project.
    As far as the tool is concerned, it should be as simple as possible. It should not require a new software to be learned. A person who might be uncomfortable using a computer should not feel treatened or fearful using this tool to access the building's information. There should be no fear of breaking something, or losing data. Building Works Inc. has such a tool. They load it during construction and then they train the facility's staff on how to navigate through the data.
    Full disclosure; I work for Building Works.

  6. Rob wagner says:

    This article just shows that the old way of doing business is not working especially now that the requirements are demanding a more diverse group of stakeholders as well as the fact that the regulatory environment is becoming more strigent..As contractors are being asked to participate more in the upstream design process, requirements for new technology are increasing and the regulations governing the industry are growing. This adds further complexity and as a result contractors are facing increased pressure to reduce project uncertainty, contain and eliminate product cost overruns, schedule slips, and technical shortfalls, and more accurately predict potential project outcomes. Proactive and effective risk management processes are becoming vital in ensuring project success even on short duration, relatively small budget projects. There are systems engineering tools and methodologies that help streamline the collaboration process as well as help with design knowledge capture for reuse and integration of those complex subsystems. The methods are there, they just have to be used.

    • Rob, I have found that some decision makers are overwhelmed with the complexity of any design and construction project. They leave it to their team members to'get it built'. What is lost in the rush is how this new project will be operated. The important members of the operations team are left out of the initial and basic decisions while the planning is taking place.
      Having the ability to have access to the valuable construction documents is vital to the successful operation of the building. Success is defined by the building operating at its design efficencies and the occupants are comfortable while having health air quality.
      The leaders of the overall team need to know that there are simple techniques to collaborate and share useful information that will enable the building to be operated in a cost effective and healthy manner.

  7. Ray Bradley says:

    Jennifer, a simple first step tool toward "open project talk" is available at a website called AECProjectTalk.com. Although a new website it has project discussion as its driving purpose.