These days, it’s virtually a given that an owner will at least try to make a project somewhat environmentally friendly. And more than a few are still actively seeking some level of “green building” certification. Besides the intrinsic benefits of sustainability, these owners know that green buildings attest to good corporate citizenship; appeal to tenants, clients and employees; and should cost less to operate.
For contractors, however, Earth-friendly jobs can present a number of challenges. One in particular is procuring the right building elements and materials for the project. Although there’s no silver bullet to going green, the cost-effective solution lies within your supplier relationships.
Call to action
The U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC’s) LEED program is the most commonly sought-after certification. It defines four levels — from Certified through Silver, Gold and Platinum — for which projects can qualify by scoring points in various categories.
Many of these categories pertain to the materials, systems and furnishings used in the project. These items earn points based on their recycled content, energy-efficient manufacturing processes, local sourcing and other attributes. The latest USGBC standard, LEED v4, specifically calls for greater transparency in the sourcing of materials.
Naturally, the project design team is responsible for specifying materials that will achieve the desired level of certification. But, as a contractor, you play a big role in choosing from which suppliers to buy your building supplies.
When embarking on a green project, clearly establish the owner’s goal for environmentally friendly materials. Then identify suppliers that can help you achieve this objective. Doing so is particularly important when working on LEED projects because suppliers sometimes have to do some serious detective work to determine which products will qualify for certification points. Look for a vendor that’s:
- Well organized and detail-oriented,
- Clearly attuned to the needs of its contractor customers, and
- Able to track the sourcing of their materials (preferably electronically).
Generally, the best suppliers work regularly with manufacturers that produce certifiably green materials and, therefore, will know when and what new sustainable materials are available.
Drawing on their accumulated knowledge, these savvy suppliers can even work with architects and engineers to suggest changes to specifications that might earn additional LEED points. They can also gather LEED compliance letters from manufacturers as part of the certification process.
On the job
When selecting materials with your chosen supplier, consider a broad range of environmental, economic and performance attributes. The USGBC specifically recommends recycled content, but there may be other qualifying criteria to consider. Ask your supplier for its input.
During preconstruction meetings, identify the Earth-friendly items you’ll be installing on the job with your project managers. They can then ensure that the specified sustainable materials are actually showing up on the job site for use. If you’re a general contractor, ensure your subcontractors are using the proper materials as well.
Right and reasonable
For more information on LEED certification, visit the USGBC’s website at http://www.usgbc.org. And whether you’re working on a LEED project or are just one contractor trying to minimize its carbon footprint, don’t underestimate the value of dealing with a knowledgeable materials supplier. The best vendors should be willing to work with you to procure the right building products at a reasonable cost.