In the right place at the right time

9/27/2019
The world is facing significant environmental challenges, including carbon emissions, landfill capacity, water quality, and species biodiversity to name a few. The design and construction industries are being called upon in ever-increasing ways to develop real, tangible, solutions to address these problems. While some may see these challenges as only peripherally related to our "real" work of building things, the fact is that built-environment professionals are often in the right place at the right time to deliver impactful solutions to address these problems.

Having worked on both the design and building side of the construction industry, I feel I have a unique perspective on how the various players on a project team can influence sustainability. Many people believe architects and building owners are responsible for making all the sustainability-related decisions, and general contractors just follow through with the plan. While there is some truth to that idea, especially on design-bid-build projects, in most other instances the contractor can make a significant contribution toward sustainability.

Contractors have an intimate knowledge of the sourcing, installation process, and durability of materials on actual projects. This invaluable expertise positions contractors to advocate for materials and finishes that can meet both sustainability requirements and the owner's performance and cost goals. Contractors have supply-chain relationships with material suppliers and trade contractors who bring deep knowledge of the real-world performance record of various materials and construction methods.

Sometimes the contractor has a deeper ongoing relationship with the client than the designer does. This results in both formal and informal opportunities to provide expert consultation with a view towards meeting the client’s sustainability needs. The contractor’s in-depth estimating and cost engineering experience support design review, analysis of design options, and recommendation of solutions that meet the budget while delivering on sustainability goals.

The choice of delivery method significantly influences the team's ability to dedicate the necessary time in the early stages to develop optimal, sustainable solutions. When the contractor is brought on-board to work with the design team during conceptual and early schematic design, the results can be truly remarkable. Our early engagement on a recent mass timber project allowed our preconstruction team to suggest that the owner consider changing the bay sizing, based on an analysis of span capacity of the beams and cross-laminated timber panel thickness. This early involvement resulted in the most cost-effective implementation of mass timber for the project.

With a breadth of industry experience that can cut across various building markets, contractors can come up with surprising solutions that at first glance might seem unrelated to sustainability. A recent example was when our team reviewed a proposed building program and space layout, and recommended changes that resulted in more efficient use of materials while also expanding the rentable space of the building. These changes boosted the value of the building because they directly increased the net operating income. The financial difference allowed the owner more flexibility to invest in additional sustainable features.

We all have a role to play in creating a green, healthy, and climate-resilient built environment. This includes taking steps to reduce carbon emissions, move towards a circular econ​​omy, and protect biodiversity. Through collaboration with designers and building owners and incorporating innovative practices during design and construction, we can generate valuable and cost-effective solutions to address these challenges while delivering exceptional projects for our clients.

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