The concept of sustainability is flowing across the construction industry like a wave as more and more owners, designers and contractors recognize the environmental and economic value that focusing on sustainability can bring to any business.
According to one study, 82 percent of American corporations will be greening at least 16 percent of their real estate, and 18 percent will be greening more than 60 percent in upcoming years.
Another study expects the green building market to double, reaching $96 billion to $140 billion by 2013.
Among the Wisconsin contractors that have eagerly embraced the concept of sustainability is Miron Construction Company, of Neenah, WI.
Miron's director of sustainability, Theresa Lehman, explains, "The heart of sustainability is using resources wisely, consuming less and reducing waste — all good business practices."
"About a year ago," she says, "requests to estimate LEED projects were fairly rare. Now, we're getting about one a week. The industry is seeing that sustainability makes both ecologic and economic sense."
Miron has leapt into sustainability wholeheartedly.
The company has built dozens of projects that either have been certified or will apply for certification under the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building rating system.
It also received the Big Diverter award from WasteCap Wisconsin in 2008 for recycling and reusing construction waste to minimize the amount that went into landfills.
Not only has Miron developed the expertise to serve customers who want to build projects that rank high in sustainability; it is also infusing sustainability into every facet of its own operations.
As one of its sustainable initiatives, it has implemented a recycling policy in all offices and yards, has switched from bottled water to an ionized water filtration system for employees, and has implemented a company-wide policy requiring all construction sites to recycle construction waste.
Vice President of Business Development Corey Brumbaugh says, "The move to sharpen the focus on sustainability throughout the company's culture came right from CEO David Voss. He has envisioned how it can make the company even more effective while also giving the employees a better environment to work in."
Says Brumbaugh, "Walking the sustainability walk is important. We want to show clients how well sustainability can work, and it's important that we lead by example."
The company is currently in the process of adding a 51,000-square-foot addition and making renovations to its 60,000-square-foot headquarters, which is seeking LEED certification under the USGBC's LEED for New Construction rating system.
"Our goal is to allow clients and design/build partners to experience our capabilities, which will demonstrate the benefits of sustainability, including the opportunity to compare the operational costs of our existing facility, served by a traditional system, to the addition, which will be served by a geothermal system," he says.
Says Lehman, "Who's not interested in making smart business decisions, especially concerning operational costs? Dave Voss has requested that we analyze all of our decisions from a life cycle cost perspective before decisions are made. We have some great stories to tell."
A few examples of the sustainable benefits of Miron's headquarters include:
- The heating and cooling for the additions will be provided by 74 geothermal wells. The system ROI is about five years.
- The windows have a special glazing, and both new and existing windows will have exterior light shelves, which allow for natural daylight yet reduce heat gain and interior glare.
- Many of the interior lights are being retrofitted with LED bulbs that use little electricity and last up to 36,000 hours — compared to about 1,500 hours for an incandescent bulb or 10,000 hours for a fluorescent one. They also reduce the amount of heat given off by lighting, thereby reducing cooling costs. The expected savings is about $12,000 in energy costs over the life of the LED bulbs.
- The facility will also incorporate daylight sensors and occupancy sensors, so artificial lighting will only be on when daylight needs to be supplemented and the rooms are occupied, further reducing operational costs.
- The building's direct digital climate control system helps track energy use, so the building manager, Jeff Boettcher, can track and monitor overall energy usage and make adjustments, which will save thousands in energy costs.
A year ago, Miron brought Theresa Lehman onboard as its director of sustainability, both to provide clients with sustainability expertise and to help develop the company's culture of sustainability.
According to Lehman, the maximum benefits of embracing sustainability come from applying it to every aspect of how a company does business, not just the sticks and bricks of a building.
"Everyone needs to focus on doing things more effectively and efficiently by reducing resources and eliminating waste. This is the core of lean, the core of experienced-based decision and the core of sustainability. In addition, people need to be able to make well-informed, financially sound choices that are good for people, the environment and the bottom line, especially when looked at from a life cycle perspective. Big-picture decisions cannot be made on looking at first costs alone."
"Embracing sustainability is a corporate lifestyle change, not just a crash diet," says Lehman. "It's a way of thinking about continuous improvement that becomes ingrained into a company's culture."
Lehman says the culture is taking hold at Miron. "A year ago, we had two LEED Accredited Professionals; now more than 60 percent of our project managers are LEED APs as well as some of our site superintendents, and we have people pursuing accreditation all the time. It's sort of become an internal competition because it hasn't been easy, and with the new exams coming out and the LEED AP credentialing requirements changing, it will become more difficult."
"One of the great things about Miron is the people. Sustainability is important to everyone here, and everyone is doing their part to integrate it into our way of doing business. All employees are encouraged to present ideas, and each idea is evaluated carefully," she says.
One example at Miron, says Lehman, was eliminating paper payroll checks and going to 100-percent electronic deposit. That change not only saved paper; it also saves $50,000 in printing, postage and other associated costs, which reduces Miron's overall carbon footprint.
"This is a very team-oriented company," says Lehman. "Partnering with each other and with the customer to deliver excellence is what it has always been about at Miron; now we've just extended that concept to include the principles of sustainability.
"Being green is great, but you have to be practical about it," she says. "If it doesn't make financial sense, it will never happen. Green needs to be defined by the customer, it needs to be prioritized among the other needs and wants, and then evaluated over its full life. Most importantly, once sustainability is implemented, it needs to be measured against the goals originally set by the owner."
Editor's note: Theresa Lehman is a LEED Accredited Professional. She is an honors graduate who holds a degree in construction management from the Milwaukee School of Engineering.
Before joining Miron, she was an independent consultant advising a range of clients about sustainability.
She still serves on the USGBC Core Curriculum Committee, has been on the LEED-EB exam-development panel, and is a LEED faculty member who instructs USGBC workshops.