Get your firm’s policies in place to meet your clients’ green aspirations.

This past April, I attended the Smart & Sustainable Campus conference held at the University of Maryland. I was really impressed by the com-mitment of those colleges and universities who have signed on to make an environmental and energy conservation difference in the coming years. This type of commitment begins with the president of the college or university and works its way towards students, the faculty, and administration.

This conference and the various seminars and discussions at the campus helped me to solidify a concern I have had with the building industry (design and construction), which is that we in the building industry are in a reactive mode in regard to smart and sustainable building programs. We are quick to tell our clients that they can’t afford what they want. We seldom, if ever, say, “What a great idea. Let’s make this happen within the budget.”

If you apply my layman analogy of buying an automobile to this dilemma and you have a client with a budget of $20,000 to invest wisely in a new car that will have CD player, air conditioning, electric door lock package, etc., will you take them to a Cadillac dealership and show them what they can’t afford and and point them toward (a.k.a. value engineering) a stripped down model? I believe we in the building industry are programmed to say, “You can’t afford this, but we will do our best to give you something you really don’t want.”

The solution to this is to have the customer visit a less expensive automobile dealership where he can afford all the features he wants and do so for $20,000. We in the building industry need to provide the same cost-effective, smart, and sustainable solutions to our client’s building program.

Going back to the Smart & Sustainable Campus Conference, the thought occurred to me that we need to change our reactive mode of building buildings. We need to make a giant leap: a culture change to achieving responsible design and construction and not simply marketing that we are all LEED® Accredited Professionals. We need to be smart and sustainable professionals.

Heck, every firm has lots of people who have passed the test, but how many of us are really committed to signing on with the colleges and universities who have mandated their institution will contribute to a better environment sooner rather than later?

Developing a Smart and Sustainable Plan

I left the conference with the question, “Why not?” Why not change how we do business so that energy conservation and environmentally correct methods and materials are the standard and not project alternates? I think each company, design and/or construction firm should form a task force consisting of at least one principal in the firm along with a select few employees to establish the company’s “smart and sustainable building services” mantra.

Both a task force agenda and a timeline to return with a recommended business plan are then needed to accommodate and contribute to the firm’s environment, energy conscious client’s building program. Like any quality process, you can continuously improve the process, but there is an urgency to this global dilemma so the steps your task force may take to get started with your company’s smart and sustainable building services process could be:
  •  Agree there is a need.
  •  Assess what are the energy and environmental factors that make up a building and the operating life cycle of the building.
  •   Document those factors which will later be benchmarks.
  •   Itemize what is standard practice and what is “added value” practice (Note: added value should not be assumed to be added cost).
  •  Identify the milestones to achieve, continuously maintain, and continuously improve these goals.
  •  Formalize how your firm re-engineers office standards for design, construction administration, and sustainable support for projects.
  •  Plan how this culture change will be introduced and implemented throughout the company.
  •  Summarize the mantra for responsible engineering and construction: How will this continuously support the client’s commitment to smart and sustainable campuses?
How this mantra will be monitored and measured?

Once your task force has achieved this, the next step is to facilitate a few roundtable discussions with your clients beginning with colleges and universities who have signed on as part of the smart and sustainable campus organization for feedback and enhancements to your firm’s mantra. Next, consider additional roundtable discussions with other industries, such as health care and industrial businesses about your energy conservation and environmental policy, as well as their smart and sustainable business plan.

As you go through this process, please let me know what you are doing and how you are doing. Let’s share your experiences via mySustainable & Attainableblog. Together we can make that giant leap, that culture change to delivering proactive, smart and sustainable building services. ES