Green Building: The Second Quarter

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For several years numerous agencies, individuals, and the public have worked to demonstrate the negative effects the way we build has on our world. It finally appears that the effort of the USGBC, Al Gore's movie An Inconvenient Truth, and an environmental conscience raised in us by these pioneers have paid off.

However, we are only in the first quarter of the game. The recognition of needing to take steps to save our environment and improve the quality of the environment in which we live and work is taking hold. It’s an exciting time in which to live and even more exciting to be a part of history as building codes and developers finally agree that we need to do something now.

Alas, the next question: how do we implement all of these findings and actually build a green product?

The USGBC offers the “cookbook” of dos and don’ts, and although it is open to interpretation and invention, there are plenty of good ideas to start a design project. The argument that it costs too much or takes too long is quickly falling by the wayside.

The more difficult, and practical, question is “How is the least common denominator (i.e., the guy installing the product in the field, making the right decision on which product to buy, installing and disposing of it properly, and accomplishing the end result) a more friendly construction process and product?”

College Degree to Select Glue?

It seems simple enough to teach the laborer, who may not speak English and is making $6.90 an hour (in Arizona), to place concrete in a concrete recycling dumpster. Or to use a designated wash-out area to clean paintbrushes, concrete chutes, or other things that may contaminate the ground. This seems an easy hurdle for our first challenge. Let’s up the ante.

Suppose the same laborer is asked to run to Home Depot to purchase adhesive to lay carpet or secure a vanity mirror to the wall. The aisle for construction adhesives at Home Depot is approximately 40 feet long. There are several manufacturers of adhesive and all sorts of pretty colors of adhesive to choose from. Some stick to glass, some to concrete, some to other glues…a fairly daunting task that anyone who has ever needed to pick up a tube of glue can relate to.

Let’s also suppose the home being constructed is a green home — i.e., no or low VOCs permitted in the adhesive as little Joey from the Extreme Makeover: Home Edition family is sensitive to these compounds. All of a sudden buying glue can become a life-or-death situation. Somewhere in the four-point font on the adhesive tubes are the contents — maybe even a listing that indicates if the adhesive is or is not a low VOC-emitting material.

How many reading this article, with or without a LEED AP designation, can identify which adhesive is a low-VOC material? We won’t go into the fact that the laborer was given $5 cash to purchase the tube of glue and what the cost of the low-VOC glue is versus the other tubes in the aisle. Is it reasonable to expect all levels of workers to understand the LEED handbook, let alone the nuances of low VOC-emitting adhesives?

Green Building Phase II: Acceptance

The construction industry is already moving forward to produce environmentally friendly products. This is good business and will eventually result in a mandate via building codes. Green building will become the norm, and manufacturers are up to the challenge. They are already offering the design community many lunchtime seminars, complete with food, to show off their new “green” products.

We’re only into the first quarter of this game, and it is equally important that the USGBC, building officials, and elected officials continue to push for more and more green building reforms. The team needs to keep up the pressure established in the first quarter that resulted in the public’s awareness of the need for a green building system in the first place. It seems only a matter of time before these practices are adopted and placed into the mainstream.

Fortunately, there are no lobbying groups bold enough to proclaim these steps are not “too beneficial” for us or that they are “too detrimental” to the existing industry. Those who claim the front-end costs are too high are being rebutted with proof coming out of firms that say, “Nope — here is the data to prove green building is competitive and actually pays you back over time — not only with money but so much more.”

Congratulations are in order for a wonderful first quarter to the USGBC and all of the organizations that have made green building a viable and necessary step in the design and construction industry. Hopefully, the momentum will build and make the implementation of something that seems so simple actually achievable — without requiring a college degree or LEED certification to go shopping at Home Depot.

Stay tuned as the third quarter will require enforcement of the green building principles for which many firms have already positioned themselves as third-party inspectors. And let’s not forget the fourth quarter — where we will actually get to watch the scrubs come in and finish the game. My hope is that that will include going beyond green because we can and want to — not because someone told us we should, it’s fashionable, or it’s mandated by the building codes.

About the Author

In his role as a regional manager at Toll Brothers, Joseph Lisiewski oversees all architectural activity for the company’s Nevada, Arizona, and Palm Springs divisions. Drawing on his wealth of expertise in architecture, construction, and project and construction management, he manages the planning, design, production, and permitting of plans prepared for these divisions.

Lisiewski’s impressive background includes a partnership with his father — a renowned architect with 50 years of experience — in The Lisiewski Group. He holds a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Temple University and the Harvard University Graduate School of Design — Golf Clubhouse Design and Site Planning. He is a former president of the American Institute of Architects West Jersey Chapter, and he received their highest award: the Louis Goettelmann Award for Outstanding Service. He is a member of the National Council of Architectural Registration Boards, and he is registered in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, California, Nevada, and Arizona.  Lisiewski is also a member of the American Institute of Architects, New Jersey chapter (AIA-NJ).
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