Green Contracting Includes Learning Curve

August 11, 2008
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Green contracting is a relatively new term. As contractors endeavor to define what green contracting truly means, they find that there are questions to be answered and bumps in the road. The problems, however, don’t lie in a lack of green equipment options to sell, or in lack of customers looking to purchase this green equipment. The difficulties arise when green theories meet green practices and contractors have to decide if they will become a green contractor or a contractor who sells green equipment.

But what does it mean to be a green contractor? A few contractors took a moment to explain what they thought it meant to be green and some shared their attempts at implementing green practices and how it affected their business.



GREEN IN THEORY

Ken Bodwell, principal at Innovative Service Solutions in Orlando, Fla., is concerned that the “true” green message is getting lost in translation. He warned contractors not to become caught up in the frenzy of becoming green for the sake of being green.

“We are a member of the U.S. Green Building Council, but honestly we joined because it was media driven,” he said. “I am concerned that the publicity is going to dilute the intent of the program. I interpret the program for our company as providing a quality service without endangering our present or future environment to the best of our ability, and without doing harm or discomfort to our client.”

Larry Taylor, president of AirRite Air Conditioning Co. Inc., Fort Worth, Texas, was concerned with the amount of contractors claiming to be green strictly in marketing efforts and not in active follow through.

“When you are advertising a ‘Free Energy Audit’ and are only interested in auditing the product you are selling, that to me is not an energy audit, but rather a sales pitch,” he said. “In my opinion, if you are not into the whole facility as a complete system and package, then you are not green. If you are going to consider yourself as a green company, then you should be doing as many things as possible for the customer that leads them to making the right decisions for them, instead of the right decisions that will get the contractor the sale.”



GOING GREEN

Becoming a green contractor details selling strategies and customer education plans that draw from green principles in action. One of the primary focuses of this endeavor is the choosing and recovering of refrigerants.

“We need to have an understanding and a service discipline of our refrigerants and recovery practices,” noted Bodwell. “We need to find ways to assist our clients in efficiently operating their equipment.”

Hobaica Services has chosen refrigerants as one of its primary green endeavors, completely switching over to R-410A refrigerant for its customers’ HVAC applications and recommending products with 15 SEER or higher ratings.

According to Phil Roth, president of A.N. Roth Co. LLC. in Louisville, Ky., it is not just individually efficient systems that make the green difference; it is the whole building approach that is the better answer.

“Our current green business strategy is to promote whole building diagnostics,” he said. “Offering people solutions that not only include efficient equipment, but also include upgrades such as duct sealing and improvement to the building envelope, is the approach that separates us from the competition attitude of just pushing boxes.”

Scott Robinson, president of Apple Heating & Cooling in Ashtabula, Ohio, instructed that contractors should advise customers how to save money in their homes. He recommended regular maintenance of HVAC systems, adding insulation, tightening of buildings, replacing windows, and renovating duct systems, among other things.

Taylor agreed the whole building approach is the best way to be a green contractor.

“When you can give the customer a written report detailing the energy waste areas in their facility and an unbiased assessment of the most energy-efficient methods of obtaining green status, then you can consider yourself providing green services to your customers,” re- marked Taylor. “Anything short of this is just a shade of green.”

In order to offer this whole building approach, it is suggested that contractors get creative and move beyond traditional thinking. Jim Hussey, president of Marina Mechanical in San Leandro, Calif., suggests contractors recommend products and systems that consume less overall energy and avoid peak loading. “Think outside the box,” he said. “Include desiccant cooling, solar assist, ground source, thermal storage, etc.”

Donovan Heat and Air, Jacksonville, Fla., is working with solar and wind as well. “I envision every home to have a solar panel,” he remarked. “We must recycle, conserve, and create from wind and sun.”



GREEN IN PRICE TAGS

As green discussions take place on Capitol Hill, and in homes and businesses across America, one of the greatest concerns is implementation cost. “Going green” requires an investment both from the consumer and the seller, and contractors have had vastly different experiences as they count the cost of going green.

Bodwell hasn’t seen much change in his finances since endeavoring to traverse the green path.

“At this point, I do not believe there has been a positive or negative impact on the bottom line,” he remarked. “We include green in our marketing, but has it brought in new clients? I don’t think so.”

Donovan, on the other hand, has had very different and positive financial outcomes since implementing his green strategies.

“Even through this real estate recession we have seen record numbers and profits,” he noted. “Some call it going green. I call it going gold.”

Others, like Hussey, are just beginning. “While we are including green in our sales and marketing efforts with some success, we have not yet succeeded in being recognized in our market as a green contractor,” he said. “Our retrofit sales are growing, as are our margins. One of our long-term goals is to be recognized in our market as the ‘go to’ provider for green HVAC systems.”

Roth, who is taking the whole building approach to going green, is seeing slow financial progress.

“It seems that we have been able to increase our margins and gross profit man hour,” he explained. “We began this approach approximately five years ago. It’s been slow to get people to realize the benefits of this approach, but interest seems to be growing as the cost of energy continues to rise.”

With investment, education, training, and other implementation costs that add up, contractors are finding that one green solution does not fit all and that it takes a commitment to be green.

“It is more costly to utilize green business practices, however, we feel that in the long run, it will pay off for our environment, our customers, and our company,” observed Louis Hobaica, owner of Hobaica Services in Phoenix. “We look at green practices as a necessary way of every day business, not as an option.”



GREEN IN PRACTICE

According to multiple contractors, another aspect of being a green contractor is making sure you practice what you preach. This translates into having environmentally sound internal business practices. Donovan Heat and Air has implemented multiple green internal practices. The company recycles paper, cardboard, metal, Freon, etc. It also installed a photovoltaic electricity system to completely run the office from solar electricity.

Apple Heating & Cooling practices what it preaches about green as well. This company purchases vehicles with fuel efficiency in mind and has reduced fuel consumption as a result of global positioning satellite monitoring and careful routing. The company also monitors vehicle tire pressure to increase fuel efficiency and unplugs computers and peripherals when not in use.

“You first have to commit to green practices in the building,” said Robinson. “Recycle as much as possible, including beverage cans, paper, batteries, and refrigerant. It is important to keep harmful substances out of the environment.”

“It is important to focus on being as close to climate neutral as possible,” noted Hobaica.

“Having the smallest negative impact on our environment throughout our business practices as we can, while still maintaining efficient, effective, and professional HVACR services is our goal.”

This company focuses on recycling, reducing waste, going paperless, fuel efficiency, rebuilding the environment, and efficient scheduling and routing.

“We scrap and recycle steel, aluminum, copper, wiring, motors, compressors, oil, PCB, refrigerants, wood, cardboard, and paper,” said Hobaica. “We also utilize a paperless fax process, plant five trees for every installation we perform, and are converting over to more fuel-efficient field vehicles.”

FEEDBACK REQUESTEDDo you have a green story to tell? Send it to Angela D. Harris, News & Legislation Editor, at angelaharris@achrnews.com.



Sidebar: MCA Hosts Green Webinar

CHICAGO - Dan Bulley, a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design® accredited professional (LEED® AP) for the Mechanical Contractors Association Chicago, presented “So You Want to Be a Green Contractor?” This Webinar covered the process of becoming LEED AP certified, why LEED certification is important, what topics are covered in the LEED AP exam, and how to prepare for the exam.

According to Bulley, there are multiple strategies to becoming a green contractor. He suggested that to become “greener,” contractors should take a green job; join the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and get involved locally and nationally; green the office with hybrid vehicles, retrofits, etc.; increase green marketing; and become LEED AP certified.

“Not only will LEED AP get attention with its highly recognizable status, but it will also promote the industry and understanding of sustainability,” he said. “When you learn more about LEED systems, the people around you do too.”

In order to become LEED AP certified, contractors must take an 80 question multiple-choice exam. The test is online and the 80 questions are pulled from a pool of “tricky” questions.

Bulley continued his presentation outlining the different test sections and providing strategies for successful study and completion of the exam.

To view the complete Webinar, visit www.mca.org/begreen/.

Publication Date: 08/11/2008

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