MILWAUKEE - Going green is a message contractors are going to be hearing over and over again from their customers, according to presenters at the first-ever Green Opportunities Conference of the Mechanical Contractors Association of America. And conference speakers all agreed that going green is the right thing to do from both an environmental and business standpoint.
A recurring message was that concerns over rising energy costs and preservation of the planet will start to resonate more and more with the general public including those who own and operate commercial buildings. Owners in turn will call upon the HVACR industry to provide their buildings with more energy-efficient and environmentally benign equipment to both save them money and show their sensitivity to environmental issues. Such demand in new buildings, and especially in retrofit situations in existing buildings, will open up new opportunities for contractors, the reasoning goes.
Along the way, expect the government to continue to draw more attention to environmental objectives and provide recognition for buildings that successfully reach those objectives. The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) already has in place the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). LEED has developed into a widely accepted green building rating system and is expected to be the prime measurement of that success.
At the same time, many contractors said they find the learning curve in working with newer and more energy-efficient equipment far less daunting than dealing with the paperwork to achieve LEED certification. And they continue to battle the challenge of first costs that are ever on the mind of even the most environmental-minded building owner. During the MCAA conference, some presenters contended that green buildings could be designed at about the same first costs as a conventional building, while others said there is an upfront premium.
The two and one-half days of presentations took place in Milwaukee, an older city with hundreds of existing buildings ripe for green retrofits and with the potential for new green buildings downtown and in suburbs experiencing a growth spurt. In fact, during the conference, attendees visited a nearby Johnson Controls facility that has recognition in the LEED program and a USGBC Gold certification.
HOW TO GO GREENThe other side of the green coin is sustainability. The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers define it as “providing for the needs of the present without detracting from the ability to fulfill the needs of the future.”
Or as described by speaker Paul von Paumgartten, director of Energy & Environmental Affairs for Johnson Controls, “This is about energy efficiency on steroids. Half of the Fortune 500 companies are doing sustainability reports. The building industry is going green before our eyes.”
Paumgartten was one of those who contended green buildings could be built at the same first costs as conventional buildings. “If green buildings cost more than traditional buildings, it wouldn’t be happening,” he said.
Professor Tim Wentz of the University of Nebraska - Lincoln, who serves on the faculty of MCAA’s National Education Initiative (NEI) and Institute for Project Management (IPM), walked the contractor and manufacturer attendees through some of the terminology they will face. He drew attention to the term carbon footprint, which he said is “a measure of the amount of greenhouse gases emitted through the combustion of fossil fuels.” He noted, “The mechanical systems (installed and often maintained) by mechanical contractors beat at the heart of the footprint.”
David Allen, principal and executive vice president of McKinstry Co., looked at both the emotional and economic aspects that are driving the sustainability movement.
“Everyone is talking about it. Conservation is patriotic. Renewable energy leads to energy independence,” he said. “Energy rates are going to double. Buildings are going to have to get energy efficient or close. Forty percent of all new energy will come from conservation.” But beyond that, he said, “The young people we hire are going to want to deal with the environment. They are not going to want to work for a company unless it does the right thing.”
To get a contracting company to commit to green projects first requires “management to buy in and then get everybody talking about all the work there will be in green buildings,” said Matt Gregg, lead professional engineer for McKinstry. He suggested new hires may be more open to the new direction, but employee training throughout the company will be the No. 1 thing to do.
There is a payback he said. “The work is there. It is not going to go away. In the next couple of years, there will be a 100 percent stress on sustainability.”
TAKING THE LEEDTom Hicks, vice president for LEED at USGBC, was one of several speakers who steered contractors through the procedures for seeking and gaining LEED certification of which there are four levels - Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.
“The green building movement is about changing the status quo,” Hicks said. “Aspects of climate change are politically charged.”
He said there are still those who question the reality of ozone depletion or global warming and who say that even if such issues exist, HVACR should not necessarily be included in the blame. Hicks asked, “Are these natural occurrences? Temporary? Cyclical? It doesn’t matter. Whether you believe it or not, governments, legislatures, corporations - and your competitors - are taking action. My advice is to be informed and explore opportunities to capitalize on this.”
By understanding and using LEED certification, contractors “can prove what they are doing. Basically, if it is not LEED-certified, it is not green.”
All the legislation coming down mandating green is coming from “politicians who set objectives, but they don’t know how to go green. We are going to have to show them,” Yudelson said.
A key consideration in the movement, he said, is to establish and maintain good relationships with a contractor’s current customers. “Sustainable building expertise may not get you a huge amount of new business, but you are going to keep your current customers who are going green.”
TRAINING FOR SUSTAININGDavid Kruse, a plumbing and mechanical contractor from Berkeley, Calif., and president of MCAA, highlighted the attention the association would be giving to the topic. “I personally believe that sustainable construction is the most critical issue facing our members today, and it is becoming clear that it may well become a part of the single most important issue (global sustainability) of this century.
“When I was handed the gavel of the presidency of MCAA, I made a commitment and pledged that our members would become the industry’s leaders in green and sustainable construction.”
“I am extremely proud of the awareness and education that MCAA is bringing to the issues of sustainability and high performance green buildings in America,” Kruse said.