Ready or not, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is rapidly becoming the hallmark of sustainability by which project bids may live or die.
By William Atkinson
LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification system providing third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies aimed at improving performance in several metrics. These areas include energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.
Developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED provides building owners and operators with a concise framework for identifying and implementing practical and measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.
LEED is flexible enough to apply to all building types – commercial as well as residential. It works throughout the building’s life cycle: design and construction, operations and maintenance, tenant fit-out and significant retrofit.
“From what I have seen in terms of legislation, codes and other initiatives that relate to LEED requirements, interest in LEED is definitely increasing,” says Kyle Kerstiens, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP, and NPCA’s director of sustainability.
As of May 2011, according to the USGBC, 45 states (including 442 cities, towns and counties), 35 state governments, 14 federal agencies or departments, and numerous public school jurisdictions and institutions of higher education across the United States have been involved in LEED-related legislation, executive orders, resolutions, ordinances, policies and incentives.
Government-owned or occupied LEED buildings make up 24% of all LEED projects. The federal government has 450 certified projects and another 3,601 pursuing certification. State governments have 640 certified projects and 1,879 pursuing certification. Local governments have 960 certified projects and 3,080 pursuing certification.
Making the most of LEED marketing strategies
How can precasters best take advantage of opportunities with LEED? The first step, of course, is to develop products that qualify for LEED points. “In terms of developing these products, the first thing you have to do is look at what goes into the products,” suggests Kerstiens. To qualify for these points, you can do things such as add more fly ash, recycled aggregate or lightweight aggregate. “Once you get the recycled content of your product higher and meet the specific regional requirements, you can begin to market yourself effectively,” he says.
To help its members get started, NPCA offers a LEED calculator on its website. “The LEED calculator works for both the U.S. and Canada LEED rating systems and can calculate distances in either postal code or ZIP code format,” continues Kerstiens. “Interest in LEED in Canada is as strong as it is in the United States.” In addition, the USGBC is marketing the LEED rating system as a global rating system. There is a Canadian version of LEED, and you can use either the Canadian version or the U.S. version in Canada. “One difference in the Canadian version is that you are entitled to longer distances when it comes to transporting materials by rail or barge,” he says. “Other than that, most of the credits are very similar.”
It is also important to understand the LEED rating system. To help members with this, NPCA has created a LEED Reference Guide that provides information on LEED credits for various products.
“The more you know, the better you will be able to market your products and capabilities,” adds Kerstiens. “For example, if a general contractor wants to know something about LEED, he is obviously going to return to you if you are the one who can provide him with the proper documentation and other paperwork in a timely manner.”
So what are NPCA members doing in terms of developing and marketing their products and other LEED-related capabilities? Interestingly, their involvement in LEED typically comes through the back door. That is, they have had a long-term and/or growing commitment to sustainability initiatives in general, and LEED products and services are simply an outgrowth of this. Indeed, they do actively market their LEED products and services. Again, though, what they really market to customers and prospects is the fact that they are environmentally friendly and committed to sustainability in general.
One precaster with a long history in sustainability and energy efficiency is Fabcon, based in Savage, Minn. Fabcon is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council and provides products and services to customers interested in achieving LEED certification.
“Energy efficiency is something we pioneered back in 1973, a couple of years after we opened our doors, by developing an integrated insulated product,” says Jim Houtman, vice president of sales and marketing. “Of course, there was no such thing as LEED back then. Over the years, though, we were always interested in providing high-value and efficient products to our customers, so when LEED came along, it seemed like a natural fit for our philosophy.”
When Fabcon introduced its insulated product in 1973, some other companies were making different types of precast structural units for use on buildings. “Typically, people would have to glue insulation on the inside of the wall, which ended up being a maintenance issue and also a fire concern,” says Houtman. “It also required extra labor on site. We determined if we could create a building component that took more of the building characteristics into account in a single piece, it would help the efficiency of the building.”
As a result, Fabcon designed a structural panel that would hold up the building and was insulated from edge to edge. It also provided a high-impact interior surface and a nice, finished exterior. Overall, it was designed to make the building much more efficient.
While there were a few companies providing products where insulation could be glued on the inside, at least one other company was creating a panel that claimed to provide insulation within the unit itself. “The main competition to our style of panel was the composite panel,” says Houtman. It was 3 or 4 in. of concrete, 2 to 4 in. of insulation, and then another 3 or 4 in. of concrete on the outside face. These were designed to work as a single structural unit. “The problem was that solar gain affected the outer part of the wall, but the inner half was protected by insulation,” he notes. “This resulted in panel movement. To deal with this, they would put holes in the insulation – blockouts where they put reinforcing to tie the two faces together to work as a unit. However, this defeated the purpose of the insulation. It is similar to trying to keep water in a bucket that has holes in the bottom.”
Fabcon’s product is designed with the entire structure on one side of the insulation, then the continuous insulation outside of that, then an outside face designed to slide on the structure so it can expand and contract.
It is also very efficient in terms of the amount of concrete and steel it requires in order to hold up a load, according to Houtman. “We recently competed with another company on a distribution center project,” he says.
“The wall system the other company was using was 94 to 95 lbs/sq ft. We are doing ours with a system that is 68 lbs/sq ft.” This results in lighter-weight panels on the trucks, which reduces fuel costs. Customers can also reduce their footing and foundation sizes, which again saves material. Fabcon’s units also contain a higher percentage of recycled materials.
How does Fabcon market its capabilities? “We provide a lot of sustainability information on our website,” replies Houtman. “In fact, we developed a web-based calculator for customers to use to calculate what our products could contribute to their achieving LEED certification.” This includes the “percent recycled” for each component.
In addition, Fabcon’s customer outreach people are LEED-accredited. “We attend LEED-related conventions and shows, and we have done some targeted advertising in print media and direct mail, talking about energy efficiency and recycled content,” adds Houtman.
“We also have a script that we provide to our project managers and salespeople to use when talking with our customers to help clarify our role in the process,” says Alan Krane, director of marketing. “Previously, a lot of customers would come to us and expect us to manage the whole LEED registration and certification process for them.”
Fabcon recommends to customers who are interested in LEED certification that they begin the process from Day One of the planning stage. “The earlier you start, the easier it is to get certified at a higher level,” explains Krane.
The future? “Our R&D people are always looking at new ideas with a focus on sustainability and energy efficiency,” says Houtman.
Hanson Pipe and Precast
Another precaster with a commitment to helping customers with LEED projects is Hanson Pipe & Precast, which is also a member of the USGBC. The company began providing its customers with LEED information in early 2008. “We realized it was becoming increasingly important to our customers, and as a strong part of a sustainability plan, we wanted it to become part of how we do business,” explains Mark Carpenter, senior vice president, Hanson Building Products in Green Cove Springs, Fla. As a result, LEED is part of Hanson’s larger sustainability mission. “It is a way of life for us,” he says.
The LEED system rates entire projects rather than individual products. “Our products contribute to LEED points and are a key part of our sustainable design practices,” adds Carpenter. “Our precast concrete products contain natural elements and use fly ash, which is a waste byproduct that would be land-filled otherwise. And, of course, our reinforcing steel is at least 97% recycled material.”
Products are sustainable in another way. Although many of Hanson’s products end up underground and out of sight, they play a key role in supporting the quality of life that people are used to in modern society. “As a result, when time and money are invested in a construction project, we want it to last and be there for future generations,” says Carpenter. “That’s what sustainable development is all about.”
The company’s materials are local, and its products are manufactured in a consistent manner, no matter if they are intended for a LEED project or a traditional project. “We manage all of our projects with a customer-oriented approach,” says Carpenter. “As a result, if a customer needs information on LEED certification, we have a LEED calculator that will help him complete the required paperwork.” That is, Hanson developed a LEED calculator to help customers easily access the needed information for LEED certification.
“We are constantly working toward more sustainable product and mix designs,” continues Carpenter. “In addition, our employees actively seek to increase their knowledge of sustainable construction practices. With resiliency and durability becoming even more important to sustainable construction, our products will play an even stronger role in green building efforts and LEED-certified projects in the future.”
Hanson believes that LEED is a part of its future and an important part of its larger corporate sustainability program. “We continue to invest in our future, and the number of LEED AP (Accredited Professionals) and LEED-GA (Green Associate) certified team members continues to grow each year,” says Carpenter.
US Concrete Precast Group
“For us, it’s not so much that we are trying to gain a LEED advantage,” says Todd Ebbert, general manager – Southern California, for US Concrete Precast Group – San Diego. “It is about being socially and environmentally friendly overall in our business. We are committed to reducing our greenhouse gases and carbon footprint, including reducing landfill space.” These initiatives are particularly important to the company’s customers, which are public utilities and other government agencies. Half of its work consists of underground utility products. The other half is custom precast, which can include panels, sound walls and other products.
“Our parent corporation has trademarked ‘EFT,’ which stands for Environmentally Friendly Technology,” continues Ebbert. “This pertains to the increase of certain sustainable materials within our concrete, such as slag, fly ash and recycled aggregate.”
This initiative, of course, is an important element of LEED. The company notes on its website: “The engineering of new concrete mixtures with waste products like fly ash and slag can replace up to 50% of the portland cement, a known contributing factor in the production of greenhouse gases. The resulting mixture produces better, stronger concrete that benefits both the natural and business environments. Plus, the use of US Concrete’s EFT assists architects and engineers in qualifying for LEED credits for the structures they design. EFT may contribute to LEED credits through the reduction of heat islands, building reuse, the use of recycled concrete materials, the use of local/regional materials and the use of pervious concrete.”
US Concrete Precast Group markets its commitment to sustainability, including LEED, in a number of ways. “We have information on these initiatives on our website, on the back of our business cards and in all of our literature,” says Ebbert.
William Atkinson, Carterville, Ill., is a freelance writer who covers business and safety issues.