Swinerton In the News

Swinerton Renewable Energy: September 11, 2013

The 2013 ENR Top Green Contractors

Sustainable construction has come a long way over the past 15 years, going from fad to fashion to fact of life.

The Washington, D.C.-based U.S. Green Building Council has been largely responsible for setting the standards that have given a framework to the green building movement. And it has been the public sector that has embraced USGBC's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standards that have brought contractors into the sustainability fold.

However, the green building movement currently finds itself at a crossroads. The newly approved LEED v.4 standards are under attack from the chemical industry and some legislative leaders. And while clients are seeking the economic and operational benefits of sustainable construction, they are not always seeking certification for their projects. This has left contractors providing sustainable construction wondering about the direction of green building.

The uncertainty about green building can be seen in the results of ENR's Top 100 Green Contractors survey. As a group, the Top 100 generated $44.67 billion in contracting revenue in 2012 from projects registered with, and actively seeking certification from, third-party ratings groups under objective sustainable-design standards, such as USGBC's LEED program. For the group, this total is down 4.0%, from $46.53 billion in 2011.

Domestically, green contracting revenue fell 3.5%, to $42.75 billion, in 2012 from $44.31 billion in 2011. The Top 100 had $1.92 billion in revenue from green projects outside the U.S. in 2012, down 13.3%, from $2.20 billion in 2011.

Part of the decline can be attributed to the weak public-sector market. Revenue from green projects for government office buildings fell, from 2011 to 2012, 26.4%, to $5.5 billion, while revenue from green projects in the education sector fell 16.1%, to $8.1 billion.

Despite the uncertainty, interest in green construction remains high and is increasing. "The commercial office sector seems to be back, and health care and higher education increasingly are going green," says Michael Deane, vice president and chief sustainability officer at Turner Construction. But the big new green market for Turner is airport terminals, he says.

Much of the interest from the private sector in sustainability comes from an increasing emphasis on building operating costs. "For the most part, we see an increase in interest as people are taking a longer view of building assets," says Tracy Browne, vice president of sustainability, Balfour Beatty US. She says clients are starting to look more closely at life-cycle costs and total ownership costs, and, in most situations, this will lead to a higher-performing building.

Many contractors are concerned about owners' emphasis on energy savings, rather than larger sustainability issues. "A big trend is using third-party rating systems as a checklist for their projects, but not formally going through the process of certification. We have seen this occur with the government and other sectors," says James Stawniczy, head of sustainability for Lend Lease.

Several contractors say they have seen some resistance to certification. "Many clients continue to want more sustainable projects, not a certificate," says Deane. He worries that, without certification, some owners may not be getting what they want.

"The costs of LEED registration and certification are not that high," says Elizabeth Heider, senior vice president of Skanska USA and last year's USGBC chair. She says certification is the best way for an owner to demonstrate its project is sustainable. "I went to college not just to take classes but to achieve a third-party certification—a diploma. A green project should be looked at the same way."

LEED v.4 Battle

The biggest—and most controversial—recent development in green building was the approval in June of the new LEED standards, LEED v.4. Many contractors have applauded the new standards. "The USGBC has taken the time to get it right, incorporating input from five public-comment periods with the latest in research and testing—all rolled into a program that is both rigorous and accessible," says Ken Potts, director of sustainability for McGough Construction.

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