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Are You Too Yellow to Go Green?

Drywall and ceiling contractors are going green. They are positioning themselves to go after more green building projects, and many see accreditation as crucial to staying ahead of the competition. Earning a respected green credential connotes expertise and serves as an invitation to be part of the team.

“The whole idea is to get involved in the project upfront,” says Marcus R. Davis, training manager at Denver Drywall Company, Englewood, Colo. “We want to be able to sit in those meetings with the architect and the designers. If we can do that, obviously we are a little bit ahead of our general contractors.”

Davis is seeking a green credential, though he’s not sure which to pursue. Will it bring his company more green business? Or will it merely serve as a marketing tool? One thing is for sure, the construction world is going green, and it’s getting more complex every day.

“A number of members of the contracting community think this is a fad, that people will grow weary of green building and that it will disappear,” says Barry Wallis, general manager at DAIco Supply Company, a Fort Worth, Texas, drywall distributor. “Well, too many resources are already involved. It’s not going away.”

Green Advantage

Wallis shuffles between two DAIco Supply locations assisting commercial contractors throughout greater Dallas–Fort Worth, lining up materials, giving PowerPoint presentations on green building practices. His e-mail signature includes his name, contact information and a logo—a “GA” in large white letters, inside a green circle, with a large green letter “C” next to it. It’s the Green Advantage® Commercial certification.

At the moment, only a minority in the industry possess the GA-C. Wallis believes it’s important, because credentials are helping his company to land more green projects which, in turn, boost the company’s performance and profitability.

“If every project were a green project,” he says, “it’s my belief—though I can’t prove it—that we would reduce our operational expenses by 1 to 1.5 percent.”

How does green building save money? The answer is through communication. A green team tends to collaborate better, shortening construction cycles. They tend to bundle more goods, reduce trips to job sites and streamline the personnel assigned to projects.

“We reduce [environmental] impact by working together as a contracting community,” Wallis says. “Instead of being a bunch of individuals performing jobs, we take a team approach to projects.”

Going green, however, is not only about creating efficiencies. Wallis takes pride in helping to reduce the overall negative environmental impact of hardscape development. “I’m not trying to speak as a hard-core environmentalist,” he says, “but the fact is we have to be responsible for the resources we have.”

Ratings and Standards

In the late 1990s, the United States Green Building Council, a consensus group, began to research green building metrics and rating systems. The first LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Pilot Project Program, known as LEED Version 1.0, was launched at the USGBC Membership Summit in 1998. The LEED Green Building Rating System, Version 2.0, was released in 2000. LEED Version 3.0 is due out this year.

LEED takes a whole-building perspective, doing so over a building’s life-cycle. It’s a performance-oriented system. Points are earned for satisfying specific environmental impact criteria, and different levels of LEED certification are awarded based on the total points earned.

Nevertheless, green construction is moving beyond rating systems toward the adoption of standards. The American National Standards Institute, for example, recently approved the National Green Building Standard™ (ICC 700-2008), a collaborative effort between the International Code Council and the National Association of Home Builders. Other standards taking shape include the ASHRAE 189.1 and Green Globes Design v.1.

Today, several local jurisdictions have adopted green rating systems and have begun to enforce them. The city of Dallas and Dallas County, for example, have each instituted minimum LEED Silver certification ratings for all city-owned projects. The Dallas City Council became one of the first major American cities to pass a comprehensive building standard for all new houses and commercial buildings.

This is where Wallis’ GA-C credential comes into play—not as a marketing ploy, but as a way to certify his expertise in fulfilling green project requirements. Dallas-area contractors have to submit a variety of green compliance verification forms, ensuring that materials are manufactured within a set radii, that steel studs have the appropriate levels of recycled content, that certified framing lumber is in fact FSC certified, and so forth. DAIco Supply makes this easy for contractors by making green paperwork packets ready to go.

While this somewhat simplifies matters, green distributors nevertheless aid contractors working on green building projects. As soon as they get the materials take-off from the contractor, the green wall systems supplier goes to work.

“We research, isolate and identify the best products to accumulate the most points,” Wallis says. “It all begins in planning and prep. The owners of the project determine they want a certified building, and that generates a system for reporting, recording and verification, which is placed, in part, on the subcontractor.”

“It’s put a great burden on the distributor base and their customers, the subcontractors since they are the frontline,”‘ says John Mixson, Director of Marketing at National Gypsum and director of the company’s sustainability programs. “Most of the activity occurs around these certifications, because documentation and material tracking is required.”

What about the contractor? Should he be certified, too? Or, is it enough for his materials supplier to carry the accreditation?

Choosing a Credential

Let’s compare the certifications available for contractors to pursue.

Green Advantage. Green Advantage is an environmental certification for building-related practitioners. It’s issued primarily to contractors, subcontractors and trades people, and it signifies that the certified individual has knowledge of current green building principles, materials and techniques. Green Advantage issues Commercial, Residential and Commercial/Residential Certifications, and has specific exams for each. GA certification is designed to be a non-competitive, complementary offering to LEED accreditation.

“If I am a contractor or dealer, the more I contribute green understanding and facilitation, the more value I add,” Mixson says. “In my opinion, Green Advantage is going to set them apart and give them a competitive advantage.”

LEED AP+ and LEED GA. A LEED Accredited Professional+ (the 2009 designation with a new exam, in contrast to LEED AP without the +) is someone who possesses the knowledge and skills necessary to participate in design, encourages integrated design and knows how to streamline a building’s LEED application and certification process. LEED AP candidates have building industry knowledge and have experience working with green building professionals from multiple disciplines. A related LEED accreditation, the LEED Green Associate (LEED GA) program, requires a less stringent level of experience than the LEED AP+ tier.

Should drywall and ceiling contractors become a LEED AP+?

“That’s a double-edged question,” Wallis says. “It helps in the educational process of the whole LEED movement, and helps a person to gain a better understanding of the whole process in place. But is it necessary for a distributor [or a subcontractor] to have a LEED AP on staff? The answer to that is a definitive ‘no.’ There is no financial gain or benefit to having a LEED AP other than the education.”

J.R. Lundy, business development manager, Lundy Services, Inc., a Dallas drywall contracting and millwork company, agrees. He says the LEED AP+ accreditation is unnecessary for contractors. His company was the first commercial drywall company and the first commercial millwork company to be members of the North Texas USGBC regional chapter. The company is even a member of the national USGBC organization. Right now, Lundy has 30 individuals on staff—project managers and estimators split equally between drywall and millwork businesses—who are all working on Green Advantage Commercial/Residential (GA-CR) credentials. All in all, the accreditations, USGBC membership and a host of seminars and webinars is putting the firm well ahead of the competition.

“I like being ahead of the curve,” says Lundy, who is GA-C certified. “We’re sitting at the table. We’re the spreaders of green news, and we’re helping our GCs to run successful green projects. Oh sure, someday they’ll catch up with us, but we think right now that we help them to win more jobs.”

Clearly, green accreditation brings many advantages. Besides leading to more work, green credentials can lower a firm’s account receivables.

“Especially on [LEED] Gold and Platinum projects, the general contractors want to keep up with the point accumulations while the projects are in play,” Wallis says. “When the subcontractor requests a draw for payment, GCs will typically request information from them. If they are unable to provide it in an accurate and timely manner, then that may slow down greatly the process of getting paid.”

And here is another interesting tidbit about green credentials: A project can receive an additional LEED credit if 30 percent of the general and subcontracting teams are all Green Advantaged certified (see sidebar); it’s called the LEED innovation credit.

“The innovation credit is for thinking outside of the box. It’s for going above and beyond,” says Lee R. Zaretzky, president of Ronsco, Inc., a New York, N.Y., drywall and ceilings contractor. “It’s a good advantage to say you’re Green Advantage certified. If the general contractor is able to claim that 30 percent of his team is Green Advantage certified, he may qualify for an additional credit.”

True, it’s only one credit, but it could be the credit that leads to the next level of certification. It may land the project for your firm.

“Everyone is conscience of the point system and certification levels. If you’re a LEED Accredited Professional, the overall project gets one point, but almost certainly they are going to get that from the architect,” Zaretzky says. “This innovation credit is really another added value.”

It All Adds Up

In his Denver office, Davis pours over a LEED study guide. He tries out the practice exam. “I’ve been studying this since I’ve had it,” says Davis, who is considering the LEED Green Associate exam. “The way I see it, the biggest piece for us is how we get rid of our trash. We can separate the steel, paint, mud and debris. I’m not sure we can do much more than that.”

He’s talking about recycling materials. It earns a point or two toward project certification.
Ensure that the wallboard for a large green project comes from nearest wallboard plant earns more credits.

“It’s one or two points if you can get it within 500 miles of the project,” Davis says. “But it’s confusing because the credits and point system changes constantly.”

Like many industry contractors, Davis feels like his company can do more. He wants to work closer with owners and architects and do so earlier in the process. “As far as we are concerned, we are part of that team because we’re a sub,” Davis says. “Our estimators bring a lot of value to architects and owners because they have experience with the process, experience with the blueprints. They can pick out things that architects and owners don’t always see.”

“Personally, I think owners and architects just want to be associated with people who are part of the cause,” Davis says. “They want to conserve the environment and make sure the materials we use are safe. They want to work with people who have the same mindset. So, having an accredited person in our organization shows them that we’re all on the same page.”

Mark L. Johnson is an industry writer and marketing communications consultant.

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