All Articles Leadership On Earth Day, edge toward the sustainable by working together

On Earth Day, edge toward the sustainable by working together

3 min read


We’ve got to eliminate the silos, collaborate and share the rewards and liabilities that come with building in a sustainable way. And, we’ve got to engage all stakeholders. That was the rallying cry Wednesday at the “Making the built environment more environmentally friendly” session sponsored by the Associated General Contractors of America and other trade groups.

Right now, the built environment in the U.S. — highways, cities, energy networks, mines, water supplies, buildings — accounts for about 40% of greenhouse-gas emissions, and buildings alone consume about 40% of all energy used in the country.

Right now, the majority of development projects involve architects who design, engineers who implement and general contractors who build, but seldom do they get together to explore the best way to enhance efficiency, find environmental benefits in alternative building materials, or discuss the positive and negative effects of a project on its surroundings, said Chris Gorthy, LEED AP and sustainability manager at DPR Construction and a member of the National Capital Region Chapter board of the U.S. Green Building Council.

“What we’re doing is not working; we have to do it a different way,” said Michael Mucha, chief engineer and director of the Madison Metropolitan Sewerage District in Wisconsin. He relayed a story about Olympia, Wash.,  doing just that. Studies indicated that a bridge should be expanded to four lanes to accommodate increasing traffic. The city decided to go with three lanes — and bike paths — because they thought alternatives to the car would become more prevalent.

It was a hard sell, Mucha said, and required a blending of balance — finding solutions for everyone; efficiency — doing what we’re doing now, but better and towards a greener future; and trust — a whole-systems solution where planners, designers, leaders and community all worked together.

And now, as investors and tenants alike see the bottom-line benefits of environmentally friendly buildings with efficient energy systems and environments that promote fewer sick days, many are climbing on the sustainable-building bandwagon. However, we still need to “safeguard our land and valuable natural resources,” said Stephen Sandherr, CEO of AGC, and do more to realize “green.”

The best way to achieve that is to work together across individual specialties, the panelists agreed, with Gorthy going a step further: “Sustainability is a value-based process,” he said. Use it as a value when talking to stakeholders rather than as something that just must be done, he added.