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Green Building Story - April 2007

Green Building

Environmental Management Systems for Contractors and CM's

By Charlie Popeck

Having an effective Environmental Management System can help your firm comply with environmental regulations, reduce fines and penalties and give you plenty of project-specific environmental documentation. It can also help establish and promote your firm as a premiere environmental contractor.


As the construction industry continues to evolve, market-leading contractors should be looking for ways to differentiate their companies from other "top contractors" in the marketplace. These proactive companies will be poised to take advantage of opportunities and projects they really want to land. I can't tell you how many times I've been told by contractor clients that they were unsuccessful in a project interview because they didn't have a stern company-wide commitment to sustainable construction or the LEED system, or did not have a quantifiable and documented record of environmental compliance and performance.

Excessive violations and fines will not only negatively impact a contractors financial bottom line, but could adversely affect the company's reputation in the marketplace-especially if trying to pursue future LEED projects. Rest assured that green building, compliance with environmental regulations, and environmental stewardship is where our industry is headed so you should be prepared-especially if you work on municipal or university or privately funded projects.

Over the last few years the AGC of America has actively promoted and encouraged their members to develop a comprehensive Environmental Management System (EMS) but relatively few have actually developed an EMS, or an effective alternative way to manage their regulatory responsibilities. Many have not done so because the task seems lengthy and cumbersome, they have nobody on staff to spearhead development of the EMS program, or they simply don't see the benefit…yet.

In its basic form, an effective EMS for a contractor or construction manager would include the following elements:

  • Incorporate appropriate measurements for various site practices

  • Establish a template for EMS reporting (measurement and accounting) on all projects

  • Provide employees on all projects with access to federal, state and local standards and regulations pertaining to each project

  • Incorporate the desired green building or LEED standard credits into each project (i.e.; air quality, construction waste management, energy use, etc.)

  • Provide the necessary tools to efficiently supply clients with a comprehensive list of project-specific environmental accomplishments and EMS performance data

  • Provide data for use in the company's Corporate Social Responsibility Report

    Of course, every Environmental Management System will be different as business, marketing, financial and environmental goals vary from company to company, but the end result of the EMS for all firms should be the reduction of fines and penalties, compliance with environmental regulations, establishment of the contractor or construction manager as a premiere environmental contractor and to have the capability to populate reports with project-specific environmental documentation.

    An effective EMS program should also be accompanied by a communications program in order to demonstrate the company's commitment to the EMS program and corresponding results to the business community. From an external perspective, marketing the company's core competencies is integral to securing future work, so the communications program should differentiate the firm from competitors, show example CSR Reports and communicate competence to deliver LEED projects. Internally, the communications program should engage the company's leadership team in development of sustainability initiatives and develop a business model to effectively communicate your competence to deliver LEED projects.

    Continuing education is a third critical part of any EMS program, as the system will only be as useful as the people who implement it on a daily basis.

    The internal training program should teach the employees how to use the EMS system in order to produce the desired results. From a LEED perspective, many contractors have directed employees to become LEED-accredited professionals over the years, but very few have actually worked on a LEED project. This once valuable business advantage will wane if these employees are not kept up to date with current green building practices, and they will eventually loose their LEED-accredited status, as the U.S. Green Building Council will be implementing CEU requirements in the future. Firms should conduct quarterly "High-Performance Building Forums" in order to keep the EMS on track and to continue employee development so that clients will receive the benefits of the company's sustainable development components.

    These quarterly forums should:

  • Focus on ways to develop future business; and

  • Develop and refine sustainable best practices; and

  • Increase green building competence while refining competitive skills

    Finally, since you've developed and implemented a detailed EMS program, be sure to get the most bang for your buck by creating an annual Corporate Social Responsibility Report for the company. This substantive report should be capable of withstanding rigorous reviews from peers in the industry, critics and competitors. The Corporate Social Responsibility Report is broader than the EMS as it includes all elements of a company's operations as it relates to the environment but is heavily reliant on the EMS for data. A typical CSR

    Report may contain the following elements:

  • Compliance

  • Releases to the Environment

  • Materials Purchasing Policy

  • Waste Stream Management

  • Use of Energy

  • Water use reduction

  • Stormwater and Species Protection

  • Workplace Health and Safety

    An experienced sustainability partner may be useful to work with your firm to ensure that the data needed for client reports and the CSR is available in appropriate form and substance for use at the end of the year.

    Charlie Popeck is the president of Green Ideas Environmental Building Consultants. Green Ideas specializes in helping design, construction and facility management teams to understand and implement the LEED System into their businesses. He can be reached at 602-512-0557 or Charlie@Egreenideas.com


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