Webcor Builders

The green dimension┬áAndy Ball and Phil Williams tell Martin Ashcroft how green building has become a way of life at California-based Webcor Builders. A year ago, when I first encountered Andy Ball, president and CEO of Webcor Builders, he told me that the construction industry was slow to change. That does not seem to apply to his company however, judging by the changes experienced at Webcor over the last twelve months.  Many of the teething problems experienced in the introduction of computer-based Building Information Modeling (BIM) have now been resolved, and the progress Webcor has made with its three-dimensional modeling systems has now progressed to multi-dimensional modeling ÔÇô including the addition of the sustainable or ÔÇ£greenÔÇØ dimension. These innovative tools have helped prepare the company for the explosion of green building, as clients seek competitive advantage by offering sustainable buildings as an incentive to recruit both staff and customers.Green building has been gathering momentum over the last few years, led by institutions like government agencies, universities and healthcare organizations, but awareness is now spreading like a forest fire. ÔÇ£The surprising thing is that itÔÇÖs really a grass roots movement,ÔÇØ says Ball. ÔÇ£People want to work in a green building, and want to work for companies that follow green practices and principles, so owners and developers have to give them the buildings they want.ÔÇØÔÇ£Green building used to be for somebody else,ÔÇØ continues Phil Williams, vice president of sustainability and systems engineering at Webcor. ÔÇ£Everybody thought it was too expensive; but thereÔÇÖs been a dramatic shift.ÔÇØ In a conservative industry like construction, he says, people donÔÇÖt like to be different. Only a few years ago, you were different if you were building a construction project aiming for LEED certification (Leadership in Energy and Engineering Design, a sustainability rating sponsored by the US Green Building Council). ÔÇ£Now,ÔÇØ he says, ÔÇ£youÔÇÖre different if youÔÇÖre not doing a LEED job.ÔÇØA forward thinking construction company like Webcor Builders is in a perfect position to maximize the opportunities offered by that kind of change in the corporate climate, and it has done so by incorporating green building into its standard way of doing business, offering LEED certification at no extra cost. ÔÇ£We standardized all our construction practices so they matched LEED,ÔÇØ says Williams. ÔÇ£It means we donÔÇÖt have to maintain two different sets of rules anymore, and neither do our subcontractors or our construction crews. LEED certification has become a zero-cost benefit because thatÔÇÖs how we do business, and our ability to deliver also improves by not having two sets of rules.ÔÇØAs a result of this transition, the growth in LEED building at Webcor has been practically off the scale in the last couple of years. By a quirk of circumstances, the company narrowly missed out last year on being rated the No. 1 green contractor in the US by Engineering News-Record, the construction industryÔÇÖs premier trade publication. They are proud to be second, but you can tell that it irks a bit not to be first. ÔÇ£I feel a little disappointed because we had a large LEED Gold project that we werenÔÇÖt able to count,ÔÇØ says Williams. ÔÇ£In 2006, ENR had one set of rules for including projects and in 2007 they had another set of rules; and we had a big project that fell in the middle which would have made us No. 1 if we could have counted it.ÔÇØ The ENR ranking is done on the basis of the total volume of green construction, Andy Ball explains. As a contractor with offices nationwide, Turner has a natural advantage, but Webcor claims the higher ground on percentage terms. Green building represented less than 20 percent of TurnerÔÇÖs volume, but almost 80 percent for Webcor. The significant thing about that, says Ball, is that a year or two ago, it would probably have been less than 10 percent. ÔÇ£Another statistic is that over 85 percent of the waste generated on our construction projects is recycled. We donÔÇÖt have to go back very far to find 100 percent of the waste we generated went into landfill. ItÔÇÖs a significant achievement in just a few years.ÔÇØThe LEED rating system has several different categories, for different types of building. ThereÔÇÖs one for new construction, another for core and shell, one for commercial interiors and another for existing buildings, for instance. ItÔÇÖs a performance based system with two sets of criteria, the first being prerequisites, which must be met before any others can count. Each category then has four levels of accreditationÔÇöbasic certification, Silver, Gold and Platinum.There is a total of 69 credits available, Williams explains. Basic certification is awarded for 26 credits, Silver requires 33, Gold 39 and Platinum 52. ÔÇ£There is a large gap between Gold and Platinum in the number of credits required, and theyÔÇÖre also the most difficult at that point, so Platinum goes above and beyond anything that would be considered normal construction practice.ÔÇØOne of WebcorÔÇÖs recent LEED Platinum projects went way beyond normal construction practiceÔÇöthe California Academy of Sciences, in Golden Gate Park, San Francisco, which reopened in September this year. No other project comes as close to endorsing WebcorÔÇÖs philosophy of value through innovation. ÔÇ£ItÔÇÖs the most innovative and exciting project IÔÇÖve ever been involved with,ÔÇØ says Ball. ÔÇ£ThereÔÇÖs really nothing like it out there.ÔÇØDamage inflicted by an earthquake in 1989 led to the AcademyÔÇÖs decision to completely overhaul its facilities. When bidding for the project, Ball remembers being challenged about not having built a facility like this before. His answer, of course, was that nobody had ever built anything like this before. The Academy opened over 150 years ago, in 1853, and numerous builders have been involved with it since, adding an extension here and a wing there to accommodate changing needs. ÔÇ£People have built museums and aquariums before,ÔÇØ he says, ÔÇ£but nobodyÔÇÖs ever built a museum and an aquarium and a planetarium and an artifact storage facility and a research and development office and a huge exhibition hall and covered the whole thing with a massive organic green roof and made it a LEED Platinum rated facility.ÔÇØ Any one of those elements would have been a challenge, but putting the whole thing together was a triumph for Building Information Modeling. ÔÇ£It would not have been possible without Building Information Modeling technology,ÔÇØ says Ball. ÔÇ£We built an incredibly complex computer model to build it on a virtual basis so we could solve any problems before we started the actual construction. The project was five years in preconstruction and two years in physical construction; then it took another year to fill it up, but two years to build it is amazingly fast, and only because we practiced building it on a virtual basis first.ÔÇØThe finished product boasts the largest green roof in California, a two and a half acre landscape of hills and meadows populated with native plants which stores rainwater and insulates the building underneath, keeping it cool in the summer and warm in the winter. There are also 60,000 square feet of photovoltaic panels embedded in the glass around the perimeter that convert sunlight into electricity. Although progress on adopting the LEED rating system has been swift, Williams sees it as only a first step on the road towards even more sustainable buildings. There is a long way to go, he says. ÔÇ£ThereÔÇÖs a large push here to make buildings energy neutral, so they generate as much energy as they consume.ÔÇØ He explains that todayÔÇÖs LEED projects probably consume about 20 percent less energy than a non-LEED project. ÔÇ£ThatÔÇÖs not bad, but itÔÇÖs a long way from zero. If itÔÇÖs taken us five years to get 20 percent better, it will maybe take us another five years to get 40 percent better, and another five years to get 60 percent better, so I think in the next ten to fifteen years we will see buildings drive towards being energy neutral.ÔÇØFurther improvements can be made in several areas, he says. The site selected for a building can earn LEED credits, but clients often do not realize this. Building in an urban environment is encouraged because of the proximity of existing infrastructure and services. Credits are also awarded for being near a bus or train station. ÔÇ£Currently we are looking at the interior quality of our buildings, the energy consumed by our buildings, and where they are put. I think there is a tremendous opportunity for government and industry to locate our buildings better, thereby optimizing the use of mass transit.ÔÇØ Materials themselves are also coming under the spotlight. ÔÇ£WeÔÇÖve started to measure the embodied energy of the material we put in buildings,ÔÇØ says Williams. ÔÇ£We are helping architects, engineers and owners decide what their building materials should be, based on how much energy (and indirectly, CO2) it takes to make and transport that material. The amount of energy it takes to build a building may be worth ten years of energy consumption in that building.ÔÇØÔÇ£The new wave is to look at the carbon footprint,ÔÇØ adds Ball, ÔÇ£so we are also looking at alternative materials like using fly-ash or slag in cinder blocks, and basalt based reinforcing rods instead of steel.ÔÇØ There are also new materials for carpeting and wall covering fabrics, from a variety of natural materials like coconut husks or bamboo threads or recycled milk bottles. ÔÇ£People are getting fairly innovative about trying to use fewer products that are petroleum based.ÔÇ£Another thing weÔÇÖve done is instill a green culture internally,ÔÇØ he concludes. Webcor offers incentives for employees to drive more energy efficient vehicles, for instance. ÔÇ£We give a couple of thousand dollars if you get a Prius, and $1,500 if you get a smaller sized pickup truck.ÔÇ£We believe in creating a green internal environment that sets a standard, before we ever go out and interact with our client,ÔÇØ he says. ÔÇ£ThatÔÇÖs something a lot of companies just donÔÇÖt get. You canÔÇÖt just go out and sell it. You have to live it first. Once you live it you can go out and sell it to somebody else.ÔÇØ┬á Normal 0 false false false EN-US X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0in; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:11.0pt; font-family:"Calibri","sans-serif"; mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;} *┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á *┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á┬á *   ┬áFirst published December 2008