AGC Members Talk Sustainability Issues with European Visitor

The similarities and differences with which European and American construction industries approach sustainability was the topic of conversation between AGC members and a representative of the European Construction Industry Federation (FIEC).

While on a trip to the U.S. Frank Faraday Director of Technical Affairs for FIEC contacted AGC of Washington in hopes of gaining insight into American approaches to the broad topic of sustainability. Yancy Wright of Sellen Sustainability Dan Barrett of Sellen and Scott Thomson of McKinstry compared notes with Faraday during a meeting at the AGC Building.

Faraday’s interests included energy efficiency standards of buildings hazardous substances in construction materials and construction waste recycling.

With regard to the energy efficiency of buildings Faraday noted that the European Parliament recently passed a directive requiring that all new buildings meet specific energy targets (among other things it requires that all new buildings have to reach nearly zero energy standards by the end of 2020). The European Union however considered but did not establish targets for existing buildings leaving it up to member countries to come up with their own initiatives.

The AGC contractors discussed the growing interest in energy efficient buildings in the U.S.  Thomson cited the stimulus package which is providing significant funds for retrofitting of existing public buildings.  On the private side Thomson noted that the promise of achieving efficiency goals has to be fulfilled.  Investment grade audits can pinpoint the greater efficiencies and the resulting savings that in turn can help project financing pencil out.

The group also discussed LEED and its significant impact on U.S. building.  LEED has only recently been exported to Europe where similar certification schemes have been in existence for many years – the first LEED-certified structure there is reported to be an Italian school completed in 2009.  Barrett noted that 90 percent of Sellen’s revenues are now from LEED projects.  A challenge is accurately estimating costs and training project managers and estimators to realize that LEED-related costs have and are coming down considerably.

Regarding training Wright described Sellen Sustainability’s activities with regard to training owners contractors architects and subs in green building as well as its sustainability consulting for companies owners and individual projects.

The AGC members described integrated project delivery as an important mechanism to advance green building practices; Wright described the Children’s Hospital project in Bellevue which is one of the first to use an IPD contract.  Thomson added that long term relationships between contractor and owner rather than a build-it-and-out relationship allow efficiency goals to be set pursued and achieved collaboratively over time.  Faraday said that the European construction industry has yet to embrace such collaborative relationships on a large scale with some contractors fearing they may lose out in an integrated approach due to insurance and liability concerns.

FIEC is headquartered in Brussels and represents 34 national federation members.  The organization released data indicating the continent is experiencing a downturn similar to that in the U.S. – overall construction spending declined 7.5 percent in 2009 and a 3.7 percent decline is expected for 2010.  And as in the U.S. the biggest downturn in Europe has been in residential construction with public construction (thanks to stimulus funding) up a little.  Visit www.fiec.eu for more info.