A green revolution going on in the construction industry will dramatically change the way contractors do business.

The green revolution--perhaps a more suitable term would be "evolution"--is the end result of years of research and development by product and equipment manufacturers, governmental regulation, the environmental (green) movement and, most important, a change in social consciousness that has affected our society on many levels.

There are other, more tangible motivations driving this movement, such as tax incentives. In 2000, New York passed legislation (The NY State Green Building Tax Credit of 2000) that serves as a model incentive program to encourage owners and developers to build energy-efficient buildings in the future.

At our level, construction managers are instituting waste management plans that require and encourage all contractors to sort and recycle debris on site. There are two direct benefits to this: First, saving money by avoiding and eliminating carting fees for debris removal. Second, the resale for profit of reusable/recyclable materials.

Establishing a benchmark

Completed in 1999, 4 Times Square, also known as the Conde Nast Building, is New York City's first environmentally conscious office building. It now serves as the prototype for building green on a large scale in the United States. Environmental groups, including the National Resource Defense Council and the U.S. Department of Energy were instrumental in providing technical assistance and financial incentives that made this trailblazing project possible. In many ways, it was a learn-as-you-go process for all involved.

Recycling material conserves the energy originally required to produce it. Consider this:

Buildings use the following:

* One-fourth of the world's wood harvest.

* Two-fifths of the world's material and energy consumption.

* One-sixth of the world's available fresh water supply.

The planet isn't getting any bigger but the human population is. In turn, the strain on natural resources is ever increasing. The built environment has a significant and direct effect on the consumption of natural resources. Thus, any measures taken to reduce waste by recycling/reusing materials are inherently positive for the environment.

The recent situation in California reminds one that energy production is the lifeblood of an industrial society. You don't miss the water until the well runs dry, goes the old wisdom. When energy is in short supply, repercussions are felt far and wide. Therefore, it is important to conserve energy wherever and whenever possible. With that in mind, let's look at the amount of energy used to produce some building materials commonly used in the walls and ceilings industry.

It requires:

* 5,000 Btu's of energy to produce 1 linear foot of 2-by-4 lumber.

* 7,300 Btu's of energy to produce 1 linear foot of 35/8-inch steel stud.

* 152,000 Btu's of energy to construct 1 square foot of standard wood frame, insulated wall with brick veneer.

* 700 million Btu's--the equivalent of 5,500 gallons of oil--to construct a modest brick home.

Playing our part

As contractors, we can do much to assist in the process of building green. Submit for approval alternative or substitute methods, materials and systems that are environmentally friendly. For example, steel-framing components like stud and track can be manufactured from 100-percent post-consumer steel. The core and paper faces of gypsum board panels as well as acoustic ceiling tile can be made from 100-percent recycled material. In fact, many currently available building materials and products including ceramic and glass tile, insulation, wall coverings and flooring have a 50-percent minimum or greater recycled content.

Since these recycled materials require less energy to produce, they can be less expensive to purchase than their non-recycled counterparts and are of equal or greater quality. Considering the volume of material used on many construction projects, this cost differential can and does represent a significant cost savings to the contractor. It can also give one the edge in the bidding process.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. So it is with the selection of many building materials. Architects are now specifying acoustic ceilings with exposed spline grids rather than other types of suspended ceilings. This type of suspended ceiling system incurs less damage during alterations, thus increasing the potential for re-use. In addition, less debris is generated upon removal of the tile and grid with most--if not all--redirected to a monitored recycling program.

Many elements of a construction manager's waste management plan can assist the contractor to be more efficient and effective in the use of his or her labor force and material expenditures. By directing the storage of materials on site in such a way as to minimize the damage and loss due to exposure to the elements, accidents, vandalism and theft, all benefit by way of conserving the valuable resources used to produce, purchase and deliver to the site that same material. Another aspect of planning ahead is the coordination with suppliers of as-needed or just-in-time deliveries to avoid extended storage periods whereby loss or damage can occur. Part of this coordination with suppliers includes minimizing the amount of packing materials delivered to the site.

In future articles, there will be further investigation into building green. We will take an in-depth look at the changes taking place and how it affects the entire construction industry as a whole and the wall and ceiling industry in particular.

Most often, it is the breaking of old habits that represents the greatest obstacle to effecting meaningful change in our society and industry. There is a story about Sir Christopher Wren, the great architect and builder of St. Paul¿s Cathedral, in London, that best expresses this dilemma and, at the same time, hope for the future. While the cathedral was under construction, he passed three men at work. He asked each what they were doing.

"I'm laying brick," said the first man.

"I'm earning a few shillings," said the second.

"I'm helping to build a great cathedral," said the third.

It is in this same spirit of working for something greater than our work that is the driving force behind the green revolution. A wise Native American chief once asked how he was able to make very difficult decisions that affected the lives of all his people.

"Easy," he said, "I ask myself a simple question. Will the decision I make today benefit my people seven generations hence" If the answer is "yes it will," the decision cannot be otherwise."