A Sustainable Journey Need Not Be the Road Less Traveled

To mark Earth Day 2016, we asked our Chief Sustainability Officer Beth Heider to capture the essence of a recent address she gave to the Women Build America conference earlier this month. In that address, Beth explored a new paradigm to create value driven leadership across diverse business units, cultures and profit structures. 

When a restaurant advertises “home cooking,” that isn’t enough information to make me head inside and order a meal.  For me, it really depends on whose home cooking we’re talking about. In the end, it’s a value proposition.

The same is true for corporations: when we choose to laud or emulate a company’s efforts, we need to ask, are we talking about Walt Disney or Bernie Madoff?

Values are meant to articulate our own high aspirations; a comprehensive culture that transcends profit.  To that end, values-driven leadership doesn’t happen overnight. Rather, it is a journey that a company and its employees take together.

I have a values journey of my own – one that articulates my deeply held beliefs about sustainable building practices and their importance to leaving a desirable legacy for future generations.

Like many journeys, I didn’t intentionally set out to get to where I am today.  My own values served as an internal compass. It brought me to intersect with Skanska, which followed a values compass of its own.

Let me rewind.

2015 LOGO-BuildingWhatMatters-Green

Two decades and two employers and ago, my boss at a construction firm came storming into our open office area – this kind of a mosh pit of humanity – where we were sweating to get a bid together.   He yelled, “The problem with you, Heider, is that you need to learn how to lie better.”

One of our subs, who always came through with good prices and complete scopes had asked me a fair question and I answered him honestly – behavior that my boss found unacceptable.  Stunned and humiliated at his tongue lashing, and after a good cry in the ladies room and three months to think it over, I quit to take a job at a consulting firm. That experience made me unsure that I ever wanted to work at another construction company, doubting the industry would ever align with my values compass. Six years later, I found myself entertaining a job offer from Skanska, one of the biggest construction companies on the planet.

At the time, Skanska was pursuing two federal courthouse projects. Having spent three years building a cost tool to establish the more than $1 billion federal budget for new court construction, Skanska wanted me to bring that expertise to their shop.  But before I took what I thought would be a dream assignment, I needed to know that their values compass pointed in the same direction as mine.

I got my answer in the form of two events, one at Skanska and one in my own career.

In 1997, Skanska was building a rail tunnel in Hallandsås, Sweden. The tunnel ran through a particularly nasty piece of geology and the injectable grout used to manage water infiltration leached into a nearby aquifer.  An environmental disaster followed, and news reports of poisoned cows and sick workers had a devastating effect on Skanska’s reputation.

Rather than phoning in a fix, Skanska leadership chose to change how they did business: having a third-party certify all future operations globally under ISO 14001 Environmental Standards.  ISO requires an environmental management plan that addresses project-specific hazards, and further commits a company to incrementally raise the bar on its own environmental performance. It required a significant financial investment from Skanska, as well as thorough company-wide education. But it was the right thing to do, and Skanska emerged to successfully continue with the project.

Meanwhile, back in the US, GSA was beginning its own journey, exploring the cost commitment necessary to green the federal workplace.  Daunting to my colleagues but fascinating to me, I climbed aboard the green bus. It was the beginning of my own sustainability journey – making the business case for green – and unbeknownst to me, put me on an intercept course with Skanska, whose values compass that had been reset by the Hallandsås tunnel experience, and now aligned with my own.

Last year, Skanska cut the ribbon on the Hallandsås Tunnel, successfully completed under  ISO 14001 certification and without further environmental incident.

PHOTO-Hallandsås Tunnel

Now, nearly 20 years later, Skanska is looking inward again and asking: do we really need to wait for the next crisis to change how we operate, or can we change to prevent the next crisis from happening? Further, why do we exist as a company?  What is our purpose?

As builders, Skanska creates projects that fulfill the needs of society – whether a tunnel, a hospital, a commercial building or an airport.

Equally important is how we create those critical projects. We aspire, not only to “do less bad,” but to accomplish good. Our corporate values – depicted as four connected arcs – form the foundation for our corporate purpose: to Build for a Better Society:

Care for Life:

    for the safety of our people and the health of our environment, and to be accountable for both;

Act Ethically and Transparently:

    to be honest, to do what’s right and to adhere to a clearly delineated Code of Conduct;

Be Better Together:

    we believe in collaboration that drives innovation and continuous improvement, while embracing and harnessing the power of diversity to foster an inclusive culture;

Commit to Customers:

    to listen, understand and add value to our customers so they are successful.

This rearticulation of our values compass is charting yet another new course for Skanska.

Former CEO of Alcoa and Secretary of the US Treasury Paul O’Neil has said, “The number one reason employees choose to stay in their current job isn’t because they work for a great company – it is because they felt they were enabled to contribute to achieve shared and ambitious goals.”

2016 PHOTO-SkanskaManInPPE

Millennials will comprise 75% of the workforce by 2025.  Studies emphasize they prize values over compensation at all stages of their careers, including the employers they choose, the assignments they accept and the decisions they make as they take on more senior-level roles.  They want to work for organizations that have purpose beyond profit and that align with their own moral compass.

This is not just a new value – more senior employees can also be driven by that satisfaction of having contributed to something that defines the greater good and leaves a generational legacy worth inheriting.  That should give us all great hope for the future of our collective journey. With a values compass aligned with our peers, it is a path we can embrace, because walking it together will elevate our industry and our world.

Elizabeth Heider

Elizabeth Heider

Chief Sustainability Officer, Skanska USA

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Ace sustainability in a green school

For students in Seattle, Washington, D.C., and some other U.S. cities, the first day of school this year has special significance – it means they will be learning in a green school, quite likely for the first time.

At D.C.’s new Brookland Middle School, for instance, being green means having geothermal wells power the heating and cooling system. It means re-using rainwater to flush toilets. And it means highly-efficient LED lighting, and even a rooftop classroom with gardens for vegetables and butterflies. Topping it all off will hopefully be a planned rooftop solar array for on-site renewable energy generation. Another critical aspect of school sustainability is setting and achieving aggressive targets for economic inclusion so the local workforce can benefit from the project’s economic impact. Such approaches mean Brookland and other green schools will not only save on energy costs and improve the local communities, but their green features are designed to inspire students and help them learn about sustainability.

Brookland is one of a growing number of schools embracing sustainable design and construction. Just a few years ago, the concept of “green schools” was a vision of the future. Trailblazers such as the Bertschi School Living Science Classroom in Seattle, which achieved the rigorous Living Building green building standard, demonstrated the bold belief that applying green design and construction principles to school facilities could positively impact the learning and teaching experience.

Today, students and teachers across the country are realizing the benefits of learning and working in optimized green environments. As the USGBC’s Center for Green Schools notes, “Green schools reduce the environmental impact of buildings and grounds, have a positive effect on student and teacher health, and increase environmental literacy among students and graduates.”

For more on green schools, check out our new infographic on the future of sustainable design and construction for K-12.


Skanska USA

Skanska USA

Skanska USA is one of the largest, most financially sound construction and development companies in the U.S., serving a broad range of clients in the public and private sectors, including those in transportation, power, industrial, water/wastewater, healthcare, life science, education, sports & entertainment, data centers, government, aviation and commercial industries.

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This year at Greenbuild, we’re championing green


Are you a green champion? That’s the question we’ll be asking this year at Greenbuild. It’s not enough to build green, but it’s our responsibility as an industry to stand up for sustainability.

We’ve seen firsthand how important advocacy is to advancing green building. In 2013, our CEO Mike McNally led Skanska in resigning as a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to protest the organization’s backing of a chemical industry-led initiative to effectively ban the future use of LEED for government buildings. The initiative threatened to halt years of progress in energy-efficient and environmentally responsible construction. As a result of this effort, in 2013 the U.S. Green Building Council recognized Mike McNally “for being an unwavering and bold champion for USGBC and LEED in the face of continued attacks by special interest groups.”

Advocacy brings about change. In August of this year, the USGBC and the American Chemistry Council announced that they will work together to use ACC’s materials expertise to better ensure the use of sustainable and environmentally friendly products in buildings. This was a huge win for green building advocates, and a reminder that doing what’s good for a sustainable future is good for business.

This year, we’ve continued to champion green building by helping advance research that helps make the case for sustainability. Recently, the District of Columbia’s Department of Environment wanted to understand the costs and benefits associated with buildings featuring net zero energy and net zero water consumption, as well as those pursuing Living Building challenge certification. To help, Skanska joined the New Buildings Institute and the International Living Future Institute to conceptually transform three LEED v3 Platinum-designed buildings in the District to conform to those criteria.  Our findings, published in Net Zero and Living Building Challenge Financial Study: A Cost Comparison Report for Buildings in the District of Columbia, revealed that after factoring current tax and renewable energy credits, the return on investment in net zero building is approximately 30 percent!

This year we’ve also partnered with the World Green Building Council on a major global research effort to understand the impact of green building in offices on staff health and productivity. The report, Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Offices: The Next Chapter for Green Building, found that that design features in green buildings can enable healthy and productive environments for their occupants, which in turn improves the bottom line. New standards, like WELL Building, which take into account the holistic impacts of the built environment on human wellness, build on this understanding that what is good for the environment is ultimately good for people and for business.

These are just a few of the ways we’re working to champion sustainability. If you want to join us, stop by the Skanska USA booth at Greenbuild – #2023 –  pick up your “Champion” badge and found out how you too can be an advocate for green building and energy efficiency.

Skanska USA

Skanska USA

Skanska USA is one of the largest, most financially sound construction and development companies in the U.S., serving a broad range of clients in the public and private sectors, including those in transportation, power, industrial, water/wastewater, healthcare, life science, education, sports & entertainment, data centers, government, aviation and commercial industries.

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How do we make the built environment part of a net-zero world?


As part of Climate Week, Skanska – along with the Prince of Wales Corporate Leaders Group and Track 0 – hosted an event at our Empire State Building flagship office in New York City. Some 75 leaders  in government, sustainability and design – from the Marshall Islands’ foreign minister to the World Bank’s special envoy for climate change – came together to discuss the future of the urban environment and how we can move toward a net-zero world. This occurred the day after hundreds of world leaders gathered at the United Nations for the 2014 Climate Summit.

Harry Verhaar, Philips Lighting’s head of global public and government affairs, set the tone for the discussion at our office when he said, “We are past the tipping point.” A net -zero future is within sight and within reach. Here are some of the highlights from the discussion. 

Beth Heider, Skanska USA’s chief sustainability officer, spoke on the green transformation of the Empire State Building – and why that matters. When Skanska moved its flagship U.S. office to that skyscraper, we decided that the space should attain LEED Platinum certification. Our goal was to “walk the walk,” demonstrating that by retrofitting our offices to this higher green building standard, we would not only be lessening our environmental footprint but also recouping our investment and even saving money over our 15-year lease.

This green retrofit will reduce our electrical bill by $683,200 over the lease (a 57 percent cost reduction), reduce our carbon footprint by nearly 80 tons per year, and diminish sick leave by 15 percent. This decision paved the way for the Empire State Building’s owner to retrofit the entire building, and has demonstrated that green building can have major cost savings over a structure’s lifecycle and can greatly improve the health and well-being of its occupants. As Heider stated, our office retrofit shows that, “We have an opportunity, through individual spaces, aggregated together, to make a difference.”

Ed Mazria, founder and CEO of Architecture 2030, a non-profit dedicated to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, built on Heider’s presentation. He said that we’ve reached a seminal moment in history, in which, by promoting green building practices, we can “set out the agenda for built spaces for the next 100 years.” According to Mazria, 900 billion square feet will be added to the world’s existing building stock in the next decades. That’s equivalent to building a new New York City every five days. Fifty-three percent of that building will happen in China, the U.S. and Canada. With so much building poised to happen soon, now is the time to set the standards needed to make sure that it is done in a green and carbon-friendly way. Since Architecture 360 called for carbon neutral standards in 2006, there has been steady adoption from AEC professional groups, the federal government, states and cities. Thanks to this effort, “We’ve added 20 billion square feet of building stock, and we’ve saved over $4 trillion in energy costs.” As Mazria stated, “Design to better standards, we can save even more.” Architecture 2030 has laid out a Roadmap to Zero Emissions, which has been adopted by 124 global organizations and such cities as New York. Mazria’s paradigm shift is well underway.

Heider and Ferguson 1

Beth Heider, Skanska USA chief sustainability officer, and George Ferguson, mayor of the City of Bristol, UK, meet before the event.

George Ferguson, an architect and mayor of the city of Bristol, UK, offered some boots on the ground insight as to how roadmaps to zero emissions are being enacted around the world. Under Ferguson’s leadership, Bristol has been named a 2015 European Green Capital – this award recognizes cities that are making efforts to improve the urban environment and move towards healthier and sustainable living. Ferguson addressed the ways that city leaders – the doers as he called them – can push net-zero forward. He emphasized the need to act quickly, to make the roadmap digestible and fun, and to achieve quick wins that demonstrate the green building is not only good for the environment, but also more affordable.

Amory Lovins, chief scientist and chairman of the Rocky Mountain Institute, a non-profit aiming to foster efficient and sustainable use of resources, echoed both Ferguson’s and Heider’s statements about the return on investment for net zero. In Denver, the retrofit of the historic Byron Rogers Federal Building has resulted in a 70 percent reduction in energy costs – making it one of the most energy efficient buildings in that city. As impressive as that may be, Lovins noted that it is only half as efficient as the next-generation of office buildings in the pipeline, demonstrating just how rapidly green building and the integrated design process is improving. As Lovins stated, more and more people are recognizing that “It’s easier to build things right than fix things later.” This ethos is “spreading quickly. It makes sense and saves money.”

To close, moderator Nicolette Bartlett of The Prince of Wales’ Corporate Leaders Group invited the panel to share a final thought on Climate Week with the group. Here’s what they said:

“Partnership is the new leadership. We need to come together.” – Beth Heider, Skanska

 “Cities are where the change will happen.” – George Ferguson, The City of Bristol, UK

 “Everything is going to turn all right in the end, if it’s not alright now it’s not the end yet.” – Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute (paraphrasing John Lennon)

  “There’s a transformation on the way. When our daughter got her first bike, we made her wear a helmet. This was before everyone wore helmets and it was a struggle to get her to put it on. Then, as all the kids started wearing helmets, suddenly our daughter wouldn’t be caught without one. That’s what’s happening now with buildings. It’s going to be bad to build bad buildings.”   Ed Mazria, Architecture 2030

Skanska USA

Skanska USA

Skanska USA is one of the largest, most financially sound construction and development companies in the U.S., serving a broad range of clients in the public and private sectors, including those in transportation, power, industrial, water/wastewater, healthcare, life science, education, sports & entertainment, data centers, government, aviation and commercial industries.

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Teaching about sustainability and LEED in Florida

Have you ever really thought about the impact buildings have on our surroundings? Residential and commercial buildings account for 39 percent of U.S. carbon dioxide emissions in the U.S. Millions of tons of construction-related waste ends up in landfills each year. And because buildings have long-life spans, decisions about how sustainable their construction and operational systems are have a profound impact on the environment. Making the right decisions is especially important when, over the next 20 years, more than three-quarters of America’s building stock will be renovated or built.

Educating students about sustainable construction and engineering is tantamount to a greener planet. That is why I jumped at the opportunity to teach an undergraduate-level green building class at Miami’s Florida International University with my Skanska colleague, Project Manager Vincent Collins.

The class’ focus was on how there can be – and should be – green aspects to every part of design and construction. Examples of this include how the building is oriented on a site, what systems and materials are selected, and how water and other resources might be conserved during construction itself. Vincent used a Skanska project, the City of Miami Gardens’ Municipal Complex, to illustrate the process of building to LEED Platinum standards.

One of the most important aspects of green building that the class touched on was the concept of lifecycle analysis. This means making decisions that not only consider the first cost of construction, but also the cost over years of the building in operation. After all, the expenses of lighting, heating, cooling and otherwise operating a building over decades typically adds up to more than it cost to build the facility itself! This also includes planning for ways to efficiently utilize a building even when new conditions arise later in its lifetime, and finding materials that can be easily recycled or re-used.

For the Municipal Complex, features designed to conserve resources to help lower future operating costs include water-saving elements such as rainwater harvesting and native landscaping, as well as such energy-saving solutions as daylighting, highly efficient mechanical systems and photovoltaics. In choosing to include these elements, we aim to push this project toward Deep Green.

Overall, the class was a huge success, a reflection of not only our team’s expertise, but also of the enthusiasm of the students. After the class, Professor Ali Mostafavi shared his student’s reactions and thanks via Twitter:


For more information on Skanska’s approach to sustainability check out our Core Values, here.

This post was written by Jose Cortes, Skanska USA vice president – business development and Vincent Collins, Skanska USA project manager.

Jose Cortes

Jose Cortes

Skanska USA vice president, business development

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WELL Building: The next step in green sports construction

The WELL Building Standard is a new protocol that focuses on human wellness within the built environment. Administered by the International Well Building Institute (IWBI), it identifies specific conditions that when holistically integrated into building architecture and design, enhance the health and well-being of the occupants.  This first of its kind, protocol was developed by Delos in partnership with scientists, architects and thought leaders, and prescribes a series of technology enhancements and performance-based measures that are systemized across seven categories relevant to occupant health in the built environment – Air, Water, Nourishment, Light, Fitness, Comfort and Mind.


WELL Building has been designed to complement green building standards and sit on top of existing platforms. Currently in pilot, the IWBI has partnered with the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI), to ensure that WELL Certification compliments and works seamlessly with LEED Certification. For example, air quality and lighting intersect both green and wellness, about 10 to 20 percent of WELL and LEED standards overlap as a result of this natural connection.

While we believe the WELL Building Standard should be considered for every building, we see a unique opportunity for them to be integrated into sports and recreation facilities, inspiring an operator to think holistically about how their facility interacts not only with the natural environment, but also with the athletes, sports fans and staff who will call their building home. In sports terms: it’s a win-win.

For owners the WELL Building Standard offers a twofold opportunity to deliver a competitive venue for their athletes — a facility that is optimized for their performance while also offering event attendees a healthier environment and a connection to well-being and athleticism.

For example, the MGM Grand Hotel & Casino in Las Vegas implemented the Stay Well program for hospitality, an overlay program informed by the same evidence-based research as the WELL Building Standard. The MGM Grand saw such a strong return on their initial investment in implementing Stay Well rooms on their fourteenth floor- including high occupancy rates and a 25 percent increase in profitability – that they have quadrupled the number of Stay Well rooms and plan to expand to additional spaces.

Sports play an important role in American culture. We celebrate athleticism as a testament to the power of the human body. Stadiums, arenas and recreation centers are important gathering points for our communities, places where we come together to celebrate physical achievement. As such, these venues represent more than just spaces for sport. The buildings themselves speak loudly about who we are and what we believe in.


At NRG Stadium in Houston, mechanical and electrical systems are managed via smartphone, increasing energy efficiency.

As an industry, we’ve taken major strides implementing green building techniques in sports and entertainment construction. At first, the industry focused on greening the building enclosure, by reducing energy consumption and implementing resource management. Then, sustainability spread to mechanical, and electrical building systems that use Computer Maintenance Management  Systems to increase efficiency, improve occupant comfort, and can be managed remotely via smart phone technology similar to NRG Stadium in Houston. Another great example of this approach to green building can be seen at the LEED Gold certified Portland State University Academic & Student Recreation Center, where students help power the rec center’s electrical system, through a voltage converter attached to exercise machines  that delivers electricity back to the building.


Portland State University Academic & Student Recreation Center earned LEED Gold certification through the use of natural lighting and ventilation in key areas as well as quality materials, proven systems, and other cutting edge environmental construction techniques.

Today, sports facilities are increasingly working to green the daily operations of their venues: from implementing more efficient waste management processes – like Gillette Stadium’s waste water treatment plant, to recycling and food service composting and using earth-friendly cleaning products. At MetLife Stadium, all waste kitchen oil is converted to biodiesel fuel; all kitchen scraps are composted, and all cardboard, plastic, glass, aluminum and paper is recycled. The push to green sports facilities has extended to event operations themselves – this year’s Super Bowl at MetLife was the greenest on record, diverting more waste, conserving more water and saving more energy than any previous event.

William S Moorhead Federal Building

MetLife Stadium, home to 2014’s Super Bowl, is one of the greenest sports venues in the U.S.

So, while we continue to push ourselves to find the best ways to build venues that reduce our impact on the earth and its resources, what can we do to make sure these buildings are contributing to the physical well-being of the people within them?

WELL Building is the future of green sports construction – an opportunity for building owners and operators to consider not only the environmental impacts of their facilities but the ways they impact athletes and fans alike.

To learn more about the WELL Building Standard and their impact on occupant health, visit the International Well Building Institute.

This post was written by Tom Tingle, Skanska USA senior vice president and national director, Sports Center of Excellence and Beth Heider, Skanska USA chief sustainability officer.

Tom Tingle

Tom Tingle

Skanska USA senior vice president and national director, Sports and Entertainment Center of Excellence

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Skanska part of World Green Building Council’s major green research effort

At Skanska, we believe in developing a more sustainable society, and green building is a strategic step in that journey. As such, we harness technologies that make buildings more resource-efficient, comfortable and healthy. We believe this is one of the greatest services we can provide to the environment, our clients and the public. For this reason, Skanska is partnering with the World Green Building Council on a major global research effort to establish common ways of measuring health and productivity benefits arising from green buildings, and to provide best practice guidance on the types of green building features – such as increased daylighting and ventilation – that enhance them. This information can then be used to better inform investment decisions.


At our planned Capital Tower project in Houston, we’re advancing green building technology to support worker health and productivity.

“The situation today – where buildings’ impact on human health, well being and performance is usually not taken into consideration – is not good enough,” said Staffan Haglind, Skanska AB’s green business officer and a member of this project’s steering committee. “I’m totally convinced that optimizing premises from a human perspective will help people as well as organizations to thrive and outperform. To support the development of the tools and metrics needed to make this happen is perfectly aligned with Skanska’s company values.”

With salaries and benefits comprising 85 percent of the expenses of some companies, according to the WorldGBC, even modest improvements to staff health and productivity can have a dramatic impact on organizational profitability.

“While there is a growing body of research that firmly supports the connections between sustainable buildings and improved health, productivity and learning outcomes of those who occupy them, this evidence is yet to inform investment decisions in the same way as traditional financial metrics,” said Jane Henley, WorldGBC CEO.  “This project aims to identify the metrics that will support investment in greener buildings.”

This new project builds on earlier WGBC research for which Skanska was also a partner. This undertaking, a report entitled “The Business Case for Green Building,” highlights the compelling benefits of green buildings throughout their life cycle; this list also includes lower operating costs and higher asset values.

The Green Building Councils of Hong Kong, United Kingdom, United States and Colombia are also partnering on this project. The final report is expected this fall.


Skanska USA

Skanska USA

Skanska USA is one of the largest, most financially sound construction and development companies in the U.S., serving a broad range of clients in the public and private sectors, including those in transportation, power, industrial, water/wastewater, healthcare, life science, education, sports & entertainment, data centers, government, aviation and commercial industries.

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Skanska USA #landscapechat: Myrrh Caplan on green building trends

Skanska USA’s Myrrh Caplan, national green program manager, and ValleyCrest, a national integrated landscape company, led a Twitter chat to discuss green topics including: Greenbuild and LEED v4 changes.

Skanska USA

Skanska USA

Skanska USA is one of the largest, most financially sound construction and development companies in the U.S., serving a broad range of clients in the public and private sectors, including those in transportation, power, industrial, water/wastewater, healthcare, life science, education, sports & entertainment, data centers, government, aviation and commercial industries.

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From Miami to D.C. and back again: The journey of a net-zero Solar Decathlon house

In 2011 while I was in my final semester as a construction management master’s student at Florida international University, my department’s dean asked if I would help put together a team of construction management students to assist in the construction of the FIU Solar House for the U.S Department of Energy Solar Decathlon.

The FIU Team – a consortium of architecture, engineering and construction management students with the support and oversight of Skanska USA – contributed countless hours to construct the home under an aggressive schedule.  The FIU design – which we called PerFORM[D]ance House – made it to the top of the preliminary competition, beating out many other schools to be just one of twenty universities selected to bring their building to life in Washington, D.C.!

FIU Solar House

Photo Credit: FIU Solar Decathlon

With Skanska’s support, my fellow students and I started construction in early July 2011 and had to have the house completed by the end of that August. The house consisted of two separate modules; this approach facilitated the process of dismantling and shipping the house 1,056 miles from Miami to the National Mall on the back of seven trucks. Overall, our project placed first in the Energy Balance competition and we finished 11th – ahead of several countries! Throughout the competition, Skanska USA served as the general contractor of record on our project, and helped guide and advise our construction process. Thanks to Skanska’s support, I was fortunate enough to meet Jorge Moros, one of Skanska’s project executives, who oversaw the Skanska team. He later recruited me to join Skanska.

Balancing livability and sustainability

The Solar Decathlon competition aims to bring the latest and most advanced sustainable technologies integral aspect of the housing design challenge. As such, the PerFORM[D]ance House combines technology and design to achieve both livability and sustainability. Designed and built to meet LEED Platinum standards along with the rigorous demands of the Decathlon competition, the PerFORM [D]ance House, was given this name due to its ability to perform in real time by sensing and responding to the generation and acquisition of energy. The house is completely solar powered and produces as much energy as it consumes (net-zero energy): photovoltaic panels on the roof collect energy from sunlight, which is then converted into A/C power that drives the home’s heating, cooling and appliance functions. What’s more, the house “Dances” in response to the external conditions of its environment and the internal conditions of its use.

The Solar House was designed to take advantage of Miami’s tropical climate while creating innovative solutions that make the house sustainable, affordable and educational. Inspiration for the design came from the architecture of hot and arid climates, including Central and South America. With this, open framing enables maximum cross-ventilation to cool interior spaces, and large overhangs protect from intense sunlight. Other key sustainable features on the house include a ductless heating and cooling system, solar thermal tubes, Nano energy monitoring systems, local wood floors, rainwater capture and high-efficiency lighting and appliances. These innovative strategies produce electricity, cool and heat interior spaces, and heat and store water in the most efficient way possible. What’s more, the structure’s bi-directional meter can put unused energy back into the grid.

Two years later

Fast forward to 2013, and Skanska is currently working on FIU’s Academic Health Center 5 Project.  As part of our work on FIU’s campus, FIU has asked Skanska to rebuild the PerFORM[D]ance house to serve as its Office of Sustainability. It’s a labor of love to see this project come back to its original home.  We are currently installing the home in its new location with the help of MC Harry & Associates. Chrissy Perez is the lead architect for MC Harry on this project, and the irony is that she was the lead architect for the Solar Decathlon as a student.  We laugh when we now look back at building it once as students and now as professionals. As the Office of Sustainability, the Solar House will serve as a green beacon and an educational tool for sustainable design.

Sustainability is one of Skanska’s core values. I am so thankful to have the opportunity to work on projects like these that push the envelope for creative and sustainable design. Even better, I love that this project will find a new life at FIU and hopefully inspire future generations to build in even greener ways.


Ryan Reznichek

Skanska USA Operations

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Skanska’s Beth Heider on LEED v4, and why it’ll keep us on history’s right side

Skanska USA’s Beth Heider knows green. As the 2012 chair of the U.S. Green Building Council and our senior vice president of green markets, Heider not only is one of the nation’s foremost green thinkers, but she knows how to translate LEED into smart business solutions.

In the midst of her preparations for Greenbuild 2013 this week in Philadelphia, we talked with Heider about LEED v4, a major and somewhat controversial update to this green building rating system. LEED v4 is being released at Greenbuild.

Beth Heider LEED v4

What excites you most about LEED v4?

So many things – where do I begin?

It’s important that LEED v4 is memorializing – through a new credit – the practice of integrating design and construction. I’m an architect by training, and I think the architecture and engineering communities have always sort of gotten this, as well as more enlightened builders like Skanska. Now with this credit, building teams have another reason to bring everybody to the table early on in the project. Doing this makes much more elegant solutions possible. I’ve always sensed that if you bring people together – either in-person or virtually – you can come up with solutions that are much greater than the sum of the participants.

The new building enclosure commissioning credit will bring to envelopes the same sort of rigor that is now applied in whole building commissioning. This will help ensure good design and construction, which is critical to building enclosures – water infiltration is the worst thing that can happen to a building. I love the notion that the U.S. Green Building Council is pulling the industry forward with this type of commissioning.

The new demand-response credit begins to connect buildings to the utility grid. This credit requires that buildings have controls to reduce energy costs by giving the utility the ability to curtail power in real time during peak-demand periods. This underscores that if you build a smart building, you’re going to be in a better position to avoid future risk. As a personal example, I just bought a new car to replace what I’ve been driving for the last 12 years (I like holding on to my cars!) The electronics in my new car are light years ahead of my old car. Buildings last much longer than an automotive life cycle, so the facility decisions we’re making now will sometimes last for generations.

The optional new whole-building lifecycle assessment credit begins to take a look at not only the use of energy and resources required to construct the building, but the long-term impact from the decisions we make today. The whole notion of life cycles has us looking at impacts we have traditionally externalized, such as the impact of carbon emissions on human health and on the environment.

Also, while LEED 2009 weighted points to encourage projects to do less harm, LEED v4 is aspirational in weighting and developing credits to encourage projects to do more good. This will help the building industry be both sustainable and restorative.

LEED v4’s focus on product transparency and outcomes has received much attention – what is your take on this?

This is a real sea change. These credits are asking project teams to assess their material selections and how those choices can impact human health. Optimizing material selections really is a necessary complement to raising the bar on energy performance and making sure that your exterior enclosure is tight. Because if you create a really tight, energy-efficient building and fill it full of noxious materials, you’ve created the perfect gas chamber. We need to understand materials so we can make better selections, and we need to challenge manufacturers as to what they use in making those materials. We don’t want to be on the wrong side of history. We don’t want to be creating the asbestos problem of the future.

Focusing on what goes into our buildings should help spur innovation and creativity. This is what happened when LEED first required low-VOC paints and adhesives: that helped change the market. Now, you can’t find a responsible paint manufacturer that doesn’t have a line of no- or low-VOC paints, and those paints are no more expensive than alternatives.

Bertschi School

Suggested by students at the Bertschi School in Seattle (the West Coast’s first certified Living Building), a glass-covered interior runnel transports rainwater from the roof to a cistern, where it’s held until needed for exterior irrigation. The runnel, shown above in the foreground, is just one aspect of the building that helps educate students about sustainability.

Measuring, metering and performance are important aspects of this latest LEED system – what does this mean for building owners?

Together, these raise the bar on energy performance and water performance. LEED v4 focuses much more on building performance – not just what you say you’re going to do, but also to encourage the infrastructure to allow the building owner to deliver once he or she has the keys.

At Greenbuild this week, USGBC will be rolling out a new LEED dynamic plaque. This is a building dashboard that provides real-time feedback at a relatively high level as to how the facility is performing in five areas: water, energy, waste (recycling), transportation (how people get to work) and human experience (such as with air quality). The metrics will allow owners to compare not only their own performance year-over-year – to drive excellence in operations and maintenance – but also to compare across a portfolio of similar properties. This should drive competition for the best-performing buildings, and owners will begin to understand what defines good performance across a subset of assets.

Ultimately, there are three things that drive energy and water consumption: 1) how the building is designed; 2) how the building is operated and maintained; and 3) how occupants behave within the building. Behavior can be the most challenging piece. If you have a Prius building, operating it like a Maserati isn’t going to result in high energy efficiency.

Bertschi School Living Science Building At the Bertschi School Science Classroom greywater from sinks is used to irrigate a green wall, enabling all greywater to be treated inside the building. The plants provide an additional benefit – they help purify the indoor air.

Is the market ready for LEED v4?

USGBC is committed to constant improvement – that’s the whole notion of leading the market. What happens is that LEED raises the ceiling on green buildings, and then when building code officials decide the market is mature enough, they raise the floor by adopting elements of LEED into the codes. This is a really nice sort of pattern that continually raises the green bar.

LEED v4 was originally going to be released in 2012. But last year, USGBC – when I was chair – realized through discussions with stakeholders that those groups didn’t feel the market was ready for as much change as LEED v4 contains. Part of the reason was the building market was – and still is – somewhat soft. So USGBC decided to beta test Version 4 for a full year before introducing it at Greenbuild 2013. And USGBC is also allowing users to choose either LEED 2009 or LEED v4 until 2015, when LEED 2009 will be phased out.

This is the first time USGBC has had as long a beta test as this, and the first time two different LEED versions will overlap. They did this to continue leading the market, without losing the market – which USGBC thought was a possibility if we pushed too hard.

Why has there been so much controversy over LEED v4?

Every version of LEED has had a certain amount of controversy when it was released. But all of the versions of LEED leading up to Version 4 have contained relatively modest improvements. Here, with this latest version, USGBC is making more aggressive changes. LEED v4 is asking the market to do things that are a little bit demanding, and to identify optional credits with which the market isn’t familiar.

Two LEED opponents were very vocal with their objections. The timber industry made much noise because Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI)-certified wood isn’t recognized by LEED, unlike Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-labeled wood. And then there was the chemical industry – in league with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce – leading an initiative to effectively ban the future use of LEED in federal buildings through an amendment to the Shaheen-Portman Energy Efficiency Bill. That was because the chemical lobby felt the material transparency requirements might result in fewer chemicals used in buildings, thus dampening chemical sales. When the chemical industry maneuvering was brought to the attention of Mike McNally (Skanska USA’s president and CEO), I’m proud that he strongly came out against it. But both the chemical and timber industries were making so much noise over only a handful of potential credits.

What priority should be given to conservation vs. renewable energy?

Everything I know about green building points to this: When you’re looking to build higher and higher performing buildings, you really need to eat your conservation vegetables before you get to your photovoltaic or other cookies. You want to make sure your building is as tight as possible and is designed in a way that reduces the heating and cooling loads before you start making up the difference by more expensive solutions, such as adding photovoltaic panels. That’s even more true if you’re heading up the LEED mountain, if you will, to get to Platinum.


Skanska USA

Skanska USA

Skanska USA is one of the largest, most financially sound construction and development companies in the U.S., serving a broad range of clients in the public and private sectors, including those in transportation, power, industrial, water/wastewater, healthcare, life science, education, sports & entertainment, data centers, government, aviation and commercial industries.

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