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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Amid a week of disappointing environmental news, some bright spots

Everything each of us does depends on the continued health of our planet. Unfortunately, the headlines from this past week indicate that our planet’s climate is changing in ways that aren’t for the best: scientists are predicting rising seas from “unavoidable” polar melt that will impact coastal cities, and a report by a government-funded research group warned of U.S. national security risks from higher sea levels, increased droughts and other climate-induced changes.

Even worse, Congress recently has been unable to act to protect our environment. Just this week, the bipartisan Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act died in the Senate, despite what news reports say was widespread bipartisan support – at least until the end. This common-sense measure – introduced by Senators Rob Portman and Jeanne Shaheen – involved common-sense provisions to curtail energy usage, such as strengthened building energy codes and incentives for the purchase of energy-efficient equipment. And such states as Ohio and Louisiana are fighting the LEED rating system that also works to improve building energy efficiency. All this at a time when simple population growth would seem to indicate that conservation is our best way to ensure a sustainable future for generations. 

Deep Green Society

Fortunately, there’s good reason to be optimistic about helping the Earth and lowering energy use, thanks to the efforts of the private sector and other states. Despite attempts to ban or weaken it, LEED is becoming more and more an integral part of the world’s buildings. Five buildings have achieved full certification under the stringent Living Building Challenge green building rating system, which requires net zero energy and water use. (Among these is the Skanska-built Bertschi School Science Classroom Addition in Seattle.) Next week, progressive-minded green thinkers will gather in my hometown of Portland, Ore., for the Living Future unConference to help green building continue to move forward.

Some states are realizing that acting on climate and energy can’t wait. Last year, the leaders of British Columbia, California, Oregon and Washington joined together to form the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy, a major effort to combat climate change and promote clean energy. And this month, Skanska became the first company to sign on to the Oregon Climate Leadership Declaration, an effort to reduce fossil fuel use while investing in homegrown resources and technologies that create jobs for Oregonians.

Too often the discussion about environmental practices becomes divisive – a debate over climate change and cap-and-trade. This is counterproductive. If you like lower energy bills, you have all the reason you need to support using less energy. If you believe a strong economy comes from growth, you have all the belief you need to support water conservation for, without enough water, there can be no growth.

So why take a side when you can simply take action? There’s much work to be done developing the technology, the policies and the support for a green, economically-sound future that would benefit us all. We’d appreciate your help.

Steve Clem

Steve Clem

Skanska USA Vice president of preconstruction

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CEO Mike McNally wins green leadership award

Sustainability is one of our core values . This doesn’t just mean implementing green practices on our projects – it also means standing up for this important part of what defines Skanska. Our sustainability commitment was recognized in November when the U.S. Green Building Council awarded our CEO Mike McNally its Leadership in the Private Sector Award “for being an unwavering and bold champion for USGBC and LEED in the face of continued attacks by special interest groups.”

The award is based on McNally’s decision to protest the chemical industry’s attempt to water down green building standards to protect their sales. The chemical lobby is trying to add an amendment to the popular Shaheen-Portman Energy Efficiency Bill pending in the Senate; this addition would effectively ban the future use of the LEED green rating system in federal buildings, significantly weakening green building efforts. When McNally learned that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce was supporting this lobbying effort, he asked the Chamber to withdraw their support. When it didn’t, he publicly dropped Skanska’s Chamber membership, a move that generated much media coverage. (Read McNally’s Washington Post op-ed on this topic here.)

“I was outraged,” McNally said in a video prepared for the awards ceremony at USGBC’s Greenbuild convention in Philadelphia. “Once you let one group diminish the [LEED] standards, where does that stop?”

McNally explained his rationale: “The objective [of withdrawing from the Chamber] was to draw attention to the issue. When an issue like this sees the light of day, we figured it wasn’t going to survive. It’s all about sticking to your values. Anybody sitting in my seat, the culture of our company would have forced them to make the same decision.”

Rick Fedrizzi, USGBC’s president and CEO, praised McNally: “Mike McNally was the one person in the entire world who stood up and said enough is enough. That one move sent a missile across the bow of the American Chemistry Council’s current opportunity to mess with the USGBC and our work and our hard efforts. Thank you Skanska and thank you Mike McNally for having the vision and strength and conviction to do that for us.”

Fedrizzi added: “Mike, your leadership is stand-alone awesome, and we will forever be grateful.”

McNally believes that supporting green building helps drive better project solutions.

“Every day, we see examples of industry innovating to meet the market’s desire for sustainable materials and processes,” McNally said after the ceremony. “These solutions are straddling the line between responsibility and profitability. That’s what makes the chemical industry’s stance even more outrageous.”

The Shaheen-Portman bill is still awaiting a Senate vote. The House of Representatives is expected to vote on the bill if it passes the Senate.

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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Why we support the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy

In a major effort to combat climate change and promote clean energy, the leaders of British Columbia, California, Oregon and Washington have joined together to form the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy. Through the plan, these leaders charged their governments to account for the costs of carbon pollution, adopt and maintain low-carbon fuel standards, and support clean energy for their region, which together represents the world’s fifth largest economy.

As Skanska continues to grow our business on the West Coast, we’re proud to support this landmark political, environmental and economic initiative.

“We have to work with risk factors all the time, and a changing climate is a significant business risk,” says Steve Clem, a Skanska vice president in Oregon (Read his OpEd on the subject in Sustainable Business Oregon). “The more tools we have to address and mitigate the risks we know are coming, the more equipped we can be. Our leaders are setting smart policy, based on sound research. If we follow through on it, we will guarantee a vibrant, healthy world for our children while also creating a sustainable clean economy going forward.”

Bertschi School

We built the West Coast’s first certified Living Building, the Bertschi School Science Classroom Addition in Seattle.

Our own business is centered on doing what’s right for the environment while providing the buildings and infrastructure urban areas need to thrive. Measuring and managing carbon emissions is part of our daily work towards our Journey to Deep Green™ and being a leader in reporting and reducing CO2 emissions. We’ve developed our Color PaletteTM framework to measure and guide Skanska’s green performance.

Not only do we hold our company to high standards, but we’re committed to supporting national and global efforts to support clean energy and green building. Skanska’s volume gives us buying power that can be used to leverage market change if we partner with clients and policy makers. In a market that remains fiercely competitive, well-crafted policy helps us do the right thing faster.

In July, we dropped our membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to protest their backing of proposed changes that would weaken the use of LEED in federal buildings. (Read our CEO Mike McNally’s explanation of Skanska’s position here in this op-ed published in The Washington Post.) Today, we were gratified to learn that the U.S. General Services Administration is continuing to support third-party green building certification systems by recommending the use of LEED 2009 and Green Globes 2010 for use in federal projects.

The Pacific Coast Action Plan for Climate and Energy is an important step in the right direction. If a region as large as that one – with 53 million people and with a combined GDP of $2.8 trillion – can come to a consensus, and across international boundaries, we hope this inspires the rest of the U.S. to take similar green actions.

“The actions outlined in the Pacific Coast Climate Plan will help us address carbon in a much more unified way that support a truly sustainable future – socially, environmentally and economically,” says Clem. “Efforts like this will drive innovation, encouraging businesses to develop better products and solutions that are good for profits and people.”


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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In Virginia Beach, building over a pond

It’s rare on a building construction project that all workers are required to wear life jackets. It’s rare too that all materials must access the building either by crane or pedestrian footbridge.

To complete the Tidewater Community College Virginia Beach Student Center, Skanska needed to build in the middle of a five-acre storm water retention pond that was about 10 feet deep. Every construction project has its own unique challenges, and building this student center required innovative thinking.

Team members say it would have been an ordinary building project – if it wasn’t for the pond. The student center rests on a 30,000-square-foot platform with a 5-inch-slab and 10-inch concrete planks, strategically connected to 354 concrete piles that are up to 135 feet long. Cranes mounted on modular barges were used to install the piles and precast elements.
Virginia Beach Student Center
“It took a year to put the foundation in just to start constructing the building,” said Ronney Pope, Skanska USA superintendent.

The water complicated logistics in other ways. The facade of brick, metal panels and glass was installed via aerial lifts mounted on barges. And 90 percent of the materials for the building had to be lifted to the concrete platform via a shore-mounted tower crane. (The center is connected to campus via three bridges, but those are just for pedestrians.) We were not permitted to drain the pond.

So the pond sparked innovation. The 25-foot-long suspended concrete beams that comprise the building platform were designed to be cast in place over the water, but to save time and increase efficiency our team set up a small casting yard on-site and cast the pieces on land.

And sustainability went beyond designing and building the facility to meet LEED Silver standards. For example, rather than tear out the 16 piles and thick concrete pad that was left behind after the tower crane was removed, with the owner’s blessing, we transformed it into a social gathering space by laying a topping slab. Now it’s home to four picnic tables.

When it opens this fall, the 90,000-square-foot, three-story student center  will provide students with dining options, a bookstore, a child care center, student meeting spaces and recreational spaces, including a fitness center.


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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Empire State Building: The Big Apple Turns Green

Case Study: Lifecycle planning

Location: Empire State Building, New York City

Challenge: Transform a floor of the iconic building into a flexible space that will meet high environmental standards throughout a 15-year lease.

Empire State Building

photo credit: aturkus via photopin cc

 Empire State Building Skanska's office

When Skanska secured a 15-year lease on the 32nd floor of the Empire State Building for our U.S. flagship office, we wanted to show that environmentally responsible renovation, leading to reduced energy use and environmental impact, is possible even 330 feet up in a 75-year-old skyscraper.

We initiated the project through a planning session with all key project partners – designers, subcontractors and the building owner, Tony Malkin. This way we could draw on the expertise of the entire project team. Our vision was for the nearly 25,000-square-foot office to accommodate a variety of needs, without requiring extensive redevelopment work to adjust to our future needs. A largely open-plan configuration was chosen.

“We broke open the floor plan by letting in light through glass internal walls,” said Beth Heider, Skanska USA senior vice president. “Ninety percent of the space has full daylight access, and all full-time occupants have an exterior view.”

The daylight – in combination with smart lighting and ventilation, as well as other energy-saving measures – has resulted in this office having an energy consumption that’s 35 percent lower than baseline standard. Those efficient systems include an under-floor ventilation system that is individually controlled, and operable windows that allow natural ventilation. Additionally, the space reduces water usage 40 percent below Energy Policy Act standards.

Our 32nd floor office is the first in the Empire State Building to obtain LEED certification (LEED Platinum). Moreover, the renovation means our 15-year contract will save significantly on energy costs. Now, the building owner is adopting the same thinking on other floors.

With this new office, we demonstrated that you can radically lower energy use and adopt flexible solutions in older buildings – even those built as far back as the 1930s. Skanska now benefits from a 58 percent reduction in electricity costs compared to its prior office, which is projected to save the company approximately $680,000 in energy costs over the life of its 15-year lease. Imagine if similar efforts were made in buildings of the same age nationwide.

Elizabeth Heider

Elizabeth Heider

Chief Sustainability Officer, Skanska USA

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Why Skanska dropped its membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to protest proposed changes to LEED in government buildings

Today Skanska resigned 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, linked to the lobbying efforts related to the Shaheen-Portman Energy Efficiency Bill (S. 761), threatens to halt years of progress in energy-efficient and environmentally responsible construction.

Sustainability is one of Skanska’s core values. And we will not be a part of an organization that supports the American High-Performance Building Coalition (AHPBC), which harbors the American Chemistry Council and opposes the implementation of a new, stronger LEED certification program (LEEDv4). LEEDv4 encourages transparency in reporting the chemical composition of building materials, something we at Skanska think is essential for anyone wanting to build responsibly.

The LEED program is the most recognized and widely used green building program globally. It is maintained and implemented by the independent U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) through a public and transparent comment and balloting process engaging a diverse group of nearly 13,000 members, who voted last week in favor of LEEDv4.

We have asked the Chamber to reconsider its support of the chemical lobby, whose anti-LEED stance would:

– Significantly undermine the LEED program

– Impact more than 196,000 LEED Accredited Professionals

– Cripple the progress of environmentally responsible construction across the country.

The Chamber is on the wrong side of this issue, and its support of the AHPBC is misplaced as well as misguided. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce was created to advocate for pro-business policies that create jobs and support our economy. The numbers prove that LEED and green building do just that. Because a few companies don’t like the current LEED program, they want to involve the government and create an entirely new system for government buildings. This is exactly the kind of redundancy and bureaucracy that we pay the Chamber to fight.

Michael McNally

Michael McNally

President and CEO, Skanska USA

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Our CEO comes out against lobbying group for trying to weaken LEED green building standards

1_Bi1399_rgb_Omslag_5In this Washington Post Op-Ed, read our CEO’s explanation of why we shouldn’t let chemical companies weaken a new, stronger set of LEED standards (LEEDv4) that contain progressive green chemistry regulations. Those companies – operating through the American High Performance Buildings Coalition – also want to ban the use of LEED by the federal government unless the language regarding using greener chemicals is watered down; this would stifle energy innovation. Standing up to a group of businesses who have consistently put their bottom lines first and social responsibility second is important for our health and the environment.

Read the full op ed here: http://www.washingtonpost.com/business/capitalbusiness/2013/06/29/ad75adf0-ddb3-11e2-948c-d644453cf169_story.html.

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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