The implementation of "green" building practices promises to become an increasingly important initiative among construction business owners in the coming years as public concern for the environment rises and environmental legislation expands.
Not only can green building practices serve to differentiate construction companies from the crowd and help them gain a competitive edge in the market, they can also generate community support and improve brand identity by establishing them as responsible, dependable members of the community.
Furthermore, customers will warm to the tax breaks, energy savings and added market value that green buildings provide, particularly during times of economic uncertainty. And as the rush toward eco-friendly building continues, companies may find themselves more and more in a position to ride the green wave or be swept away.
Once a company makes the decision to incorporate green building practices into its operations, the next step is to implement an employee training system. In order to lift the enterprise off of the ground, workers must be properly informed about new company products and procedures and able to transmit that knowledge to the customer clearly and confidently. At NV Roofing, we attribute much of our accomplishment in the green roofing industry to the expertise and dedication of our workforce. We believe that education is an important part of our success. By providing continuous and comprehensive training opportunities, we are able to effectively educate our employees and ensure that they operate at the top of their game.
There are many preconceived notions about green roofing and about sustainability as a whole. Therefore, we begin our training with an effort to dispel any false assumptions before discussing the true definition of "green." In our business, many people believe that vegetation is what qualifies a roof as green, when this is not necessarily the case; in fact, there are two kinds of green roof-clean green and vegetative green.
Both green roof systems are constructed with approved processes using environmentally-friendly materials. These ecologically sustainable materials promote greater energy efficiency and are compliant with International Building Code (IBC) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations. Every green roofing system consists of a waterproofing membrane and insulation, but there are two different types of ballast. The vegetative green roof consists of vegetation and engineered soil on top of a growing medium, filter fabric and drainage cups. The clean green roof does not have vegetation, but it utilizes pavers, which may be Energy Star rated, placed over the insulation.
Once a clear definition of "green" has been established, it is much easier for employees to understand the various benefits and savings associated with green roofing and to appreciate their composition and design. In order to make a clear-cut case for the customer to go green, the beneficial aspects of green roofing must become part of the sales pitch and a cost versus benefit analysis must be presented. Employees will need to inform potential customers about available tax incentives, grants and guaranteed energy savings in order in order to present the purchase of green options as a smart business investment. Unless customers understand that sustainable buildings can protect the environment and their bottom line, companies will face an uphill battle in the world of sustainable design.
When it comes to training construction crews, we have found that a thorough knowledge of green products will inspire confidence not only in company employees, but ultimately, in customers. In our training sessions, we emphasize two aspects of green roofing that potential clients are most interested in learning about: how the green roof will benefit the environment, and how it will benefit their bottom line. The environmental benefits are wide ranging, and include reducing storm-water loads by assimilating large amounts of rainwater, developing living ecosystems, absorbing airborne particulates and carbon from the air and filtering pollutants and heavy metals from rainwater.
We also ensure that every one of our employees understands the array of benefits that green roofs provide for the customer:
- Including conserving energy by insulating buildings from extreme temperatures, lowering seasonal heating and air conditioning costs
- Reducing the unpleasant "heat island" effect, caused when natural vegetation is replaced with concrete and asphalt
- Controlling noise pollution from the outdoors
- Providing additional space for meetings, events and recreation.
Furthermore, with a lifecycle of forty-plus years, green roofing systems last twice as long as conventional roofs, which translates into savings on maintenance and replacement costs. Green roofing systems can also increase property values by as much as 15 percent, and tax breaks are already available from the federal government and many state and local municipalities. Building tenants also appreciate knowing that, unlike conventional hot-applied roofs, quality green roofing systems do not emit hazardous fumes during installation that cause negative health and environmental effects. This allows for installation to be completed without disrupting day-to-day operations.
In addition to teaching the basic principles underlying our products, we have found ways to streamline our construction processes. Contrary to popular belief, the entire installation process for a green roof can actually be less complicated than for a traditional roof. This is because, unlike conventional roofs, green roof installation does not necessarily require torches, kettles or vegetation plugs. The process can also be simplified by using a self-adhered membrane with hot air welded seams, which makes the entire system monolithic. And for vegetative roof applications, with over 500 species of drought-resistant sedum available, having the vegetation delivered onsite, pre-grown and ready to be installed will eliminate the lengthy maintenance process needed to ensure that the vegetation grows as necessary. Implementing a streamlined installation process that follows Underwriters Laboratories (UL), Factory Mutual (FM), International Building Code (IBC), Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standards means easier training and safer processes for construction teams; it also means less disruption and better roofs for customers.
When preparing teams to install green roofs, it is important that they do not lose sight of the basic principles of their craft. For instance, weight load will be a major concern whenever vegetation and soil are placed on a roof deck. Some companies use as much as 4 to 12 inches of engineered soil in their vegetative roof systems, which can cause costly weight-load problems on building roof decks after heavy rains. If employees understand that roof engineering is sensitive to soil levels, they will be able to produce a better-engineered roof that is between 14 and 18 pounds per square foot with super-saturated vegetation. Roofs that are this light will be suitable for almost all roof deck applications.
In order to keep employees informed about changes in products, design and technology, we hold training and sales meetings every Friday to go over any new developments and review existing processes. In these sessions, we frequently focus on U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and their Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. As the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of green buildings, we feel it is vital that every employee understand the LEED program and the corresponding point system. For many of our customers, knowing that green roofs can earn their building more than seven LEED points is a real incentive when it comes to investing in our product. Being aware of where a construction company's product stands on the LEED scale is an important first step in sales training, and maintaining USGBC and LEED standards can help ensure that company products are truly "green." Such verification is crucial to preventing costly mistakes down the road. The USGBC website is a go-to resource for information on the LEED rating system and certification, major announcements, legislation updates and more.
Since green roofing is relatively new to the Washington D.C. market, it is our goal to inform and educate local businesses and professionals on how green roofing can benefit the environment and their bottom line. We have found that providing every employee with a solid understanding of the principles of construction and product benefits is not only a potent means to ensure quality, but it also helps generate confidence and interest in our company. To take our message even further, NV Roofing is currently in the process of planning a series of symposiums with the goal of educating professionals in the Washington, D.C. metro area about the process of green roofing and the potential benefits and cost savings.
It has become clear that green construction is not just a fad or a passing trend. As environmental concerns, rising energy prices and industry regulations raise demand for green buildings, construction businesses will need to embrace the shift towards environmental sustainability or risk losing their edge in the market. In addition to developing streamlined construction processes, instituting a training system which teaches basic design principles, involves frequent educational sessions and encourages internal communication will help make that transition as good for your construction business as it is for the environment.
John Francis is the CEO of NV Roofing and a leader in the green roofing movement. NV Roofing Incorporated, founded in 1963, is a sustainable solutions contractor providing both residential and commercial roofing solutions. For more information, visit http://www.nvroofs.com
Construction Business Owner, May 2008