By Steve Rizer
There are four key ways to mitigate risks that may arise in green building projects, Christopher Nutter, an associate director in Navigant Consulting Inc.’s Global Construction Practice, told a group of construction professionals attending a WPL Publishing webinar, entitled “Emerging Risk in Green Design and Construction,” earlier this month. The strategies “really are the same types of risk-mitigation techniques that would be used for any design or construction project.” Such risks can be mitigated through the following actions, he said:
Taking a close look at the contracts -- “I’m a consultant and an architect, not an attorney, but I do have some working experience with how at least in the forensic world we dissect contracts and look at the failures of contracts to protect various parties, so it’s certainly worthy of extra attention.”
Monitoring and assigning design decisions and processes -- “If there are specific aspects of the project that are more complex, more detailed, make sure that somebody is in charge of them and make sure that somebody is watching them. Don’t just assume that by default what the contractor typically does or what the architect typically does is being addressed in a new project type.”
Critically reviewing pre-construction and construction activities -- “This really goes to the roll-out of a design idea to ultimately a certification, and that is, particularly with LEED [Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design] or with anything where, say, demolition waste has to be monitored and controlled. That’s something that doesn’t end once the design documents are complete; it’s something that goes on through construction and should be observed.”
Accounting for post-occupancy events -- “And this really relates to keeping track of performance.” In discussing this point, Nutter pointed to a situation involving Northland Pines High School in Eagle River, Wis., a public school that was certified as LEED Gold about five years ago. After certification, “the rating was challenged by somebody who actually had some relationship with the project at the time, and when the challenge was put out, it was in fact found that the building was not in compliance with some of the basic LEED requirements for heating, cooling, and ventilation, which at that time was ANSI [American National Standards Institute]/ASHRAE [American Society of Heating, Refrigerating, and Air-Conditioning Engineers Standard] 62.1. The challenge did not result in anything such as a decertification for the building, and, in fact, the issue was resolved, but, again, were there higher operating costs? Well, this malfunctioning or non-compliant equipment was in place, probably. Would it have been ever even identified or mentioned if there wasn’t an individual who had a personal reason for bringing it forward? Probably not…. These issues will certainly continue to come up and maybe [be] settled outside of litigation, but certainly [they will] fall into the category of risk…. So, we had the example of Northland Pines, where if somebody was paying attention to the operation of these systems, perhaps they even could have resolved the issues that were identified two years later, just shortly after construction was completed.”
In the broadest sense, risk can be mitigated by encouraging the entire team to pursue sustainable design principles throughout design and construction, Nutter said. “So, I talk about making sure that [responsibilities] are assigned, but the truth is if everybody is operating on the principle of what the goal is, whether it’s a particular code-compliance path [or] whether it’s a voluntary compliance path, it will be much more likely that there will be a positive result.”
During the webinar, Nutter outlined the following 10 risks found in green design and construction (with the types of professionals bearing the burden of the risk in parentheses):
- The initial investment is greater but the return on investment is not guaranteed (the owner).
- The design may not meet the desired level of certification or local code (the owner, architect, and LEED AP/consultant).
- The construction may not meet the desired level of certification (the owner, architect, contractor, and LEED AP/consultant).
- Deadlines to submit for consideration or to appeal may elapse (the owner and LEED AP/consultant).
- Certification can be rescinded (the owner, architect, and contractor).
- Untested green materials and assemblies may fail (the owner and architect).
- Operational targets of energy and water use may be higher than expected (the owner).
- Sustainable materials and products may lead to construction delays (the owner, architect, and contractor).
- Unfamiliar designs may not be accepted by local building officials (the owner, architect, and contractor).
- Ongoing metering obligations and operational requirements may be lost in ownership transfers (the owner).
Nutter reported that green initiatives have been adopted in 45 states, 384 cities, 58 counties, 34 state governments, and 14 federal agencies. His presentation also covered the definition of “green,” why building green makes economic sense, examples of risks in actual projects, and other topics.
Nutter’s presentation addressed a target audience of construction professionals who have an interest in how sustainable design and related building codes and standards are increasing risk for general contractors, subcontractors, construction managers, developers, owners, design professionals, and others.
To inquire about obtaining a recording of the 90-minute webinar, call WPL Publishing at (301) 765-9525.