Doucet & Associates
The common understanding of LEED-certified projects regards building design and orientation, lighting, utility consumption and other elements that typically fall under the bailiwick of an architect or mechanical/electrical/plumbing engineer. However, other technical disciplines have increasingly become integral team members for a sustainable project. Doucet & Associates (D&A), a Texas-based engineering firm, is attempting to bring civil engineering to the forefront with their expertise in low-impact design.
Headquartered in Austin, Texas, D&A has additional offices in San Marcos, Gonzales and Houston, Texas and Northampton, Massachusetts. D&A offers civil engineering design and consulting, entitlement procurement services, GIS Mapping and surveying expertise for public and private projects. The firm has grown to a medium-sized engineering firm with a national footprint.
Sustainability from the top down
D&A was formed in Austin in 1992. The firm was established by John D. Doucet (P.E., LEED AP), who recognized the advantage of incorporating low-impact design elements into site planning.
“Once I decided to open my own firm, I quickly developed a vision for creating an engineering firm that didn’t just design in a box,” says Doucet. “I wanted to place an emphasis on collaboration, creativity and community among employees and clients. I like to think of this as the ‘three-legged stool’ effect – employees need to have balance at home, work and in their community and conversely, we should take into account the effect of a project on the employees, the client and the environment.”
The idea of giving back to clients and community quickly manifested itself into incorporating low-impact design elements into the firm’s land development projects. The firm works with both public and private clients. While many of the company’s private projects do not pursue LEED certification, the company works with clients to improve stormwater management and lower the ecological footprint.
“Sustainability requires a whole-team approach from the general contractor down,” Doucet explains. “We are able to incorporate low-impact design through a variety of measures, mostly related to stormwater management, incorporating sensitive site features into the design, preserving natural resources, integrated pest management plans, and multimodal transportation and parkland design.”
Leading civil, leading national retailer
One of the firm’s first clients was Wal-Mart, which remains a client after 23 years. Joe Grasso (P.E.), retail division team lead, was the firm’s second employee and has led the Wal-Mart team’s work throughout. Joe and his team were recognized for their expertise in low-impact design and asked to serve as a member of Wal-Mart’s national sustainability team. In this role, D&A was chosen to provide the civil engineering component to a geographically diverse team to research and prepare design guidelines to be used on all new site designs throughout the U.S., such as:
• rainwater harvesting
• water recycling
• drip irrigation systems
• smart irrigation controllers
• xeriscape planting principles
Many of the initiatives discussed are still being incorporated within Wal-Mart’s developments to this day. For example, one location called Four Points in northwest Austin had significant challenges, such as critical environmental feature setbacks, a need to dramatically reduce irrigation requirements, tree preservation for the area heritage trees, and a requirement to incorporate native landscaping. D&A’s solution was to work with City of Austin staff to carefully design the parking field to avoid impact to Lamm Cave, restore a habitat upstream of Lamm Cave, incorporate a 125,000-gallon rainwater collection system, design a detention pond without cuts or fills – incorporating retaining walls to provide storage volume and preserve large oak trees – and work with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center to test native grass species that would withstand the Texas elements.
“This site was particularly challenging given all of the land and environmental constraints surrounding the site,” says Grasso. “We had to get creative to provide solutions that were cost effective for the client while also protecting the natural surrounding habitat. Wal-Mart tasked us with finding sustainable solutions and we met the challenge with creative and innovative measures to meet project goals.”
Larger impact, larger footprint
“Low-impact design elements may not be cost-effective for a smaller project,” explains Doucet. “However, we have been able to realize significant cost savings when dealing with large-scale projects, such as our master-planned communities. By thinking creatively, we have been able to work with the environment to eliminate costly – and often visually unappealing – storm drains, which can show significant savings over large acreage projects.”
One such project is a 1,000-lot subdivision just outside of Austin. Doucet and his colleagues have upheld the company’s focus on sustainability through a number of features on-site. “The client took a big step toward sustainable design by dedicating a large portion as open space that will partly become a public park,” he notes. “We were challenged with how to effectively control runoff without creating greater problems through disturbing the site. By incorporating best management practices, we designed a series of smaller drainage areas that were then cycled through rain gardens. By strategically placing these throughout the site, it became more aesthetically appealing and saved the client significant costs by avoiding larger concrete systems and provided better water control. Overall, our design allowed the subdivision to reduce pollution and storm runoff, all while saving the client money. That is a successful design in my opinion.”
In San Marcos, Texas, the team was involved in another recent multifamily, residential project that posed significant design challenges. Traditional stormwater management measures would not work due to water quality standards already being set to protect the local river and the quantity of impervious cover was exceeded by the land plan provided by the client. D&A engineers’ design incorporated permeable pavement for pedestrian surfaces, rain garden bio-filtration systems for water quality, vegetative filter strips at stormwater discharge points, additional vegetative strips along the streambank of the adjacent river and educational signage regarding unique environmental conditions. “This project is near the convergence of two rivers,” Doucet explains. “The river closest to the site is home to several endangered species. With a multifamily site, it can be a challenge to prevent pollutants from the parking lots from getting into stormwater runoff. We used a proprietary bio-filter system that removed pollutants in order to protect the river and surrounding environment. This was also a successful case of working hand-in-hand with the local jurisdictional authorities to develop solutions that work for all stakeholders.”
D&A is headquartered in Texas, though the company’s Massachusetts office is also involved in low-impact design. In the Northeast, the firm completed the Olympia Oaks project, a neighborhood of 42 affordable, energy-efficient homes on a 13-acre site in Amherst, Massachusetts.
While many companies attempt to promote green concepts in theory, D&A puts sustainability into practice. Sustainable design is a strategic initiative of the firm. D&A tracks quantifiable benefits for clients to adopt sustainable components, making it easier to talk to clients about implementing high-value, green practices in their projects.
“Sustainability is now mainstream and that is something we see strong continuity with,” notes Doucet. “I also think that we will see consistent improvements in technology, which impacts our work. Things have become much more automated and you can get things done faster and more accurately. Our company will seek to continue to grow, while focusing on providing value and efficiency for our clients.”
D&A’s statement of purpose outlines that the business exists to create a positive difference for its employees, clients and communities. “I am most appreciative of being able to serve the community and make a positive difference in the industry,” says Doucet. “We have a tangible impact on the community and our employees’ and clients’ lives.”
Over the coming years, Doucet & Associates will continue to provide precise, sustainable engineering, design and preconstruction services that provide value to clients throughout the U.S.
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