Metro Green Construction LLC
There’s a kind of “all or nothing” mentality when it comes to green building. Many people think they need LEED certification in order for a building to be green, but because LEED certification is expensive, builders often opt for the conventional route and forego all green building technology.
Cole Vickers, founder of Metro Green Construction, thinks they have the wrong idea.
Buildings don’t need the pricey LEED certification in order to be green, he says. A blend of green building and conventional technology can produce a building that is environmentally friendly and either costs no more than a fully conventional building or offers a compelling return on investment.
Metro Green, an Atlanta, Georgia-based general contractor, is making this point one project at a time.
Whenever possible, Metro Green uses green building technology that is equal to or less than the cost of conventional technology. For instance, recycled insulation and recycled mulch can often be added for no additional cost. In some cases, if a building owner doesn’t want to spend extra for green technology but the price increase is nominal, Metro Green will incorporate the technology at no additional cost to the owner.
“It makes for a better finished product, and the goodwill it provides to the owner … is way more valuable than the money we leave on the table,” Vickers says.
At times, green building technologies—like LED lighting or water recirculation systems—are more expensive, but often the building owner will make that money back in reduced energy or utility costs.
Vickers believes using green building technology is the right thing to do, but, he says, ultimately it’s a numbers game. “If you can demonstrate the return on investment and the long-term savings,” he says, “that’s usually what will get people on board pretty quickly.”
A million-dollar savings
When United BMW hired Metro Green to landscape, hardscape and add two buildings to its six-building complex, Metro Green swapped traditional incandescent exterior lighting with LED light fixtures and added a water recirculation system that reuses water from the car-detailing area for irrigation. Metro Green used recycled insulation and recycled concrete and repaved about one-third of the site with recycled material.
None of that would have been possible if Metro Green hadn’t presented a compelling return on investment (ROI).
BMW spent an additional $300,000 to retrofit its exterior lighting with LED bulbs and fixtures, but because LEDs use less electricity, over the estimated 15-year lifecycle of the project, BMW will save an estimated $1.2 million. Similarly, the water recirculation system cost BMW an additional $30,000, but over the project’s lifecycle, it will save the company $90,000 in water utility costs.
“It all boils down to cash savings and that’s the thing that I identified quickly,” Vickers says. “If we want to have the ability to implement this technology, it either has to be at no additional cost to the owner, or it has to demonstrate how, over the lifecycle of the facility, it saves them money.”
Going green isn’t necessarily more expensive
Vickers launched Metro Green in 2009 as a facilities management company for developers with commercial real estate holdings. The company started adding building maintenance and improvement projects for those clients, and from there, Metro Green evolved into a full-service general contractor.
Though the company has green in the name, Vickers says he’s never had a client come to him because they want an environmentally-friendly general contractor; they come because they want an affordable general contractor.
For those who are open to it, Vickers walks a middle path, using sustainable technologies where he thinks they make sense, and using conventional approaches when it better suits the client.
“What I tell clients is, you don’t really need LEED certification or Green Globes certification, or even Energy Star, in order to institute technology into your project that not only reduces your carbon footprint and your impact on the environment, but is more energy efficient from a maintenance and operations standpoint as well,” he says.
A flexible approach
Still, the company’s preference is to use green building technology, and it relies on ROIs to make a case for that technology.
Making that easier, LED technology has improved to the point that there are now LED fixtures that perform better than fluorescent fixtures and are the same price, Vickers says. He expects it’s only a matter of time before the cost of other green building technologies—including greywater systems and geothermal heating and cooling—drops to make them even more appealing.
At times Metro Green specifies green building technology, not only because it’s green, but because it performs just as well as, or better than, conventional technology from an operations and maintenance standpoint and doesn’t add to the project cost.
“I just think that it’s a waste that there’s all this technology and people don’t use it,” Vickers says.
A press release or a green building certificate is not compelling enough to get people to build environmentally friendly buildings, he says. “That’s why 95 percent of construction is built conventional despite the fact that there’s all this good technology out there.”
The only way people are going to get on board, he says, is if they see a cost savings.
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