Case Studies

The Harlan Company

Learning on the job how to go green

John Harlan, president of The Harlan Company, wasn’t planning on making a green building—or rather, the greenest building. But in 2015, he and others at the company learned about a private school in Missouri that needed a remotely located classroom built to the highest environmental standards set by the Living Building Challenge (LBC).

The company won the bidding process and their learning began. “It’s been a heck of an education,” says Harlan.

The Harlan Company

As a newcomer to the certification, Harlan says the company has had to learn on the fly. The LBC is a green certification program with strict guidelines. For instance, all of the water supplied to a project building must be captured rainwater or come from another closed loop water system. All of a project’s energy must be supplied on-site through renewable energy rather than oil, gas or electricity provided through power plants. Certain chemicals and materials, compiled through what’s known as the Red List, are banned from the construction process.

But those chemicals are everywhere. “We were not prepared for the battle that it was going to take,” says Vaughan.

A classroom is also a teaching tool

The project is for The College School, a private grade school in Missouri that emphasizes experiential learning. “The goal in the design,” says project manager Doug Vaughan, in addition to being sustainably built, “is to teach the kids more about the regional materials incorporated in the building.” For instance, all the wood used for this project was selected from species native to the area. Of course, incorporating local building materials is also a requirement of the LBC.

Vaughan says he was particularly intrigued by the prospect of working with the LBC. “I’ve always been interested in green building,” says Vaughan. “That’s why I pursued the LEED green certification on my own. I’m sensitive to the environment and the impact we make.”

Working with such strict guidelines has led to unexpected delays. The Red List has been particularly difficult in the building process. “You read what’s required,” says Vaughan, “and you don’t realize that the information is not available.” For example, manufacturers cannot always release the entire composition of a product because they don’t know what it’s entirely made of. During construction, Vaughan would spend months trying to get manufacturers to disclose the exact composition of their product. In some cases, it took eight to 10 months to get products that met LBC requirements.

Green building isn’t just about the image; it makes sense

Despite challenges, both Harlan and Vaughan agree that green building is important to the future of construction. “You hear all these stories about products from overseas that come here with all these health hazards associated with them,” says Vaughan. But with a project like the LBC, they can guarantee a healthy environment for children in the learning center.

Even now, they hope the company will complete more green projects in the future. “One of the reasons that we chose to purse this project is that we certainly think that’s a direction construction is going,” says Harlan. “If you can build a building that’s sustainable and energy efficient why wouldn’t you?”

Harlan got his start in construction as a mechanical engineer. He started in Nashville, Tennessee, as a consultant. Then, he worked at McCarthy Building Company in St. Louis as a manager. In time, these experiences at these other companies led Harlan to start his own company in 1979.

Behind it all, a sense of family

Over four decades, The Harlan Company has become a reliable general contractor for commercial, industrial and residential projects. They are accustomed to working under the severe time constraints as they complete projects in the food service industries. While almost half of its work is in Missouri, it has completed jobs as far from home as the Czech Republic.

However, Harlan says what gives him a sense of pride is not his success or reach, but the environment he has created for his employees. “It’s a family environment and I think that’s so important. I’ve had opportunities to jump up to larger size projects and I’ve chosen not to. Instead I keep it at something that can be managed, a contained size that I feel will not get away from us.”

With so many setbacks in the construction process, Harlan and his team can’t be sure when the school will be ready, but The College School understands that such an LBC facility is worth waiting for.

The Harlan Company has been in business for almost forty years. They specialize in food service industry, masonry and general construction.

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