Leading by Example

White-Spunner Construction Inc. has no problem taking the LEED when it comes to green building principles.

“There’s just no down side, ” says Scott Rowe, project manager for the 30-year-old Mobile-based construction firm, whose own corporate headquarters have received silver-level Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.

And although the company is currently working on two LEED projects for clients, Rowe says White-Spunner’s corporate headquarters leads by example simply by being the first LEED-certified project in Alabama south of Montgomery.

“We’re proof that it can be done, that it’s cost effective, that there is a payback and we know what we’re doing, ” he says.

In essence, LEED certification provides both builders and tenants third-party verification that a project was completed using the following sustainable building principles endorsed by the USGBC: improved indoor environmental quality, energy savings, water efficiency, reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and responsible stewardship of available resources and “sensitivity to their impacts.”

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According to the council, an average upfront investment of 2 percent in green design results in “life cycle” savings representing 20 percent of the total construction costs, or a 10-fold return on investment. In addition, the USGBC estimates sale prices for energy efficient buildings can be as much as 10 percent more per square foot than traditional structures.

Rowe estimates green practices increased upfront construction costs on the White-Spunner headquarters by about 5 percent, but says he expects the investment to be recouped fully within five to 10 years.

Already, the two-story, 40, 000-square-foot structure designed by architect Douglas Burtu Kearley has:

• Reduced water consumption by 40 percent.
• Reduced energy consumption by 28 percent.
• Optimized energy performance by 35 percent.
• Increased ventilation by 40 percent.
• Diverted more than 50 percent of the project’s 128 tons of waste to recycling facilities.

Specifically, the headquarters boasts LEED features, such as an open floor plan, numerous skylights, heat-sensitive lighting, water-efficient systems, the use of recycled materials when possible and large, tinted windows. In addition, 70 percent recycled content was used during construction, as well as low volatile organic compounds and certified woods.

“We also have a full, reflective roof that reflects heat instead of absorbing it, zero light pollution and a full energy-management system inside the building complete with motion detectors for lighting and timers for both the lights and the air-conditioning, ” Rowe says.

The project earned 36 of 69 possible points, including three innovation points, one “Green Housekeeping” point, one point for reducing water usage by 40 percent and one point for having a LEED Accredited Professional on staff.

With branch offices in Austin, Texas; Raleigh, N.C.; and Gulfport, Miss., White-Spunner specializes in institutional, multi-family, industrial, commercial and healthcare projects and recently completed Louisiana’s first silver-certified, multi-family LEED project in New Orleans.

Boasting 263 apartment units spanning two, four-story buildings, The Muses is billed as an “innovative urban residential development” in the Crescent City’s Historic Central City.

Kathy Laborde, president of Gulf Coast Housing Partnership, which owns and developed The Muses, says the partnership couldn’t be more pleased with White-Spunner’s proven commitment to environmentally-friendly construction.

They have assisted our designers with innovative solutions throughout the project to ensure The Muses earns its LEED designation, ” she says.

The New Orleans project was billed as an “infill development” that built upon existing infrastructure on previously developed land near public transit. To gain its silver-level LEED certification, however, White-Spunner:

• Created compact density and reduced parking with permeable paving.
• Incorporated whole-building energy optimization and energy-efficient appliances.
• Used only paints, sealants and adhesives that contained low or no volatile organic compounds.
• Used the highest-rated air filters, and directed outside venting of kitchens and bathrooms.

Meanwhile, White-Spunner also is seeking gold-level LEED certification for a seafood processing plant in Bayou La Batre, but Rowe says the USGBC has not yet certified the project.

Timing, he says, is the only explanation he can deduce for why the trend for green building has been so slow to take hold in southern Alabama.

“About the time we were getting our LEED certification, Kohl’s had a deal going on across the bay, and we really thought things were going to take off, and it probably would have, but then the bottom dropped out of the economy, and there hasn’t been much building of any kind going on, ” he says.

In order to gain LEED certification, submitted projects must score between 26 and 32 points on the USGBC’s scale. Those projects scoring between 33 and 38 points receive silver certification, and those scoring between 39 and 51 are designated Gold LEED. Only projects scoring 52 or higher attain Platinum LEED status.

Kelli Dugan is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Mobile.

By Kelli M. Dugan

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