You’ve heard the stat by now: buildings account for 39% of overall carbon emissions, which is why cities and states are implementing sustainability ordinances nationwide that address resilience, human wellness, and environmental responsibility. And those ordinances are bringing the GCs and construction companies into the sustainability conversation much earlier in the development process. This shift is radically changing the way some builders are addressing green building.

Contractors have a major impact on the sustainability of a building project. We recently had the pleasure of meeting Laura Soma of GLY Construction. GLY has made the connection between its sustainable building approach and its long-standing commitment to being a positive contributor to its local community. Laura is a project manager and sustainability specialist and has been with GLY for more than twenty years. She’s leading the charge to develop the company’s sustainability program and decrease the environmental impact of their construction projects.

We love that Laura and GLY treat third-party certifications as a back-check on sustainability; and that they bring their sustainable ethos to every project. Here are some highlights from our conversation.

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Laura Soma, LEED AP BD+C, Project Manager and Sustainability Specialist

Why are you interested in the topic of sustainability?

I truly believe that it is our responsibility to ensure a healthy environment and happy lives for future generations. Through sustainable building practices and material-use, both building occupants and the workers who build our homes and buildings benefit from a healthier environment. The more sustainably harvested and manufactured materials we use, the more we protect our people, our wildlife, and the future of our planet.

How is the conversation about sustainability changing?

I’m seeing an increase in the number of companies who have their own sustainability practices, guidelines, and by-laws.  It is becoming the common culture. Today, sustainability is more about what the building occupants want and what companies need to provide to their workers in order to be a premier employer. It is part of the next generation of business owners and developers.

How does GLY bring sustainability to its projects?

A few of GLY’s sustainability practices include:

  • Encouraging innovation and sustainable practices on all of our jobsites – regardless of size or whether the project is seeking sustainability-related certification or not.
  • Working with developers and owners that seek out Salmon-Safe GLY was the first Salmon Safe Certified Contractor without Exceptions.
  • Offering alternative materials if a specified product is harmful to people or the environment.
  • Promoting the timeless reduce / re-use / recycle mantra both on the jobsite and in the office.
  • Educating others (employees, clients, etc.) AND learning new ways to enhance sustainable behaviors.
  • Supporting and encouraging employees to pursue green building accreditations.

What is one thing that you wish architects, developers, and building owners understood about sustainability?

I have two things that I’d like architects, designers and owners to understand:

  1. Sustainable building practices can be included in EVERY project size and EVERY project budget. Providing a healthy building doesn’t require certification.  It only requires informed decision-making.
  1. If an owner is contemplating sustainable certification on their project, the sooner they get the Mechanical and Electrical Designers on board, the better. By clarifying their goals with the design team, they can provide the right design the first time – saving the project time and money by avoiding re-design or resubmitting for permit. This is a common issue when owners are on the fence about certification. Getting the design right is worth a few more weeks of design services and helps to provide a seamless design process that is in line with the owner’s values.

What is something that architects/developers should do right now?

Ask questions! Many material representatives provide architects with great samples of beautiful products that are a perfect fit for the project – the problem is that sometimes these products come from the rain forest in South America or are assembled by overseas factory workers in unfavorable conditions. Ask the questions – Where does this come from? How is it harvested? What is the manufacturing process?  Be a part of the solution … not part of the problem.

Are there any projects that GLY has worked on that showcase your sustainability approach?

Since GLY has long emphasized the importance of resource efficiency and responsible stewardship, each project naturally incorporates sustainable practices. While minimizing waste and optimizing resources is consistent behavior on each project, the specific practices vary in relation to project goals overall. For example, on the nearly complete Seattle Academy Cardinal Union Building, material selection was key. The team avoided using any vinyl (except electrical insulation) and used low VOC flooring and paint. The building also features natural ventilation, a green roof, radiant ceiling panels, piping for a future rain water cistern, and PV cells on the roof.

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Seattle Academy Cardinal Union Building rendering
(image source. Photo credit: LMN Architects)

Another sustainable-intensive project is Vulcan’s Lakefront Blocks (and new Google offices) in South Lake Union, which is well underway. Both city blocks are targeting LEED Gold and Salmon Safe Certification. The Google build-out team is also aiming for LEED v4 Gold. In a business that is waste and energy intensive, one of the most important  efforts specific to us as the general contractor relates to LEED v4 waste diversion. Waste diversion requires extensive planning for LEED projects, especially in urban areas with little to no extra room on site for multiple dumpsters. Creative layout and coordination of waste has allowed projects like Google to shine.

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Vulcan’s Lakefront Blocks and future Google offices under construction in South Lake Union
(image source: GLY Construction; credit: SKYTECH AERIAL PHOTO INC)
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GLY’s waste diversion signage at the Lakefront Blocks project
(image credit: GLY Construction)

In addition to efforts that are project-specific, GLY’s corporate office operates with the environment and employee health at top of mind. A few of these efforts include recycling/reuse and composting practices, carbon footprint initiatives, and encouraging healthy lifestyles. We also achieved LEED Gold for Interiors when we moved to our current location several years ago.

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GLY Constructions LEED Gold certified main office
(image source, photo credit: Sean Airhart, NBBJ)

What’s next in sustainability and construction?

I believe resilience is the next area to concentrate our design and building efforts on.  We’ve reduced water and energy usage. We’ve started the efforts for Net Zero Water / Energy / Carbon. Now, we need to focus on resiliency.  Disasters occur all over the world every day.  How do we help our built communities when disasters strike?  We have to design our buildings for them now – they need to withstand, shelter, and provide for the community when the environment fights back.

If you would like to learn more about the connection between sustainability and owner’s values, download our white paper here.

You can learn more about GLY Construction at www.gly.com.

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