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HITT - Looking Beyond LEED to the Triple Bottom Line

HITT Corporate Headquarters - Rainwater Collection

The Washington Building Congress (WBC) recently published its June/July 2015 Bulletin that highlights innovative ways commercial real estate organizations are incorporating sustainability into company practices? HITT was one of the general contractors profiled for this editorial. Below is a snippet of how HITT is looking beyond LEED to the Triple Bottom Line:

When HITT first established their Sustainable Construction Department about 10 years ago, all the buzz was about LEED Certification. However, over those 10 years, most people in the DC Metropolitan region associated with development and construction have developed a relatively good understanding of the LEED-Certification process. Even if each individual on a project team doesn’t know all the details for each point, there is a common knowledge core in DC, which allows the conversation to begin at a much more advanced place than when LEED was first introduced.

So what is “beyond LEED”? It starts with a more broad idea of what it means to be sustainable. Kim Roy, who leads the Preconstruction and Strategic Services team, which includes Sustainable and Virtual Construction, points to their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) mandate of paying attention to the Triple Bottom Line – People, Profit and Planet. When one considers all three of these things in making corporate decisions, it becomes impossible to divorce Sustainability from Corporate Responsibility. In 2015 HITT added a Sustainability Statement to its CSR Plan, which has impacted much of what the company does. For example, 95% of all HITT jobsites, whether the project is seeking LEED Certification or not, have moved to single source waste management with a 3rd party verified company (Industrial Disposal Services – Broad Run Recycling). Not only was this shown to be a good value, but it was the responsible thing to do for the environment.

This Triple Bottom Line approach also led HITT to a slightly different approach to worker safety. In addition to the more traditional aspects of safety, HITT trained all of their Safety Superintendents in environmental policy, which is included as part of the safety review of HITT job sites. The company has also begun to look more broadly at worker health as a component of safety. Starting to explore some of the IAQ aspects of LEED for its temporary facilities, HITT has begun focusing on improved air filtering for improved employee health. These changes significantly expand the concept of site safety, but they are completely in line with HITT’s Corporate Social Responsibility goals.

The focus on People, Profits and Planet has also unearthed some synergies between their Sustainability Group and Virtual Construction Group. BIM Coordination efforts, which continue to grow in importance as construction moves away from paper documents, are now viewed through the filter of the CSR policy. While HITT is not interested in supplanting the design team, it has developed the in-house expertise to explore questions like, “What does it mean to the energy model if we Value Engineer out this architectural feature, as is being considered?” Or perhaps, “If we alter the pitch of these fins during the shop drawing process, can we bring reflected light deeper into the tenant’s space?” The integration of the Virtual Engineering Team with the Sustainability Team can sometimes lead to advancements or can reveal a hidden impact of a proposed change, which might not have been unearthed if just reviewed from a more basic cost-benefit perspective.

It should of course be noted that moving beyond LEED does not mean leaving LEED behind. To the contrary, HITT’s Sustainability Department has remained busy with roughly 300 LEED projects nationwide. And regardless of whether
or not the client is interested in pursuing LEED certification, HITT adopts the same green construction best practices for all projects. While LEED is pretty much the baseline here in DC, there are other ratings systems more common elsewhere in the country where HITT is busy constructing base building and tenant projects. HITT’s Sustainability Department needs to stay abreast of each of those regions’ requirements as well. HITT’s local Green Team is constantly busy working with owners, subcontractors and their own forces in different regions to ensure that none of their projects misses their LEED Certification goals, a point of pride for the organization. And certainly here in DC, where all projects over 10,000 square feet are required to comply at least with the performance portions of LEED, there remains a healthy need for shepherding their clients through the process of certification. According to Kim, “DC’s adoption of the Green Construction Code and the Green Energy Code was a game changer,” particularly for many of their interiors clients.

HITT’s own corporate headquarters, which they moved into in September 2009, is, as you might expect, a LEED Gold facility. Even since moving in, they’ve continued to make improvements to the sustainable aspects of the building and to the building management practices. For example, they recently shifted their already-green housekeeping from night shifts to day shifts in order to reduce the electrical consumption in the evenings. The policies they’ve enacted in the office have started to make their way to the field sites as well. These are mostly small changes—putting water coolers on switches so they can be turned off at night when not needed, adding occupancy sensors and programmable thermostats to trailers to ensure utilities are not wasted, investigating more efficient operations for their tower cranes and other equipment, for example. Although each individual change may seem little, the cumulative effect can be significant.

HITT has started to look more closely at their temporary facilities in a way similar to how LEED looks at the permanent ones as well. Through a partnership with InScope Energy, they have piloted a program of measuring data points for energy usage at their trailer complexes. While it is still too early to produce metrics and establish new policies, they have taken the first step towards modifying policies, which is to measure and analyze what they are currently doing. The hope is that this data can be utilized to improve energy efficiency and recommend procedural changes, which will positively affect all three aspects of that triple bottom line.

By expanding the concept of Sustainability to include Corporate Social Responsibility and by viewing all projects through the lens of People-Profit-Planet, HITT has injected Sustainability into their corporate DNA. In the past 10 years, Sustainability has transitioned from an added service to an integral part of its construction best practices. The hope is that over the next 10 years, it will become so integrated into the practice of construction that sustainability will cease being discussed as its own thing.