Thoughts on construction law from Christopher G. Hill, Virginia construction lawyer, LEED AP, mediator, and member of the Virginia Legal Elite in Construction Law

Build2Sustain – Content Is King or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Sustainability

Mike Ruby- Build2SustainFor this week’s Guest Post Friday, we welcome Michael Ruby. Mike is co-founder and Chief Creative Officer of Build2Sustain, where he leads the company’s media and thought leadership initiatives. Build2Sustain recently released its first white paper, “It’s Time to Jump Into Sustainability: The Advantage and Imperative to Renovate Small-Medium Sized Spaces Now.” Download the white paper at and contact/follow Michael on Twitter @Mike_Ruby.

I love Apollo 13, don’t you? Tom Hanks at his Hanksiest. Ron Howard before he got trapped directing adaptations of airport bestsellers. Ed Harris with a buzz cut so sharp it could slice onions. And, of course, the story – a gripping, real-life tale of American ingenuity in the face of adversity.

My favorite part of the movie comes about three quarters through, when a top NASA technician enters a room full of his peers with a box full of random equipment and proclaims:

We’ve got to find a way to make this (square object)…fit into the hole for this (round object)…using nothing but that.

Pretty soon, the majority of today’s businesses will face a similar challenge when it comes to making their spaces more sustainable – they’re going to have to make the pieces, their budgets and their business processes (retro)fit.

The imperative

Existing commercial buildings in the U.S. outnumber new constructions by more than 100 to 1 – and a vast number of these nearly 5 million structures are more than 20 years old*. As impending legislation will regulate energy consumption and GHG emissions, and as green construction becomes the norm, these older structures will require some form of retrofit to be compliant with regulations and remain competitive with new green construction in the real estate market.

Importantly, this challenge isn’t reserved for big business. The sustainability burden will be more than equally shouldered by the owners and long-term tenants of small- and medium-sized commercial spaces. More than 90% of all commercial buildings are less than 25,000 square feet – and 98% of them are less than 100,000 square feet. These small- and medium-sized buildings consume nearly 60% of the total energy used in all commercial buildings**.

Companies can change now, while they have the choice (and benefit from the incremental savings sustainability enables and reap a greater, faster return on investment), or they can wait until necessity demands it. But sustainability is not a fad, green isn’t going out of style, and the costs of inaction will likely outweigh those of beginning to invest in more sustainable spaces now.

The challenge

As the call for sustainability grows louder, CEOs, CFOs, CSOs, property owners and managers are asking or will be asking themselves the same question as the NASA technicians, “How do you do it?“

It’s an undoubtedly frightening question. Sustainability, to a great extent, is uncharted water in an undiscovered country. Metaphors aside, people don’t know how to create and operate more sustainable spaces, let alone what “sustainable” really means to them.

This is a time when education is paramount. From members of the design/build community itself through to the clients they serve, people require candid, plainspoken answers to today’s increasingly complex sustainability questions. In short, they need content where there presently is a tremendous content gap.

Our solution

Build2Sustain’s mission is to bring sustainable design to all commercial buildings by developing and distributing best practices and real-world business cases for renovating and retrofitting small- and medium-sized spaces. Our unique hybrid method couples consulting/managing sustainable renovation projects with real-time documentation via social media and web video. Think of it as This Old House meets open source meets Web 2.0.

The goal is to create and share a continually evolving a set of approaches for retrofitting all kinds of commercial spaces: doctors’ offices, auto dealerships, nursery schools, strip malls. If the business world is to understand what sustainability is and how it works, they have to see how it works.

Businesses need to understand how renovation will affect their day-to-day operations. They need to see what kinds of opportunities are available to them. What the true costs are. What the challenges may be and how they can be overcome. What the real payback is and the realistically projectable ROI.

Over time, Build2Sustain will track building performance and business performance relative to each of its projects. Again, the goal is to establish benchmarks and best practices that other businesses in similar situations can rely upon. This content will give property owners, managers and CFOs the opportunity to see what they can expect to get from their sustainability investments – to alleviate worry with quantitative and qualitative support.

Our first steps

As Build2Sustain ramps up to its pilot renovation, we’ve already begun to create content to start filling the information gap. In addition to publishing regular perspectives on sustainability topics by our board of advisors on our website/blog, we just released our first white paper: “It’s Time to Jump Into Sustainability: The Advantage and Imperative to Renovate Small-Medium Sized Spaces Now.”

There is a serious business case for investing in sustainability now. With support from secondary source research, case studies and the insight of our commercial sustainability advisors, the paper provides a brief examination of the whys and hows for “making the jump” to sustainability in small-medium sized commercial spaces. With so many misperceptions and mysteries surrounding sustainability, we felt it critical to begin creating a foundation of knowledge for businesses.

This white paper is just the first of several initiatives we’ll be kicking off in the new year, including regular debates on commercial sustainability issues on our blog, more robust coverage of the latest industry trends and an addendum to our white paper.

As luck would have it, within two days of the white paper’s release, there was a major development on a topic covered in paper’s final pages regarding potential regulation in one of America’s biggest cities. Further proof that, with the market landscape evolving so rapidly, the need for timely, relevant content has never been so great.

In the days, months and years ahead, there will be a lot of square pegs that need to be fit into round holes. We can worry, or we can get to work. Like the Apollo 13 NASA techs, we think it’s time to roll up our sleeves.

*(Source: The Dollars and Sense of Green Retrofits Deloitte and Charles Lockwood, 2008)

** Kensok et al: Ensure Quality and Unlock Energy Savings in Small Buildings, National Conference on Building Commissioning, April 22-24, 2008

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8 Responses to Build2Sustain – Content Is King or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Sustainability

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  3. Thanks to @Mike_Ruby of #B2S for the great guest post!
    .-= Christopher G. Hill´s last blog post .. 8 DurretteBradshaw PLC Attorneys In Virginia’s Legal Elite =-.

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  6. Well!!! I am impressed!!! You are correct. It is about time that businesses are made to be accountable for their footprints. Our personal homes and accommodation have embraced the need to reduce our energy consumption and although some cannot afford to retrofit, the government initiatives have increased affordability for a vast number of families. The business sector is lagging and to my knowledge continues to use far more energy per square meter than the average family and community of similar size. Lighting. heating and cooling energy is at a premium. I am pleased to have read this inspiring piece of paper.

  7. Thanks for the great comment. I’ll let Mike know about it and give him a chance to respond.
    .-= Christopher G. Hill´s last blog post .. Old and New Business Strategies to Weather the Construction Recession =-.

  8. […] Build2Sustain – Content Is King or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love Sustainability […]

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