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

“Green” Expectations. . . or Just Expectations (“green” is not a specification; it’s a paint color)

Shasta Dam under construction, California
Image via Wikipedia

I was having a discussion regarding “green” building with my friend and recent guest poster here at Musings, Nick Pacella (@nmpacella) this past week and (as often happens when I chat with the great folks in the construction world) it got me to thinking. Is “Green” its own separate category of construction, or just another sub-set of possible specifications for a construction project with it’s own set of challenges?

Much has been made of sustainable construction from a risk management, marketing, governmental and about every other standpoint that I can think of. Much has been made in the news and in the blogosphere about the safety of “Green” buildings and the cost. One question I haven’t seen dealt with is whether we really need to be talking about “green” construction in the first place.

Think about it, the word green means many things to many people. Certain owners want nothing but energy savings and see the pure environmental benefits as secondary. Others see it the other way around. Some want air quality. Some want it all. Some just think it’s cool , but don’ t really know what that means. If you say “I want a green building” to me, I will pull out a color wheel.

Many owners think that they know what they want, they just may or may not know how to express it. This is where architects, engineers, contractors and (yes) construction attorneys come in. The key to any construction project is proper expectations that are regularly updated throughout the project. The earlier the owner is educated as to the cost, materials, feasibility and time frame of the project, the better. This starts with the initial meeting and a definition of what “green” means for the owner. Once this meeting occurs, the rest of the process is the same whether the project is “green” or “regular” (with the possibility of certification as an overlay). Plans need to be drawn, detailed specifications need to be written, contractors and subcontractors need to be hired and consulted to figure out the practical avenues of completion, change order procedures need to be followed and the project needs to get to the finish line.

In short, if you take the word “green” out of the above scenario, you have a set of good construction practices for any project. This is why I think that construction is construction and expectations vary for that construction from owner to owner regardless of if you call it “green” or otherwise. While being “fluent” in the sustainable construction field can help an architect or contractor meet an owner’s expectations, it does not mean that “green” construction is all that different from traditional construction.

What do you think? Am I off base in thinking that construction (green or otherwise) follows the same rules and is not all that different? Let me know.

As always, I welcome your comments below. Please subscribe to keep up with this and other Construction Law Musings.

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11 Responses to “Green” Expectations. . . or Just Expectations (“green” is not a specification; it’s a paint color)

  1. Having been in the construction field for over 30 years my take on what you are saying is “green” construction is a new marketing buzz word. You are correct. If you are building quality the green business just follows along, however you have to have something that calls attention to your efforts and calling it ‘green’ is the newest way to try and set yourself apart. After all you have to be recognized or they will buy next door.

  2. You are right on. There has become too much emphasis on “green” in the engineering and construction sector. Spec’s. only need to be written once – not once for ordinary work and another time for green work. The attributes of sustainability should be built into ordinary construction specifications as nothing special. We engineers are trained for specifying various levels of quality when needed. Specify correctly and builders will comply, even when the common rule of “do the minimum to meet the spec” is applied. That’s good lump sum philosophy.

  3. I think you are correct, Chris. Most of the construction attorneys I have worked with are of the same opinion. The builders I have worked with believe that, like Jack and Robert note, sustainability attributes are/can be built into a quality project. The “green” movement has given many construction disciplines (including ours) an opportunity to repackage their products or services to appeal to changes in consumer interests.

  4. First of all, how do we define “Green”? For me, green means we only use renewable materials such as lumber for walls, floors and posts and leaves for rooftops.

    They should have used a different term. There is no such thing as a green product or method, only less environmentally invasive ones.

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