Green Gap

As environmentally friendly construction takes off, a question looms: Who's goin

Author: SARI KRIEGER, The Wall Street Journal
Date: Sunday, November 16

As environmentally friendly construction takes off, a question looms: Who's going to do all the work?



Demand is booming for environmentally friendly construction. But it's booming so fast that there aren't enough skilled professionals to do the work.Green building demands a range of specialized knowledge that most builders don't have -- everything from where to obtain recycled materials to how to orient a building to maximize natural heating and cooling. So, contractors, architects and other pros are rushing to get up to speed, often through their trade groups, which have started offering more training in green techniques."Every developer I have ever met has told me that educating their team on green is crucial," says Kristen Bacorn, a green-building consultant in New York. "Green is such a new and developing field that professionals don't necessarily know it, and they're craving education."That's also the experience of Chris Hurst, a green-home builder in Tuolumne, Calif., who runs seminars in green construction. "The plumbing and electrical guy gave me a funny look at first, but then they said, 'We want to learn this because green is the future,' " Mr. Hurst says.For builders, the stakes are potentially huge. Rising consumer interest and a raft of new government regulations are driving green building forward, even as the larger real-estate industry craters. Builders who aren't familiar with eco-friendly construction methods may be at a big disadvantage in this new market, experts say."I think builders who can say they are a certified green professional have a leg up on the market," says Philip LaRocque, executive vice president of the New York State Builders Association. "As new-home sales plummet, [green homes are] penetrating a much higher percentage of the marketplace."Fear of liability is also driving builders to get trained. Already, numerous green-building jobs have gotten botched because of a lack of knowledge -- and, in some cases, that has led to lawsuits or insurance claims.In one recent case, an architect recommended that an owner use a green product from a new manufacturer without doing any research on the reliability of the supplier. As it turned out, the supplier couldn't deliver and the project was delayed, says Frank Musica, senior risk-management attorney for Victor O. Schinnerer & Co., which insures many of the country's major architectural firms. The delay led the owner to file an insurance claim and the contractor to demand more money to cover higher overhead and other considerations.For an indication of how quickly the pros are scrambling to get up to speed -- and just how far there is to go -- consider the LEED certification. Nine years ago, the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council created Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design guidelines for certifying buildings as environmentally friendly. Over time, LEED has become one of the best-known green standards.Now contractors, consultants, attorneys, architects and others are rushing to get certified by the USGBC as LEED Accredited Professionals, which involves passing a test to demonstrate LEED expertise. In the past two years, the number of such professionals has doubled to over 60,000 from 30,000. But that's still a small part of all the professionals involved in the U.S. building industry. The National Association of Home Builders alone has 235,000 members.To meet demand, the USGBC has bolstered its course offerings. The organization used to hold about eight to 10 courses per month across the country, with about 60 people attending each. Now it has expanded to about 50 workshops a month, with a maximum of 80 people per class.Meanwhile, the major architects', contractors' and builders' associations have all rolled out their own education programs on green building. The Associated General Contractors of America, for instance, created a full-day LEED course in March 2008. And the American Institute of Architects recently passed a continuing-education requirement that all members take four hours of sustainable-design course work each year, as part of the eight health, safety and welfare credits required annually for membership.Some builders are taking training into their own hands. New York-based Turner Construction Co., which embraced green building over a decade ago and helped found the USGBC, trains every new hire in green-building skills. Michael Deane, chief sustainability officer, says Turner sometimes even has to train subcontractors in the proper methods.He says any contractor or subcontractor who doesn't learn green building practices will go out of business. For instance, he argues, standards are changing so drastically that class A office buildings not built to green specifications won't be considered class A anymore. "I think that green buildings and in particular LEED buildings are going to become the new normal," he says.