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Three years ago we decided to plant a few tomato plants beside our office. That small patch of land has become much more.

Our plot has grown into a full garden featuring silver queen corn, rosemary, strawberries, blueberries, cantaloupes, watermelons, squash, turnip greens, cucumbers, peppers and of course—tomatoes.

Beyond the beautiful produce, the beds have become a way for our company to share with the community. In the height of the growing season we harvest vegetables and put them on our kitchen table.

We share among our employees, friends that drop by and our neighbors. One year we had an over-abundance of tomatoes, so it became a team effort to see what all you could make out of a tomato. You’d be amazed at the creative recipes.

It is a joy for all of our employees to share what we grow with our customers. When we build a building we give them a home for their team, but being able to share from our garden extends into their homes as well.

Those personal relationships are the foundation of our company.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

Every year, we have a Christmas gathering to bring all the Stewart Perry families together.

The first year this reunion was held at our place, we spent one Saturday morning planting several hundred daffodils across the lake on the hillside. We chose that spot because it is visible from our conference room and is a reminder of renewal and hope that comes with each new year.

The experience that Saturday with our team and their families was invaluable. We all worked together to create a nice addition to our campus. In the years since then we have added more daffodils so that now every spring across the lake we have a beautiful vista of flowers.

Our daffodils are the gift that continues to give year after year. When we construct an “owner occupied building”, during the design stage, I share with the client that to me a building should be more than 4 walls and a roof and that it should leverage important values of the company. In our case, the daffodils serve us as a reminder to our team of the importance of being cohesive. I wonder what are the important values that your environment helps to communicate?

 

 

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

I read recently that nearly 1,200 pounds of trash is produced by the average person per year. We ignore that scrap of paper or old cardboard box but it all adds up.  The drip-drip-drip process eventually turns into a river of trash.

When we moved into our offices 3 years ago, one of my main objectives was to reduce our waste that was taken off site. Our ultimate goal is to have no rubbish coming from of our campus and this might be a bit unrealistic.

Here are some simple steps we have taken:

  • We have two receptacles at each desk; one for trash, the other for recycling. This has allowed us to get a fresh perspective on what we throw away each day and for our folks to get the message that reducing waste is important.
  • Since starting this policy, we have greatly reduced the amount of waste, that in turn, reduces what is taken to the landfill and in addition reduce our carbon footprint. When we practice what we preach at the office, I believe this message gets taken home as well.
  • We have banned the use of bottled water. This is one of the leading causes of trash. A great example is shown here with this infographic about bottled water.
  • We also have banned Styrofoam cups, paper plates and plastic utensils and now use dishes and silverware. A dishwasher is a very efficient appliance.

What steps might you take to reduce your trash and increase your recycling?

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email

Did you know that in the U.S., only one new enclosed mall has opened in the last 4 years? In that same time, it has been estimated that nearly 500 of the 2,000+ malls in our country have closed. That translates to a lot of property and structures available for immediate use. But who wants to buy mall space nobody is frequenting? That’s where a growing trend comes into play.

Renovation and adaptive re-use of malls and other commercial properties is on the rise. Many of these properties are strategically located but need to be oriented in another direction. The focus is on taking existing assets and making them stronger by redeveloping them or retrofitting them for a use different from the original intent.

According to a recent article in The Wall Street Journal, Simon Properties has earmarked its entire $200 million-plus construction budget this year for renovation and redevelopment rather than new building. Others are taking a similar path by changing vacant properties for completely new uses. From my involvement, I see this movement continuing, at least in the short and mid term future.

Another trend we see is, where weather permits, the concept of opening enclosed spaces to the outdoors. It’s “de-malling” the mall, so to speak. That doesn’t mean the existing structures have to be torn down. We are just finding new ways to use these older properties.

The bonus? Adapting existing structures for new use is about as green as it gets. We’re not disturbing any untouched land and we’re cutting back on suburban sprawl. It’s a win-win.


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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

Nearly every sizeable city in the United States struggles with clogged arteries. It’s a sea of traffic signals, brake lights and all-around urban sprawl. The roads in and out of town stack up during rush hour with smog-spewing traffic jams.

Nobody enjoys sitting in traffic, so there is personal motivation to eliminate tie-ups. It saves time and reduces frustration. It can also reduce pollution.

Here are a few things we have done to limit the impact employee vehicles have on the environment, at least while they are at work:

  • At our office, the best parking spaces are for carpools only. This encourages our team to find a friend to ride with. It saves them gas money too.
  • Our parking lot has low flow paving, so there is less effect on the ecosystem.
  • An island in the lot is filled with plants to limit our carbon dioxide impact.
  • We offer flex hours, so employees may choose to come in at times when traffic is lower, eliminating the extra pollutants emitted while waiting in traffic.
  • Employees can connect to their email out of the office. If they would like to work from home occasionally, it cuts down on gas and pollution.

This is an example of how being green can have benefits beyond the impact on the environment.

But we can always do better. The key is cooperation, especially among officials of neighboring municipalities. After all, polluted air and water does not stop at the city limits. Low-efficiency buildings in one area suck energy from the overall power grid. By pulling together, cities can adopt sustainable practices that will both preserve natural resources and enhance the quality of life.

What steps are you taking to lower your business’ carbon footprint?


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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

I’ve heard it a million times: “Actions speak louder than words.”

In a country like the U.S., where we vote with our dollars, that becomes even more true. We make a demand and the supplier who meets it wins the sale. Sometimes the government—the officials we elected to regulate policy—can give a push to make it happen. The question is, are we speaking up?

Three weeks ago, we bought a used van for our millwork shop. With a price tag of only $500, it seemed like a great deal. A few days later our shop foreman said the van was getting barely 12 MPG. No problem, I thought. We just need a tune up. Sadly, that did nothing.

The van is circa mid to late 90s. We checked, and the rated MPG when it was brand new was only 13 MPG. At the time, that was all the federal government required. As it turns out, it was operating at peak fuel efficiency.

Due to the rising price of gas, consumer demands and resulting government regulations, fuel-efficiency standards have increased. Pickup trucks are in the 20-MPG range now. Down the road, they’ll probably get closer to 30 MPG. To me, this is an example of the government pressing us to do better. In a perfect world, we’d all become more energy efficient on our own. But the reality is, sometimes laws are needed to encourage businesses (and people) to do the right thing.

On January 1, 2011 every building permit issued in the state of California must be designed to meet green standards. I have no doubt that this can be accomplished throughout the U.S.  I believe we can improve our overall energy efficiency and sustainability practices, like we did with fuel mileage.

So, are you letting manufacturers and elected officials know what you want? We can prompt a gentle nudge in the right direction.


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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

If it has not already, the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico will eventually impact us all. The environment and the livelihoods of many are at stake. The tragedy is a “wake up call” reminder that we only have one earth, and we all have a stake in pollution control.

Environmental responsibility has always hit home with us. Construction activities that disturb large areas of soil have the ability to pollute, and while the impact maybe not on the scale of the Gulf oil crisis, the total effects can have a far-reaching impact. For us, proper management has always been paramount.

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has some new standards going into effect with the Final Effluent Guidelines which will impact construction grading.

Effective February 2010, this initiative is designed to save our creeks, rivers and lakes from about 4 billion pounds of sediment which presently flows into them annually.

Under the new law, all construction site owners and contractors will be responsible for implementing best management practices.

While the new rules are designed to be flexible, accommodating site-specific conditions, they also include a required discharge report for rain events. The water quality report measures turbidity, or the suspended solids in a liquid that make it hazy. In many states a background test is performed before construction begins, and sites may not add more than 50 parts per million to effected water. This would be the expected change during a normal rain event at a natural site.

IMPLEMENTATION TIMELINE
The EPA is phasing in the new law to allow local authorities, other governmental agencies, owners and contractors to adjust to the new regulations. Starting in mid-2011, any site that disturbs 20 acres or more will be required to comply. The regulations will apply to 10-acre sites starting in 2014. Where states have issued their own construction storm water permits in the past, the new rule must be incorporated into any permits issued after the effective date.

While these new regulations will obviously impact cost, to me, it is better than the alternative.


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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

We try to keep our finger on the pulse of best management practices for today’s construction. To us, that happens when quality means/methods balance with an eye toward the environment. Pervious concrete can do both.

Pervious concrete is a wonderful concoction that holds up structurally and is porous enough that water can seep through it and flow back into the aquifer. It has polymers that glue the aggregate together, simultaneously allowing open cells to be formed in the concrete. The top inch filters out particulars such as oil and grease and the storm water flows through.

We had our first encounter with pervious concrete 5 years ago on one of our Florida projects. Since then, we have used it on several more sites. Here’s what we have learned from our experience:

● The product works better on sandy soil, which affords good drainage.

● Some pervious pavements fail because of insufficient drainage, especially in climates that experience heavy winter freezes that harden the ground.

● Shale aggregates in the concrete can break under freeze/thaw conditions, clogging the water flow.

● The selection of aggregate in the sub-base is important, and the curing process is crucial. A seven-day, wet-curing period is what we have learned works best.

Pervious concrete is a Best Management Practice recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency. While it is a little more expensive than traditional concrete, additional cost will be balanced by the reduction or elimination of traditional storm water management systems like retention ponds and sewer tie-ins.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

With the green movement in full swing, we’re seeing lots of great trends towards sustainability. One that’s caught my attention is “certified wood”, a term encouraging us to know the type of forestry or origins of the wood used in the products we select.

In our work, we have access to wood on commercial project lands and feel it’s an important green initiative to work with those trees respectfully. As a company, we like to think we’re actually creating sustainability by saving quality wood from the chipper whenever possible.

Our dream has been to collect quality wood from construction project sites and utilize it to create handcrafted furniture of sustainable, commemorative beauty. To make this a reality, we built a full service woodworking center in our barn specifically for this purpose.

We cut some Tulip Poplar on a job the other day. Since Tulip Poplar is a fine hardwood for woodworking, we sent it to be lumbered and kiln dried. Once dried, it will come here to our Stewart Perry campus where the woodworking shop is now in full force. We’re following a concept developed by Sir Gordon Russell in England after World War II, which fostered local artisans to design and create finely crafted furniture using a wide variety of local woods.

Since our campus nestles up to the scenic Cahaba River, we’re in the process of designing our “Cahaba” furniture line. The Tulip Poplar is destined to become some of our “Cahaba” tables. The tables will be a gift to the landowners where the wood was cut. We hope the result will be treasured tables from their treasured trees.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.

I’m sure you’ve heard the industry’s excitement about LEED certified construction. Once considered more ideology than practicality, we’re realizing that green building can actually be more cost effective than traditional methods. The trend is catching on, and it’s not just private companies who’ve embraced sustainability. In 2006, government agencies began requiring all new buildings meet certain LEED certification thresholds. This translates to a huge emerging market for our industry.

But what about major cities, where construction is land-locked? Retrofitting and remodeling become essential since structures are already standing. The prime example? New York City.

The Hearst Tower, home to publishing company Hearst Corporation, shows the trend in action. Completed in 2006, it became the first occupied commercial building in NYC to achieve a LEED “Gold Rating.”

Norman Foster of Foster + Partners designed the Tower to be constructed over and around an existing 6-story building. The new entry plaza houses the entire shell of that base, which was erected in 1928. Truly a marriage of old and new, the Tower was constructed from recycled steel, and uses 26 percent less energy than conventional NYC buildings.

Sustainable features include:

  • Rainwater collection on the roof to replace water lost in air conditioning system and reduce sewer deposits
  • A 2-story “Icefall” in the atrium area uses chilled collected rainwater to cool the vast area in summer and humidify in winter
  • Coated glass to reduce solar radiation and cooling load
  • Sensor-controlled artificial light based on amount of natural light available
  • Walls coated with low vapor paints
  • Low toxicity furniture, furnishings and carpeting constructed from sustainable or recycled materials
  • Concrete surfaces treated with low toxicity sealants

I think the words of Old Blue Eyes sum it up perfectly: “I’ll make a brand new start of it, in old New York; If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere.” If Foster + Partners can make LEED Gold happen in midtown Manhattan, we can do it anywhere.

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Merrill Stewart is Founder and President of the Stewart Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham, Ala. Contact him via email.