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A while back, I wrote a post titled, “Can Drywall Be Green?” which discussed the aftereffects of the Chinese Drywall crisis that plagued our country earlier this decade.

When it comes down to it, drywall is a convenience product. It is efficient, replacing lath and plaster and therefore saving time and money. However the emissions drywall produces–both in its creation and in shipping–are not exactly environmentally friendly. Until recently, the best way you could make drywall more green was by buying local, or looking into EcoRock (the usability and quality of which could provide another post entirely).

I’m pleased to say I recently read about a new development in “green-er” lightweight drywall in Environmental Building News. They report that multiple companies are producing a product that weighs 25-30% less the standard. While we are commercial builders, I did the math on what this means for the typical home which has an average of about 8 tons of drywall. By reducing the weight, it means  that in a typical residential building year (not like the last 4) the US would save about 400,000 gallons of oil in transportation alone.

The benefits I see include:

  • Easier installation with less fatigue.
  • Lower weight, meaning less energy to ship.
  • Increased sag resistance, allowing the same product to be used in ceilings and walls.
  • Scores and snaps more easily than standard drywall.
  • Less waste and reduced dust.

At this point, the only downsides I see are:

  • Costs slightly more, by about 5-10%, but I believe this will moderate.
  • Some reduction in sound dampening qualities.

Since the developments on this product change are so new, I don’t have any results to report…yet. I can promise that we will be investigating lightweight drywall as we bid future projects. If you have experience with these products, it would be great if you would share in the comments section.

In the meantime, it’s nice to know that more environmentally friendly products are being researched and entering the market.

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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

Have you heard of “locavores?” These folks are interested in eating food that is produced within a 100-mile radius of their home. The idea is to minimize fossil fuels from shipping and nutrition lost from farm to table.

We like to consider ourselves a small part of the locavore movement. We started three years back with a few tomato plants, and our garden has grown gradually each year.

Produce now includes cantaloupe, peppers, eggplant, cucumbers and more. We keep a box of these fresh vegetables on the kitchen table so folks can take what they need for their families.

It only seemed natural that our next step should be fruit.

Last week, we planted peach, plum, pear, apple and fig trees along our drive, just above our woodworking barn. As they mature, the trees will make our entry a little nicer and provide additional fresh treats for our team, our neighbors and visitors.

As for being local, the origin on these trees is just that. We were glad to team with Maple Valley Nursery, a Birmingham original with values similar to our own, to source our trees.

What are you doing to make your life more localized? Do you partner with local businesses like your own? We’ve found the benefits ripe for our picking.

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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

The clickety-clack noise a train makes when traveling down the tracks can be a soothing sound. But hearing that same noise while driving on the interstate is annoying. For me, it’s partly because it gets me to thinking about how the road was paved and how the breaks in the pavement are slowly, but steadily having a negative effect on the fuel efficiency of the thousands of vehicles passing over it every day.

Pavement smoothness is a key factor in improving fuel efficiency, especially for heavy trucks. The smoother the pavement, the less energy (fuel) is needed to propel the truck down the road. Every crack and dip in the surface creates a small amount of resistance, requiring an equal increase in force to keep the truck traveling at the same speed.

Even the type of surface can make a difference. Asphalt is more flexible than concrete. So when it flexes as the truck is rolling, there’s more energy of that truck put into the pavement and less propelling it forward. This impacts fuel economy and results in more carbon emissions. Fuel economy can be improved by simply increasing density of the asphalt by as little as 1%.

Obviously, each individual incident of resistance is miniscule, but it adds up over the course of millions of miles. A study published in 2006 by the National Research Council Canada found that trucks traveling on rigid pavements consumed an average of 3.8 percent less fuel than those on flexible surfaces. As fuel prices steadily grow, it’s important to find ways to assist drivers in easy-to-manage ways.

This is another example of how, in the long haul, even slight changes in design can make a big difference.

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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

Lately it seems like an increasing number of folks have seen the light when it comes to the drawbacks of dark-colored pavement. Black asphalt has traditionally been the surface of choice for our nation’s roadways and parking lots, but asphalt can act as a heat sink that retains the warmth of sunlight.

The effect is called an “urban heat  island.”  Think about a city like New York in the summer, the asphalt retains the heat, causing the city to be much hotter than the suburbs.

Over the last several years, we have worked a lot of jobs that involved the use of concrete and even crushed limestone over asphalt. These pavements reflect light and heat instead of absorbing it, which has two benefits;

  • First, it cuts down on the amount of solar radiation retained by the earth during the day, which mitigates the greenhouse effect.
  • Second, it significantly reduces the amount of artificial light needed for nighttime illumination, which saves energy.

When you think about pavement that is used for our roads and parking lots, even a slight change in heat and light reduction can have a major impact. Especially when you consider that these gains take place constantly.

Every daytime minute in which less heat is retained and every nighttime moment in which more light is reflected is a small win for our sustainability efforts.  And eventually, enough small wins add up to a huge victory for all of us.

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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

Right-sizing, why did I not have this in my vocabulary before ’07?  Makes sense. We are constructors of buildings and handle the civil management of projects, but the bottom line is that we are service providers. Just like architects, engineers, lawyers, bankers or accountants, all service providers of different sorts.

We need to be adjusting( or at least thinking about) our overhead and other needs such as office space and selling space, if you are retailer, routinely. Constantly thinking about expanding or contracting to “right-size”.

The last three years everybody has been downsizing in the “right size” process but going the other way is equally profitable. In the last 2 months, we have hired two more office team members. Getting ready slowly as the economy heals.

Seems our retail customers are working smarter and as are our office building customers. Getting more out of less.  Some of the retailers are combining the Internet and their stores more effectively. Someone orders on the Internet and it is shipped from a store. Someone does not like their order from the Internet, they returned to the store. The stores provides a retail environment and a distribution center. Be more efficient and right sizing, a double win for the company  and a win for the customer.

Maybe I can be more disciplined in the future:

  • I promise to watch our G&A more closely which is profit spent on something else
  • I am going to try to be quicker with the decision, than I have in the past, to upsize or downsize (a common problem among contractors)

We see many good opportunities in what we have learned. What are your thoughts?

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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

You can’t take anything for granted; even the ground under your feet. That’s why it is important to have Geotechnical testing done before construction begins on a project. But nothing is perfect, and even the best Geotech firms can’t always determine exactly what it is going on beneath the surface.

A Sinking Feeling

On one of our job sites, the crew arrived one morning to discover that the building slab had sunk about 5 feet, taking a nearby forklift down with it. It turns out there was a sinkhole below this area in the slab on grade. Plenty of pre-construction Geotechnical testing done, but none of the reports indicated the presence of this deep sinkhole.

On another project the geotech report indicated the water table had risen 20 feet in a six-month span. The engineer said this was because the region was coming out of a severe drought and that had significantly dropped the water table prior to the recent rains, but I was skeptical. After grading we discovered that there was surface material on the slope that had been acting as a dam. Once the material was removed, the water table dropped, no problems after all.

Infill Building Sites

We are increasingly working on infill sites inside metropolitan areas, which have been passed over for one reason or the other, often because of the challenge of that particular site. With these challenges, it’s easy for geotech testing to often overlook a potential problem until work actually begins. Geotech is important in those situations, but it’s not a perfect science.

Geotechnical testing is important, but it’s not a perfect science. If the reports are too good to be true, then it probably is. Practicality and common sense still have to factor into the equation, we have found.

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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.

No matter how hard we work around here, there are always moments at Stewart Perry when we need to stop and look at the flowers. And the trees. And the lake. One of the wonderful things about our building is how easy it is to do just that. Built with sustainability and green initiatives in mind, there are plenty of expansive windows that allow the sunlight to stream in, and our eyes to occasionally gaze out at the beauty of our property.

It’s been proven time and time again that happy employees work smarter and more efficiently. That said, it’s not a big jump to say that sustainability and the work environment can go hand in glove to increase profits. It’s a hidden bottom-line benefit in implementing sustainable practices in business.

Our folks are energized when they are able to look outside and see the trees and feel the sunlight. It creates a sense of goodwill that helps boost productivity. On a deeper level, they know how our building was put together, and that by working here they are lowering their impact on the environment. It increases pride and ownership. In addition, when they leave they can spread the word about the numerous benefits of green initiatives. In a sense, we are leveraging what we have done here all across our communities.

To me, sustainability is an investment, and the payback can come in areas that do not directly show up on the financial ledger. Green initiatives can improve both public perception and employee morale. Plus, promoting environmental and social stewardship simply is the right thing to do. And when such initiatives are properly implemented, financial growth can also occur. Internal PR and external PR sewn together with good moral fiber—it’s a triple bottom line.


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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.

Last week, Chris Brogan and I spent 2 days together here in Birmingham. We were pleased to have him as our guest for the Green Building Focus Conference.

For those unaware, Chris is the well-respected co-author of Trust Agents and Social Media 101. He’s carved out a niche for himself in social tools online and the means, methods and leverage of Web 2.0. He’s teaching business leaders how to stay connected and in the game.

In his talk, Chris compared Web 2.0 and its tools to the telephone when it was invented. At the time, many maintained they would rather write letters and talk in person than use a new device. Even though it enabled them to communicate across hundreds of miles, people were reluctant to move past the familiar. This compares to where we are now in business communication, particularly in relation to social media. The phone and email are now tried and tested ways of staying connected, building relationships and increasing profits, but are they the future?

I found Chris to be genuine, transparent, honest and helpful, both individually and on stage. He is the kind of person who makes you feel like he’s interested in what you have to say and gives you his undivided attention, one-on-one. There were so many takeaways from my time with Chris, but in interest of brevity, I’ll share just a few that relate to social media.

Be in it for others. The ratio you spend helping others should be 12:1 when compared to what you do to promote yourself. Strive to build long-term relationships and trust.

If you do it, do it right. After Chris explained the various social networking tools that work well for him, he made the point that it was best to choose what you can do well and maintain properly.  If you spread yourself too thin, you will represent yourself poorly.

Keep mobile top of mind. As more people are becoming reliant on their smart phones for web use, make mobile a priority when designing a site. A budget spent on expensive flash and non-compatible design is often money wasted.

Reply. Chris suggested that his popularity is attributed to the fact he actually takes the time to respond where many experts do not.

To sum it up, the more I learn about these new tools and their leverage, the more intrigued I become with delving deeper. After all, social media uses less carbon and less effort, often gaining more results. How’s that for energy efficient?


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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.