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When we built our corporate campus a few years back, we were thinking about how to create a better workplace for our folks.

Our goal was to create an environment  to promote teamwork, break down cylinders and be fun. To accomplish this, I considered multiple designs:

–minimum walls and many open work areas, our customer CKP has found successful

–many workstations for management and support staff as well

–only one wall separating desks from each other, with the remaining space open to a common area

We ended up building the perfect space for us. Our offices do have walls, but there is glass across the front to keep them open. We placed our focus on common areas, like our huge work station where we all meet up to look at plans.

With all that research done our end, it was interesting to run across a recent Wall Street Journal article titled, “Designs to Make you Work Harder.”  How others approach the subject of workplace design?

Four design firms were challenged to create the ideal 15×15 ft mid-level executive’s office with no budget restraints. In the process, they learned a lot about workplace trends.

What’s in:

  • glass–shows openness and lets people see the executive at work
  • separate work zones–separates tasks and encourages collaboration
  • integration of technology–wireless friendly

What’s out:

  • status symbol executive desks
  • “ego walls” filled with trophies/awards
  • tons of storage space (paperless trends have eliminated the need)

Interestingly, these thoughts seem to fall right in line with green building and LEED guidelines–more light, openness and sustainability. I had to feel proud that even though our LEED certified place was concepted a few years back, it seems right on point with what’s happening today. What has worked for your team?

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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.

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.

This April marks two years since we moved to our new corporate campus. The upcoming anniversary got me thinking back to 2005 when we first started the design of our building and grounds. Being a responsible member of our new community was of the utmost importance, so it made sense to build with minimal impact and sustainability top of mind. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standards seemed like a great guide to follow.

As many of you know, LEED is the certification program developed by the USGBC (U.S. Green Building Council), which gives points in the following categories:

  • Sustainable sites
  • Water efficiency
  • Energy and atmosphere
  • Materials and resources
  • Indoor environmental quality

Depending on the points a site accrues, the USGB grants certification at these levels:

  • Silver
  • Gold
  • Certified
  • Platinum

LEED was brand new to me back in 2005. We worked hard to educate ourselves and attain a Silver certification.

As we were getting ready for our final submission to the USGBC, I tallied up points. I discovered then that we could buy green power credits for points toward the certification. This means we would pay a little extra to use “green power” to offset the electricity used during construction and subsequent operation of the building. What you buy is based the anticipated building usage, guaranteeing energy is added to the grid from renewable sources like solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and hydro.

This seemed like cheating after all the hard work we had put into building materials and systems. After investigating, I determined the opposite was true. We were creating awareness, helping support a fledgling component of our power grid and reducing carbon emissions. You can do the same.

The EPA has created the Green Power Partnership (GPP), which works with organizations to determine if green power purchase is right for them. During the past year, the top 20 participating retailers had a combined green power purchase of nearly 3.3 billion kilowatt hours annually. That’s enough electricity to power more than 300,000 American homes for a year.

Kohl’s, Whole Food Markets, Pepsi, Dell, Deutsche Bank, ING, Dannon, The Tower Companies, and North Face are using green power for 100% of their U.S. electricity use. We’re working hard to get there too.

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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, I attended the Cahaba River Society’s (CRS) annual meeting. I’ve been a board member for about a year now. The Society protects our beautiful river and facilitates public conversations about environmental well-being.

While the CRS still focuses much of its energy on the River and its basin, it is also evolving into something much greater and more important from my perspective, and that is the business of “water education.” Without quality water, there’s not much life. The health and abundance of our water supply has immeasurable impact on our environment, both now and for future generations. It seems vital that we teach the public how to protect this resource.

Unfortunately, environmental campaigns are often politically charged and met with equal parts support, resistance and apathy. As the organization grows and matures, I’ve seen the CRS learn better ways of being collaborative in efforts to deal with those who might disagree. They are listening, being transparent and stating operations clearly. I have always found that if two sides are opposed, as long as there is a sliver of agreement, some kind of compromise can be reached. This has rung true for the CRS as they deal with local businesses and the public.

This meeting focused on educating about the environmental impact of storm water. Both as a conscious citizen and as a builder, I found these lessons valuable and thought I’d share takeaways here:

• How we build our communities and deal with storm water today will determine the kind of rivers we have forever.

• If proper designs are not put in place, the increased runoff from development will degrade water quality, increase flooding, collapse riverbanks, impoverish the river’s diverse life, and make our drinking water more expensive and scarce.

• A natural forest absorbs rain like a sponge, replenishing groundwater and keeping our rivers clean and flowing, even in droughts. Maybe we begin to think about fewer hard surfaces and single points of discharge.

• Designers might consider concepts of low impact development and green infrastructure – rain gardens, permeable paving, green roofs, cisterns – practices that use rain as a resource, infiltrating and reusing it.

• Low-impact development tries to keep as much water as possible on site so that it can be infiltrated to replenish groundwater or harvested and reused in a manner that reduces the use of treated municipal water.

• It’s important to get involved with municipalities and storm water partners to nurture a working relationship for a unified voice to the policy changes needed to protect us all. Would you consider using this knowledge to better the environment? More importantly, would you please share what you’ve learned with others? Simplistic as it may sound, together we can make a 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.


We’ve all heard the saying, “everything old is new again.” At our place, we’ve challenged ourselves to find inventive ways to repurpose materials that might have otherwise left behind. As a result, our ceilings, parts of our deck and even our conference table are crafted from wood that would have otherwise been left at our Florida projects.

Never have I seen a truer personal example than in Sam Mockbee, a pioneer in pragmatic design whose biography I recently received. He made turning old things into something unique and usable his life’s passionate work.

Sam or “Sambo” as he was known to his friends, understood the “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” concept long before it became a slogan for sustainability and doing things right. He created the Rural Studio Program at the Auburn University School of Architecture, where students repurpose ordinary and recycled materials into houses and useful buildings for the residents of Hale County, Alabama. His creations take care of basic needs and in the process provide rays of hope.

Sam would tell his students that the places they create have got to be warm, dry and noble. He spent the last 10 years of his life building those spaces for many and that legacy continues. Using salvaged materials like lumber, bricks, discarded tires and hay bales, the Rural Studio produces inexpensive structures in a style that Mockbee described as “contemporary modernism grounded in southern culture.” As noted in this Metropolitan Magazine article, the process gives students hands-on experience in designing and building something real, extending their education beyond paper architecture.

Our Stewart Perry headquarters have always reminded me of Sam Mockbee’s work and about half way through the building process I found out why. I learned that Tommy Goodman, who designed our place and is now a professor or architecture at Mississippi State University, was Sambo’s business partner. The influence of the Rural Studio is woven all through our campus. We removed coal tailings from the lake and used them to repave parking area for a neighborhood church. Our hardwood floors are refurbished from a tobacco plant in Virginia. I feel our folks are always thinking of ways they can lower our environmental impact.

Are there opportunities to do similar things around your office, home or construction site?

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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 recently attended a U.S. Green Building Council presentation where architect and professor emeritus Norbert Lechner,  a noted Fulbright senior specialist and energy expert, presented his thoughts on the field of efficient building energy design and sustainability, a topic often considered the foundation of green philosophy.

I learned that reduced energy goals are in many cases easily obtainable with the simplest approaches to building orientation and design. At present, buildings consume approximately 50% of all total energy used, and this percentage is even higher according to some. At this rate of consumption, it will be impossible for the world to keep up with energy demand unless buildings are designed to be more energy efficient.

Professor Lechner named the following building design elements conducive to achieving maximum energy efficiency (listed in order of greatest energy savings).

1. Building orientation (can reduce energy consumption by up to 50%)

2. PA-fruitTreeBuilding color (and add another 20% of energy savings)

3. Window placement

4. Window size

5. Shading

6. Passive solar heating

7. Day lighting

8. Active solar

9. Photovoltaics (PV) – the future

What was amazing to me is that the lowest hanging fruit—the stuff that’s practically lying on the ground waiting to be picked up—is building orientation. Situating your building at the optimal place and angle can reduce conventional building energy resources by up to 50%. That means that by simply considering building orientation as a design factor we can reduce our total energy demand from all resources by up to 25%.

There’s even a movement to create zero energy buildings . But first, we all need to be thinking about how to get everyone on the same page and how our combined efforts can help make it possible for the next generation to save energy responsibly.

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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.

GreenExpo_msAs I’ve mentioned in previous entries, green building is a growing focus for Stewart Perry’s business. While our appreciation for the land works its way into every project we take on, our own corporate campus and our recent work constructing the Ruffner Mountain Nature Center have had green interests at the very heart of the project.

That’s why when the KPS Group, our architect partner on the Ruffner project, approached us about joining sponsorship forces with them at this week’s Green Building Focus Conference and Expo, I jumped to participate. Hosting an event of this caliber was a huge honor for Birmingham and made a statement about the city’s commitment to sustainable building. It was a privilege to provide cocktails to make everyone feel more welcome at the opening night party.

We took the stage with KPS to discuss our work at Ruffner and they even let me have a few minutes to share the highlights of our LEED certified corporate campus. Many thanks to all who attended. We look forward to welcoming you back next year.

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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.

Ruffner-fpoA small but growing portion of our business is what I would call “green building.” After the construction of our new LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) silver certified office building last year, we have been exploring several other projects in the Birmingham area as a way to diversify our business, encourage environmental sustainability and ultimately make ourselves more marketable. Many new government and public buildings are already built to LEED specifications and, with the current political atmosphere, I see public works on the rise in the coming years. The number of private LEED projects is growing as well, and the US Green Building Council is the governing body behind accreditation of both types of projects.

The Ruffner Mountain Nature Coalition was founded in 1977 as a non-profit organization dedicated to creating a nature center a few miles east of downtown Birmingham. Since then, their Nature Center has grown to more than 1,000 acres of untouched forest. Preserve rangers lead free hikes and tours for groups and individuals who want to learn.

For the past three decades they have operated out of a small block building. Seeing the potential to reach more people, they decided to upgrade their facilities. After several years of fundraising, Ruffner partnered with the KPS group to design a state-of-the-art LEED certified visitor’s center and education pavilion. The design used sustainable architecture, rainwater collection systems and lots of recycled and reused building materials.

Stewart Perry came into play as a LEED certified building contractor. We broke ground in August of 2008 and finished in July of 2009. The new visitor center has meeting and conference rooms, a woodland animal exhibit hall, small shop and an information center, but most of all, it shows a respect for the land it’s built on.

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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.