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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
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According to the EPA, it is estimated that a staggering 800 million square yards of carpet is sent to U.S. landfills each year. That is enough to cover New York’s Central Park every two days.

Fortunately, the carpet industry has begun to realize that there is no need for all this shag and nylon to go to waste. Recycled carpet is a growing trend, thanks in part to the Carpet America Recovery Effort . While only 6 percent of carpet waste was recycled in 2009, that is triple the amount from five years earlier.

When we moved into our new building three years ago, we used recycled carpet manufactured by a Georgia company called Interface . I have been very impressed with it. It looks great and has worn well. Plus it comes in squares, so when you spill something or wear out a particular part of the carpet, you can replace it with a single square rather than an entirely new carpet.

Old carpet also is being turned into a variety of other products, including composite lumber, tile backer board, roofing shingles, railroad ties, automotive parts, carpet cushion and stepping stones.

But the easiest thing to do with old carpet is spruce it up and turn it into new carpet. Every time I walk across the floor in our office, I am reminded that what is now our carpet was at one time someone else’s. And I feel good knowing that we kept it from going to waste in a landfill.

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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

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.

This week, several of our team attended a workshop led by Matthew Offenberg, a recognized expert in the field of pervious concrete. The discussion centered on the design and function of pervious concrete pavements, new developments in the technology and some of the challenges in implementing it. I found it interesting that the workshop was held here in Birmingham, an area known for its impermeable clay soils.

Our company has experience with pervious pavements in coastal areas with sandy, drainable soils. We will install our first pervious concrete parking lot in this area this month. Apparently, we aren’t the only ones expanding our use of this sustainable method. Factors that have contributed to the spread of the pervious industry to areas not originally thought to be candidates include:

Increased land values. The growing scarcity of suitable building sites have pushed developers and planners to squeeze more out of the site, and getting rid of the detention ponds creates more space.

Availability of materials. Readily accessible and relatively inexpensive crushed stone makes the addition of a “drainable layer” under paving easier in areas similar to Birmingham.

Industry growth. We now have more qualified suppliers and contractors, training programs and continuing education programs. This provides more resources and experience to draw.

As these and other sustainable technologies become tested by time and experience, their popularity will grow. In this instance, sustainable has become practical, and we consider that a success. Here are some pros and cons regarding the implementation and use of pervious concrete:

POSITIVE

  • Allows drainage of storm water directly into sub-soils
  • Omits the need for expensive retention/detention ponds, saving valuable land space for other uses
  • Structurally self-supporting water storage units can be placed under pervious concrete for irrigation use
  • Can be placed over tree root systems allowing for limited space traffic use
  • Can be placed in run-off buffer zones expanding traffic use space
  • Omits need for extensive storm drainage pipe systems as well as curb and gutter
  • No reinforcement required

NEGATIVE

  • Periodic cleaning required to maintain porosity, but minimal maintenance otherwise
  • Relative weakness does not allow for heavy truck traffic
  • Some raveling may occur over time, especially along edges—may require regular concrete ribbon along edges
  • 6” minimum thickness for light duty traffic
  • Requires substantial porous substrate for positive drainage
  • Must be kept covered and barricaded for a minimum of seven days after initial installation
  • Freeze/thaw spalling can develop in northern climates where there are extreme cold temperatures.

For us, the pros outweigh the cons when it comes to pervious concrete in the right applications—it maybe something to consider when you’re planning your next project. It’s a good option for the environment and an overall value-add.

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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.

As business leaders, I think it is always good to stay in the loop and try to identify current industry trends. We want to be on the front end of things that are moving in the right direction. I’ve written about economy-related pricing trends and green building, but what’s on the horizon now? I think we’re about to see a little more of the Golden Rule in action. Maybe this goes along with the reuse, recycle and sustainability aspect we are seeing on sites. Maybe it’s a trend toward job sites that are friendlier to consumers as well as the total environment. Here’s why.

I recently read an article in Architectural Record about the city of New York pressing contractors to present a more positive image on city construction sites. While the approaches vary, the theme is not so different from an initiative I stumbled upon in London last fall.

The UK Considerate Constructors Scheme is a national project founded in 1997. Sites and companies that register are monitored against a “Code of Considerate Practice” designed to encourage best practices beyond legal requirements. The Scheme covers any area of construction with direct or indirect impact on the image of the industry as a whole, and focuses on 3 categories: the general public, the workforce and the environment. More than 40,000 sites have participated so far.

So what does the Code of Considerate Practice include to protect builders from getting a bad rap and improve industry image? Here are the 8 basic premises for site evaluation and grading:

  1. Considerate: Does the site minimize inconveniences for all those who may be affected by the work?
  2. Environment: What is the site doing to minimize impact on the environment?
  3. Cleanliness: Is the site doing all it can to appear tidy and well presented at a standard the industry should be proud of?
  4. Good Neighbor: How well is the site communicating with those who may be interested/affected? What impression will contractor leave behind when finished?
  5. Respectful: Does every person on the site create a positive image of their company and the industry?
  6. Safe: Is there a proactive approach driving up safety standards?
  7. Responsible: Is the contractor playing a role in the recruitment and training of the industry’s future workforce?
  8. Accountable: Is the contractor accountable and accessible? What is being done to create a sense of pride in working in construction? Are there any measures taken on the site that could be classed as exceptional and unique?

How’s that for a report card? If you could improve your grades in those 8 areas, think about what you could do for your community and your business. It’s happening in London. It’s happening in New York City. Can you make it happen in your city?

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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.

TomatoGardenI was drinking a bottle of water the other day and read the label. It claimed to be “green” and great for the environment where it was bottled in Viti Levu, Fiji. Then I got to thinking about the millions of pounds of fuel they probably burn every year shipping it to the U.S. for us to drink. Is that equally great for the environment? Obviously not. The moral of the story is that we all need to be closer to the food we eat and the water we drink to truly be green.

When we moved into our new office campus last year, project manager Robbie Cather decided that he wanted something worthwhile to look at when he stared out his window everyday. So he went out one Saturday, bought a bunch of potting soil, rocks and long wooden stakes and sectioned off a few hundred square feet of the office lawn to build a tomato/vegetable garden.

Last year he and the Stewart Perry team members who volunteered to help him produced several bushels of tomatoes from those 16 tomato plants. The tomatoes were picked every morning and brought to the lunchroom where they found their way into sandwiches, burgers and gift baskets for anyone who might be visiting our campus that day.

Despite the success with his tomato garden, Robbie has decided not to give up his job in construction and go into farming. Stewart Perry has decided to stay in the construction business as well. However, the tomatoes were an important symbol. The only energy burned to grow the tomatoes was the hand tilling, weeding of the patch, occasional watering and then the plucking of the tomatoes. To get to our plates, they only traveled the 100-yard distance from the plants to the kitchen.

While it might be cheaper to grow food in other parts of the world, they have to burn thousands of pounds of fuel to ship it here, which not only increases costs, but creates pollution. By bringing us closer to our food physically we are burning less fuel and reminding each other where the food comes from.

This year we are adding cucumbers and mint, and everyone has started to bring a change of clothes so they can go garden on their lunch break. I challenge you to think about where your food is coming from and take steps to reduce your carbon footprint. If you are what you eat, and you claim to be green, let your plate reflect your philosophy.

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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.