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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
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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

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.

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.