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Green Innovations Revolutionize Construction A Bay Area company demonstrates how the building industry can be a leader in sustainability.

By Bill Roth

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

A Green Economic Revolution is under way, led by entrepreneurs with green ideas for re-engineering the home construction industry. The pace of this revolution is exceeding all expectations as consumers search for ways to reduce their costs while helping fight global warming.

We're talking new ways of designing buildings and locating them. These new buildings are using new products that place less stress on the environment and that carry the type of third-party certifications just emerging from institutions like the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a nonprofit organization that provides a consumer product label certifying the business supports responsible forest management.

These buildings are designed to use little or no utility-supplied energy, a benefit that's gaining tremendous traction among consumers with the seemingly daily price increases in coal, oil and natural gas.

Deva Rajan is a successful "green" builder and founder of Canyon Construction, a California-based contracting company in the Bay Area that builds and remodels homes and offices using green methods. Rajan was a leader in the "Going Green" revolution long before the rest of us "got it."

"When you build beautiful things, people take care of them. And durability is a cornerstone of sustainability," Rajan says.

During the 1970s he quietly influenced the development of California's Title 24--pioneering building codes that most states have now adopted. And he was instrumental in developing a new type of concrete that recycled "fly ash"--waste created by coal-fired power plants that's now a high-utility standard among building materials.

"I really admire Deva's strength of purpose in helping turn this Titanic-like building industry toward sustainability," Canyon Construction President Chris Avant says.

"In no small part due to Deva's efforts, California pioneered legislation focusing upon building standards that increased energy efficiency in 1978. Since then we have learned a lot and the codes have been upgraded three times, but we are still a long way from truly having building codes and community planning that have sustainability as their cornerstone," Avant says.

Avant should know. He just moved into a new corporate headquarters certified by Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). LEED provides third-party certification for buildings to meet the highest standards for energy efficiency and environmental responsibility. Canyon Construction's building obtained a platinum rating, one of 17 new construction projects in the United States to obtain such a rating at the time of the building's completion.

The LEED program is helping the industry "adopt where we design, locate, build and retrofit buildings to achieve sustainability in our work and lifestyles," Avant says.

Canyon Construction's headquarters provides an example of sustainability. First, it's a reconstruction of a building that had been vacant for years and fallen into great disrepair.

Reconstruction helps eliminate urban sprawl.

"Infill is a major element of sustainability," Avant says, adding that clear-cutting land or claiming farms for new construction results in more commute time for more people.

"And it means we have replaced forests and farm plants that consume CO2, the principal gas causing climate change, with houses, strip malls and offices that emit greenhouse gases," Avant says.

It's better to use the "wonderful inventory of existing buildings and lots in city locations that offer a good work and living environment" and also place less demand on the consumption of fossil fuels tied to daily commuting, Avant adds.

As you would expect, Canyon Construction's headquarters pioneers the next generation of energy technology. The roof consists of solar panels that look like high-quality roof shingles and produce nearly 100 percent of the building's electricity supply. Lowering the need for electricity and natural gas is the building's 3,000-foot horizontal thermal-loop heating and cooling system that uses the earth's constant temperature to warm or cool the building.

Combined with high levels of insulation, the building's design has eliminated the need for fossil-fueled energy. That's not only good for the environment--with natural gas prices at $12-plus per mmbtu (one million British Thermal Units, the unit of measurement used by utilities in calculating your natural gas bill) and ever-increasing electricity rates--this is a building that's immunized to higher energy prices.

It was also built with recycled materials whenever possible. Ninety percent of the decorative steel and 35 percent of the structural steel was sourced from recycled steel. The wood in its ceiling, trellis and balconies is 100 percent salvaged redwood and Douglas fir, all certified by the FSC. The lobby floor is 100 percent salvaged Sierra White granite. And 100 percent of the water used for irrigation comes from a 15,000-gallon rainwater catch storage system. In addition, the building's insulation comes from recycled newspapers.

Then there is the issue of indoor air quality. Highly insulated buildings that reduce energy consumption require special indoor air quality attention. That means carpets that don't emit toxins and cabinets built using formaldehyde-free adhesives.

So how soon can a construction entrepreneur expect to get a strong customer base that wants to buy green products and services?

Canyon Construction's business is growing right now from leads generated by sustainability projects it completed five years ago, Avant says.

"It isn't a question any longer of whether you brand yourself as a 'green contractor' or a 'quality contractor,'" Rajan says. "The two are now merging into being the same thing."

And those who "get it" will be harvesting sales leadership positioning in a $350 billion annual revenue industry. Another example of how the Green Economic Revolution continues its maturation into mainstream industries like construction, creating opportunities for engaged entrepreneurs. Don't miss my next article on how one visionary entrepreneur created a global green standard in building design and construction.

Bill is President of NCCT , a consulting firm that helps companies grow green revenue. His newest book, The Secret Green Sauce , profiles best practices being used by successful green businesses. He has previously held roles as senior vice president of PG&E Energy Services, president of Cleantech America (a solar power plant development company) and COO of Texaco Ovonics Hydrogen Solutions (which launched the first hydrogen-fueled Prius).

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