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Canadian Contractors Confronting Administrative Aspects of LEED Certification Process

CanadaAs an increasing number of Canadian governments are considering the merits of LEED-driven legislation, Canada’s contractors are speaking out about the increased costs and associated red tape on projects that pursue third-party green building certification. A recent article in Western Canada’s Journal of Commerce reports that – in particular – LEED certification is “burdensome for some trades people,” and notes that the time and expense from identifying the amount of recycled content in certain building materials, the manufacturing proximity of those materials, their transportation details, and other facts are “adding up for contractors who barely have enough of the books to keep their crews working.”

The article starts out by hinting at the potential for trades to underbid LEED projects because they fail to understand the necessary paperwork and administrative components of the certification process. For example, according to Kitchener, Ontario-based Kirlen Construction project manager Stephen Harris, “[a] lot of trades bid the job and then don’t really have the resources to do it [the third-party certification process] properly.” Low bids, of course, can lead to change orders, impact a project’s schedule, and ultimately result in claims or even litigation.

With respect to contractor and subcontractor education about green building practices and processes, Harris also describes the importance of an integrated approach for project teams, particularly where the LEED application is targeting credits related to recycling materials and managing construction debris. “It’s not just a regular building where everyone just shows up and does their job,” he tells the Journal of Commerce.

At the same time, Canadian contractors are also concerned that the costs of third-party certification are eroding their bottom line in a business model where profit margins are already incredibly tight. For example, Ken Turner, principal of Vancouver-based wall and ceiling contractor Turner Brothers, believes that third-party certification is “too time consuming, trying to put together everything about recycled content, where the material comes from, where it was manufactured. We are the end-user. All the technical information is online. I don’t know why they are coming to us.”

Interestingly, Turner suggests that the fragmented nature of green building regulation is responsible – at least in part – for increasing contractors’ costs of doing business.

“If all buildings were going to be [LEED-certified] that would be one thing, but when only half the players are playing and we are trying to fight for information, with no extra money to administer it, it’s harder. Jobs are so cheap right now, the extra work just comes right off the bottom line. It would be a lot easier if we could just give our suppliers a list of our materials and they could provide the information.”

The Journal of Commerce article is important because it emphasizes one of the consistent themes here at GRELJ: that green building regulations – notwithstanding their decidedly non-uniform implementation – have outpaced industry’s own adoption of green building practices and corresponding knowledge base. Last summer’s Marsh report (Green Building: Assessing the Risks, Feedback from the Construction Industry, 2009) echoes this conclusion; for example, the risks arising from consultants and subcontractors with inadequate training and expertise were specifically identified as one of the top 5 green building risks during Marsh’s forums with A/E/C executives in New York City and Washington, D.C.

In any event, as the economy slowly turns around and new construction starts increase, I expect that we will see similar remarks from an increasing number of contractors on both sides of the border with respect to these perceived additional burdens. Of course, as more contractors and subs participate on green building projects, and more suppliers provide building materials to green building projects, many of the concerns raised in the piece should – in theory – diminish.

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