Rockford puts emphasis on sustainable construction

Builder also looks at projects in ‘holistic’ way for clients.
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Sustainable features at Grand Rapids Public Schools’ Southwest Community Campus include flooring made of recycled content, recycled countertops, low VOC paint and adhesive, and access to natural lighting. Courtesy Rockford Construction

When it comes to Rockford Construction integrating sustainability into its building designs and developments, the tent poles of people, planet and profit are kept to the fore.

“That’s our triple bottom line,” said Jennifer Boezwinkle, executive vice president, construction for Rockford Construction. “That’s really the challenge our clients are facing. It’s really an approach that’s gaining more and more popularity as we look at buildings’ impact not just on energy and the environment, but the people who live there and work there from a day-to-day standpoint. We are very much about the triple bottom line.”

Increasingly, builders must be on the vanguard of mining ways for Earth’s biosphere and human civilization to coexist without ravaging the environment, according to Boezwinkle. New construction and rebuilds that follow the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green building certification developed by the nonprofit U.S. Green Building Council certainly are a step in the right direction, but it doesn’t stop there, since buildings will likely outlast the people who constructed them, she said.

“Long before environmental concerns were really an issue and things like LEED became the norm, we have long understood from a development and construction standpoint that’s a very short window of time, that a project can be in development for six months to a year and can be under construction for a year to two years, but that building lives on, potentially for decades,” said Boezwinkle. “And it impacts the people who work there, patients from hospitals and students from schools and certainly the organizations who run those buildings.”

Boezwinkle said sustainability is one of several “layers” its staff takes into consideration when starting a construction project. Another is looking at a project in a “holistic” way.

“The holistic approach is kind of in our DNA and is the direction we see clients heading into the future,” said Boezwinkle.

“Our holistic approach has been in place long before sustainability became a thing; sustainability adds another layer of consideration, but it is another layer. So, trying to look at those buildings holistically has been our approach and we really are seeing more and more clients head in that direction as we talk about sustainability with everything happening now in terms of health concerns, healthy buildings, buildings that are not just healthy for the planet, healthier for people who live on the planet, but healthier for the people who actually inhabit those buildings.”

Another aspect to Rockford Construction’s holistic business model includes the sustainability of the materials used, its construction process and finally, energy consumption. This may involve educating clients to take the long view on costs rather than initially focusing solely on initial costs.

“Really the first cost is such a small piece of the pie over the life cycle of the building,” said Boezwinkle. “We start to analyze what has a higher first cost, but what will save energy over time? Obviously, that’s going to benefit the clients from a financial standpoint, but also from a planet standpoint — from energy consumption — because we know buildings really take up a substantial amount of energy use on a global scale.”

In some ways, designing buildings to corral energy costs is not the biggest challenge for construction companies like Rockford Construction, according to Boezwinkle. It’s the materials used.

And make no mistake, added Boezwinkle, the times are changing.

“The challenge has been on what we consider to be sustainable materials, whether those are recyclable materials, whether they are pre-consumer content, or post-materials content,” she said. “Fifteen years ago, there were a few companies doing it. They had some sources for that recyclable material and the energy that went into re-creating it, but those recyclable materials were not as efficient as they are today.

“And because of consumer demand for that type of sustainable content and renewable sources like bamboo and those sorts of things, that really has become ubiquitous now. So that has driven the price down, whether it’s driven (by the desire) to watch the environment flourish or a desire to meet the demands of clients, people want to see those materials in their buildings. That really has become cost-effective.”

Rockford Construction practiced what it preaches when it moved to its current LEED Platinum corporate offices in Grand Rapids. The company utilized an intentional and collaborative design and construction process to meet its own goals and objectives related to honor its triple bottom line: people, planet and profit.

“We were able to work with the existing structure to extend the life of this building in a financially economical way,” said Boezwinkle, adding 40% of Rockford’s projects nationwide are new construction and 60% reconstruction. “Renovation is something people continue to look at as both cost effective and sustainable, but sometimes you just can’t achieve that.”

Globally, buildings use roughly 40% of energy consumption and draw 25% of the planet’s fresh water supply, according to Boezwinkle. In the United States, commercial and residential dwellings in 2019 accounted for 13% of greenhouse gas emissions, arising primarily from fossil fuels burned for heat, the use of certain products that contain greenhouse gases and the handling of waste, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

“Fundamentally, that’s where we stand in understanding the building is there consuming energy and emitting gases for decades after we’ve left, so what can we do during the design and construction processes to support our clients to really move the needle on all of that?” said Boezwinkle.

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