Building the Future of Sustainability

rand* construction corporation
Written by Claire Suttles

rand* construction corporation is an award-winning, woman-owned national commercial general contractor with annual revenues exceeding $300 million and a long list of internationally renowned clients. With offices in Alexandria, VA, Denver, Atlanta and Austin, the company specializes in tenant interiors, building renovations, retail, restaurant and ground-up construction.
Sustainability is a core rand* value. They were one of the first in the commercial general contracting industry to boast a dedicated sustainability team and is a LEED pioneer, diving into the program during its earliest stages. Back in 2001, the company participated in the U.S. Green Building Council’s pilot program, which was only open to a select few, earning the first LEED certification for commercial interiors in Washington, DC.

After profiling rand* in April 2015, Construction in Focus sat down with the team again this year for an update on the company’s sustainability efforts and industry leadership. Sustainability Coordinator, Beth Giltner, shared details on three forward-thinking projects and discussed the industry’s newest certification requirements for sustainable buildings.

rand*, working with architect firm Perkins+Will, recently completed construction on The Summit Foundation, a 5,000-square-foot office build-out in Washington, DC. The Foundation funds research initiatives in conservation of the Mesoamerican Reef, empowerment of marginalized girls in Central America, and city sustainability.

The space is pursuing LEED v4 Platinum Certification—the latest and most demanding version of LEED. An even greater challenge was to meet the rigorous design and construction requirements of the Living Building Challenge (LBC) Petal Certification 3.0, an international sustainable building certification program, the most demanding in the market today. LBC’s documentation and approval process is extremely detailed and specific—and many suppliers are still unfamiliar with the requirements, making the process even more complicated. The Summit Foundation project is set to be the first Living Building Challenge certified space in Washington, DC.

“With newer rating systems and progressive movements gaining popularity among our clients, the challenge is that there is not always the necessary infrastructure,” Ms. Giltner explains. “For instance, I spent countless hours calling manufacturers and explaining what the Living Building Challenge is and its requirements, as it was the first time the majority of them had heard of it. I estimate that I spoke to 500 different manufacturers during this process. We had to vet every product and every ingredient within each of these products for Red List compliance, all while meeting regional sourcing requirements. It’s not like LEED where you can exclude your mechanical systems and lighting. In addition to your MEP systems, we were looking at the compliance of everything from our nuts and bolts to our cabling and beyond.”

Many of these hours on the phone were spent sharing knowledge. “It was about education. We were educating ourselves internally, but we were also educating our subcontractors; we were educating manufacturers around the country and the world.”

Merrell B. Ashley, LEED AP ID+C | Principal, expands on this market trend: “Material transparency is more important than ever. Your space not only needs to function well and look amazing, it needs to be built with materials that are sourced and manufactured responsibly. It is more important than ever for rand* and others in the industry to engage manufacturers on material sustainability specifications as early as possible.”

As a whole, the feedback has been positive. In one example, a certain manufacturer had never heard of LBC when Ms. Giltner first contacted him in June. By January, the manufacturer had ten additional LBC projects in the pipeline. “He called and thanked me for educating him on the process and parameters so that he was able to effectively help those ten other projects. This is why education and collaboration among all players in the industry is going to be a crucial element of the future of sustainability. Education has a trickledown effect, and I have seen firsthand that once knowledge is shared, individuals take it as a personal challenge to meet industry goals and advance their capabilities, because sustainability is not going anywhere. It is not only growing, but it is growing at a tremendous rate.”

The team is currently in the certification process but is looking to meet all of the Living Building Challenge requirements under the Material, Place and Equity Petals for The Summit Foundation, while also creating a stunning interior. “Something we find incredibly special about this project is that it is meeting all of these visionary sustainability and regenerative measures, but it is also a beautiful space. The design intent was not lost throughout. The entire team is particularly proud of this achievement.”

rand* may achieve another important first soon. “We are on target to becoming the first WELL certified project in the District.” The WELL Building Standard™ is an evidence-based system for measuring, certifying and monitoring aspects of a building that impact health and wellbeing. While LEED focuses on creating environmentally friendly structures, WELL takes things a step farther to create structures that are friendly to the occupants as well. “Simply put, WELL certification looks at the people occupying the space, while LEED looks at the building,” Ms. Giltner clarifies. “It is looking at the health, safety and wellbeing of individuals in the built environments they encounter daily, whether it be their home or office.”

Designed for the American Society of Interior Designers (ASID) by Perkins+Will, the office building is seeking WELL Platinum certification for New Interiors, the highest level achievable. “Since the American Society of Interior Designers is a national organization and community, they wanted to make a statement to the design community and show that it can be done. Their platform and influence is just one of the many reasons they chose to pursue WELL Platinum, not just WELL Silver or Gold, which is a hard feat to achieve. We are currently in the documentation phase and going through the certification process.” Located at the Columbia Center, the 7,500-square-foot office will also meet LEED v2009 Commercial Interiors Platinum standards.

ASID’s WELL features include a healthy amount of natural light, access to filtered drinking water, a fitness component, and the availability of nutritious food options, as well as an innovative approach to seating arrangements. “They are tackling the traditional idea of sitting at a desk all day,” says Sustainability Associate, Candice Gasper. “Every few hours, their employees switch desks. There is no assigned seating, and lockers are provided to each employee for them to store personal items throughout the day or when they leave each evening. The space is designed to make people move more so they are not sitting, which research has shown is ‘the new smoking’.”

Except for one large conference room and a few smaller huddle rooms, the entire office is open space. “Not even ASID’s CEO, Randy Fiser, has an office,” Ms. Giltner shares. “He believes strongly in this idea of creating an open space for collaboration and flexibility, which this concept certainly fosters.”

The team is currently working on an extensive office renovation for Skadden in Washington, DC. This project stands out because it adheres to the DC Green Construction Code, a recently adopted adaptation of the International Green Construction Code in Washington, DC. “The DC Green Construction and Energy Conservation Codes are making a big impact on the project and the industry in this area for the better,” says Ms. Giltner.

DC Construction Code is similar to LEED, but with a key difference that increases the challenge. “Within LEED you have choices, but within the Code you have to meet all of the measures outlined.”

The Skadden project is a Level 3 Alteration, which means that the value of the renovation exceeds 50 percent of the value of the overall building. “Most of the projects in DC currently—if they meet the Level 3 criteria—are going for LEED certification as an alternative compliance path to the Code. However, Skadden decided to implement the Code as it is written and intended. It is not an easy path, because it is one of the first Level 3 projects in the District to pursue the DC Green Construction Code in its entirety.”

rand*’s efforts are leading the industry toward greater sustainability. “[We are] helping navigate our clients and projects within the District and across the country in determining the sustainability path that makes the most sense for them, as every project and company is unique,” Ms. Giltner summarizes. In addition to breaking new ground on innovative projects, the team is working to educate the industry on compliance. “My team and I are currently working to develop a program where we will be inviting subcontractors and other industry partners in and educating them on the new LEED v4 requirements, as well as answer any questions they may have regarding the DC Green Construction Code and any other sustainability measures they may be working with.”

In addition, Ms. Giltner was a presenter at this year’s Greenbuild International Conference and Expo, which was held in Los Angeles from October 5th through 7th. One of her presentations gave an in-depth look at The Summit Foundation project and the complexities of materials sourcing and material transparency for LEED v4 and The Living Building Challenge. In another presentation, she spoke on the key role commercial contractors play in LEED projects and how they can meet the compliance challenges and the importance of integrative design.

rand* was recently recognized by the Commercial Real Estate Development Association DC | Maryland Chapter, winning the Award of Excellence for Best Sustainable Project of 2016 for their work on the American Society of Interior Designers headquarters. “Sustainability is a vital part of what we do at rand*,” said Linda Rabbit, rand* CEO and Chairman. “Our job is not only to deliver a structurally sound and beautiful space, but also a space that is healthy for the environment and the people who work there. We continue to strive for that level of excellence in every project.”

With 85 LEED certified projects totaling 4.5 million square feet, about one third of rand*’s projects each year are sustainable. “I see this ratio increasing every day,” Ms. Giltner remarks. This is the case not just for rand*, but for the industry as a whole. “It is becoming easier to build these spaces,” Ms. Gasper explains. She credits increased education among manufacturers, tax incentives, and a need to appeal to the next generation.

“Millennials are looking at the health and wellness of the environment, so [the industry] is trying to adapt to the population change and what is important for the next generation.” rand* is at the forefront of this adaptation—and the team is ready to continue leading the way through the next sustainability challenge.



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