Some Green Building Pros Shrinking From LEED

It’s always interesting to see a new survey about green building. Even if you don’t pay attention to who was in the survey, or what the survey was measuring about green building, just the idea that someone bothered to poll some people and find out what they thought about things is pretty cool.

Allen Matkins Leck Gamble Mallory & Natsis LLP, the Constructive Technology Group, Inc., and Green Building Insider completed a green building survey in December 2008 and just released the results after doing telephone followups with respondents during January.

Topping the list of findings was that huge numbers of design pros, contractors, subcontractors, construction and planning managers, consultants and owners agree that it is worth the time and effort to build green. A little more than 93 percent agreed with that statement, although that number is about 3 percent lower than the responses from a survey in 2007.

The surprising thing that came out of the survey was that fewer people thought LEED certification was worth obtaining. In 2007 there were 77.4 percent of respondents saying LEED was worthwhile, while in 2008 that number dropped to 66.4 percent.

The survey authors suggested a few reasons why LEED may have drawn a lower percentage;

  • Difficult financial times may have been making people more sensitive to costs
  • Other certification schemes could be pulling people away from LEED
  • Carbon footprints and greenhouse gases were not included in LEED at the time of the survey

Old Hands May be Staying Around Longer

Of course, no sooner did I publish the post yesterday about the coming shortage of construction people and how retiring boomers were one of the reasons for the shortfall, then a report comes out saying 75 percent of boomers don’t believe they will ever be able to fully retire.

Scottrade came up with that number from a survey this year. Although the sampling could be somewhat suspect since it was from a “representative sample of 1,000 Americans 18 years of age or older.”

Still, there has to be some truth to it since many retirement accounts have nosedived and home values have tumbled. It’s going to be up to astute managers to figure out how best to capture and inspire this growing pool of experienced workers. Some of the techniques I’ve read about include:

  • Offering flexible hours
  • Fine tuning job descriptions so they include work the people are interested in doing
  • Offering training on aspects of the business the person is attracted to
  • Encouraging communication so this pool of experience can express and help solve business problems

Kansas Organizations Take Construction to the Masses

According to most accounts the construction industry is poised to experience some large shortages of people. This is partly because many boomers are going to be retiring, and also partly because the country hasn’t really made a serious effort at attracting young people to the trades.

But there are many organizations that are working on this front. One effort that I read about recently was a construction learning center that has been set up for a couple of years now at the Kansas State Fair. Members of the Associated General Contractors of Kansas, the Kansas Contractors Association, the Kansas Construction Careers Association and the National Association for Women in Construction, put together exhibits and helped 2,000 children participate in activities like building blocks, PVC pipe bridge building, operating remote-controlled front end loaders, and operating a computer simulated grader. Oh, and they had drill guns too. One of my favorites.

The exhibit drew more than 3,000 parents, grandparents, teachers and counselors. On top of that 600 people tried their hands at backhoe golf – dropping three golf balls into a cup within 90 seconds earned them T-shirts.

These kinds of efforts no doubt get some people thinking about construction as a career and that’s where it all begins.

Prevailing Wage Battles Re-Loaded

The current economic crisis, which is nothing more than a cyclical devaluation necessary to keep the currency from bottoming out, is causing states and municipalities to make decisions about prevailing wage legislation.

In Cedar Rapids, IA, a bill that sets a prevailing local wage, benefits and overtime, is waiting for one more vote in order to become law. In Colorado, a bill that would have established a prevailing wage for employees of contractors was defeated in committee. Some voices in Washington state are calling for the repeal of its prevailing wage law.

Prevailing wage largely affects public works projects and is often credited with driving up the costs of those projects. Although it isn’t really clear that’s the case, even when that idea is advanced by an opponent of prevailing wage. Here is how Mark Latimer, president of the Rocky Mountain Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors explained it:

In some cases, the prevailing wage is lower than the going rate at the fair-market system. These are decent-paying jobs. We believe the prevailing wage artificially inflates [wages] and drives up the cost of construction. It will hurt the economic stimulus and restrict the free market.

So, if prevailing wages in some cases are “lower than the going fair-market system,” and they are “decent-paying jobs,” how are they going to “drive up the cost of construction?” More to the point it just may be that when prevailing wages are in effect contractors can’t make as much on reselling that labor without pricing themselves out of the market.

Since a person’s labor (expressed as time) is largely the only thing most people have available to sell for their livelihood, perhaps contractors should try to find more value somewhere else in the resources under their control. After all, what is often overlooked in the discussion of prevailing wages is that people are going to spend those wages in the community. So if they have a little extra that’s a good thing, isn’t it?

The other point often advanced by prevailing wage opponents is that the free market does a great job of setting wages. But you have to ask, great for whom? It’s probably true that the free market sets a great wage for a person who is buying the labor, but if you ask a lot of the people supplying the labor they might disagree.

Those on the government side, who propose prevailing wages, sometimes see them as a tool to control those who are eligible to bid on projects. As one legislator in IA put it:

Without it, the state would see fly-by-night, out-of-state contractors coming into Iowa underbidding our standard of living.

So, could it be that prevailing wage offers government a chance to minimize due diligence while it qualifies contracts and enforces building codes and contract delivery? Especially in these times of diminishing budgets having a “safe” pool of bidders could save time and money.

It seems that when you get to the bottom of the prevailing wage issue you find it is simply a manipulation of an already over-manipulated economic system, with proponents and opponents squared off over who will benefit and who will lose. This is no different than most other issues that have economic gravity. Perhaps it would be better to establish a scorecard system where one economic interest is served one time, and another is served the next. That way, at least things might stay a bit more balanced.