The construction industry is awash with green, from LEED through Build It Green, certifications for repurposing materials or using renewable resources, to advocating for recycling and repurposing, investing in renewable energy and finding better ways to manage resources. But some of the most progressive practices are actually found in interactions with community and customers.
Sustainable business practices extend beyond the selection of physical materials or the choice of renewable energy sources. A sustainable business philosophy can bring increased efficiencies and improve our environment, but these more mindful approaches are easy to miss as they often happen away from the construction site. Any company that incorporates sustainable and mindful business practices into its daily operations will reap the benefits of happier employees, increased productivity, a more enjoyable and less adversarial process and higher quality work. At Earthtone Construction, we’ve been incorporating these practices since we started the company. We like to think of the terms sustainable, practical and mindful as guiding concepts that could easily work across many different businesses and industries.
Put simply, a truly collaborative partnership between a vendor and a client is more efficient and more effective. There’s less chance of wasting resources if things get built right the first time. It’s important to make the effort to really understand what prospective clients are looking for and craft proposals that speak to that goal (in addition to consulting the plans they’ve drafted). We call this “reading beyond the plans” — trying to uncover exactly what success looks like for each client so we can help them achieve it. This means spending a lot more time tailoring proposals to a specific project, but the upside is the ability to present a more inclusive and thorough project proposal. In the long run, this early attention makes construction easier and reduces the chances of change orders later.
When selecting vendors, put this sustainable philosophy to use by selecting companies that exhibit the same care and thoughtfulness. They might not always be the cheapest, but you’ll spend less time managing them and more time getting results. Remember: fewer mistakes means less waste.
Practical use of technology
I’m not talking about Twitter or Facebook here. I’m talking about smart applications of technology that help bring value to a service. For example, hourly fees can skyrocket when multiple consultants are sporadically involved in a project and requests are repeatedly made for the latest files or plan versions. Instead, improve communications and raise efficiency by providing a virtual hub for all project information. Not only will this investment improve the efficiency and transparency for clients, but it will also result in fewer calls from subcontractors or wasted time checking plan versions. A practical way to keep everyone on the same page could be something as simple as a shared filespace, but it pays early dividends.
We’ve also found that it pays to work with the communication preferences of our clients. Listen to how your clients want to communicate and make sure the channels are open at all times.
There’s a certain level of quality we strive to reach for our own work, and we’ve found from experience that the best partners for us are the ones that share our values. That means sustainable businesses that care about the environment and their communities. Look at how locally involved businesses are and how they work as a team within their own communities. That can mean anything from participating in local leadership or fund-raising to how they treat their own staff. Does the firm value its employees? How sustainable is its corporate environment?
Typically, we’ve found the businesses that invest in their communities are easier to work with and also provide the best service and performance. There’s something truly productive about positive people—and you want them on your team.
Value and values
Finally, we know the importance of learning a craft, and we honor such skills. There’s value in traditional skills and, for all our fascination and reliance on technology, there’s something satisfying about a solution that can accomplish the same task more simply. Although such skills typically aren’t the cheapest solution, they frequently offer the best value through sheer quality and the confidence an owner can have in the finished product.
Over the years, we’ve worked with craftsmen who’ve stayed busy during lean times simply because their skills and quality are unsurpassed. The work they do costs more in the near term, but quickly pays for itself by continuing to work when other solutions fail. That’s value that you can quantify if you view things from an owner’s perspective.