Our Story

Earth Day 2024: Sustainability in Construction

When you work in an industry dedicated to longevity, the topic of sustainability can (and should!) reshape your perspective on the how of building buildings. So, on Earth Day, we thought it would be pertinent to share a bit about the “green” aspects of our projects – and how we do our part to reduce energy consumption and waste in our construction efforts.

For many projects, architecture firms typically lead the charge on a project’s specific sustainability attributes. Usage of solar panels and recycled materials, or ensuring geothermal heating/cooling systems and stormwater retention systems are included in a facility’s design, is usually up to its architect. However, there are still ways that general contractors can make a significant difference in how “green” a project ends up being throughout its build duration – and beyond.

For example, at the beginning of a project, small decisions about what materials to use and general building logistics can end up making a huge impact for end users even decades down the road. These items should be discussed during the preconstruction and design phase of construction, with the right team of experts.

“A building typically has a lifespan of 50 to 100 years, and all the decisions that are made for what the building will look like, how it will perform, and the impact it will have on its users and the environment is established in a short window of time during design,” says Micah Vainikka, Director of Preconstruction, LEED Green Associate. “Our role in this preconstruction and design phase is to help the owner [of a project] understand the cost implications of sustainability opportunities, energy efficiency calculations, and the lifetime cost of operating the building.”

Also important to take into consideration are environmental factors that could be significantly impacted by construction activity. Mark Custer, Senior Project Manager and LEED AP, notes this was an extensive undertaking on Knutson’s award-winning University of Minnesota Campbell Hall / Institute of Child Development project, for example.

“A major challenge for the [Campbell Hall] project, both from the design and construction perspective, was working around the preservation of the many 200-year-old oak trees on the site,” says Custer. “Some of those trees were as old as the University, and it was critical that they were preserved; they are literally irreplaceable. Both design and construction teams kept their preservation at the forefront by designing building elements to incorporate the foliage, not interfere with it. Knutson also carefully planned construction activities to protect the trees all the way down to their root systems.”

Other projects, like the Two Twelve Medical Center Vertical Expansion project, are designed and built with the goal of saving valuable ground space by building up, not out. Designed with the goal of not increasing the pre-existing site’s overall impervious area, building on top of Two Twelve Medical Center’s existing facility also afforded construction teams the luxury of using pre-existing build support spaces, like its loading dock. While sometimes providing challenges to construction teams, expanding existing facilities by adding on instead of building in new areas can drastically reduce the construction footprint of sites, and lends itself to a greener, more efficient project overall.

While not always taken into consideration, construction companies can also make decisions about job site logistics that meet sustainability goals. For instance, Knutson ensures the waste management company it utilizes for dumpster services provides a recycling option, so teams are diverting construction waste away from landfills. On a typical project, Custer notes, Knutson usually recycles 70-75% of a project’s dumpster waste.

And of course, projects are sometimes dreamt up even before design and construction to ensure sustainability due to their highly public and impactful nature. Target Field Station and East Side Recycling Center are two examples of these style projects, with multiple aspects of each seeking to reduce end users’ vehicular emissions, increase use of renewable energy sources, and encourage patrons to follow reuse and recycle initiatives, among other innovative technologies.

We know that sustainability is an integrated, holistic approach between design and construction teams. All phases of a building’s life cycle are impacted by the choices we make. This Earth Day and everyday, we are determined to do what we can to build a better tomorrow, together.