Garbage Guy Takes Disposal LEED

February 21, 2005
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GRAND RAPIDS — Buzz Lynds is an unlikely choice to pitch the tenets of green building to contractors and property owners.

The firm for which he works does have four years of experience through 25 U.S. Green Building Council Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) projects across the nation.

Lynds is one of two LEED-accredited professionals in his industry, and the majority of his company's LEED projects have been conducted under his guidance.

But his firm is the natural enemy of the green building movement: the $5.5 billion Allied Waste. Known locally as Sunset Waste, its core competency is digging holes and filling them with trash.

"Everyone can put out a garbage can," said Lynds, Allied's national construction sales representative. "Anybody can pick it up and anybody can dump it. It becomes a price thing — you're competing on price and you're really not selling. You need to differentiate yourself.

"And you can differentiate yourself through green building."

The day before sitting down with the Business Journal, Lynds gave a presentation at an executive level meeting at a large national construction company based in Ohio. Lynds compared their companies: Both are not the largest in the industry but nearly so, both are full-service, customer-driven, innovative and looking to differentiate themselves.

LEED, he said, could make the difference on all those fronts.

"I was just trying to entice them to research green building. In Ohio, it's not a driving part of the industry yet. They would have a tremendous advantage because they would be on the cusp of it."

Lynds asked the executives what the company's top priority was, which, as he expected, was getting work.

Green building, he then explained, is environmentally sensitive, socially responsible, and most importantly, economically beneficial.

"I should put a giant asterisk next to that last one," Lynds said of his PowerPoint presentation.

A seemingly well-guarded secret in the waste-management industry is that recycling on a construction project saves money, Lynds said. That holds true even in West Michigan where landfill prices are nearly the lowest in the nation.

Many designers and building owners have embraced the sustainable concepts and cost-efficiencies of LEED. Slower to do so, Lynds found, are the builders.

"A lot of times, builders that are first being introduced to LEED see the requirements and think it's overwhelming," he said. "Not only do they have these high-detail specs, but they have the requirements of all the letter templates for submitting all of it."

As a construction account rep for Sunset, Lynds began developing a LEED-centered pilot program within his West Michigan-based territory. Last month, Lynds assumed a new role as Allied Waste National Accounts LEED Specialist, tasked with propagating his program on a national level.

Much of the LEED process is based on planning.

Allied can bring two points to LEED New Construction (NC) certification off the bat with recycling alone: one for recycling 50 percent of construction debris; then another if it diverts an additional 25 percent from landfills.

But as Lynds emphasizes, his is a full-service approach.

"What do we bring to the table? We know the waste business better than anyone," he said. "Architects are really good at designing buildings but they don't know anything about waste. Neither do the contractors when they haul it off-site. We're the experts."

Much of the Allied plan involves consulting and training. At the building level, he said, if contractors aren't able to get workers on board, any green efforts will be for naught.

"If they don't know why you're telling them to put the wood in this pile and the metal in that pile, they're just going to throw it in the closest one regardless of what it is."

Before that, designers look for advice on waste-stream management. This ranges from determining what waste in what volume will be generated and how that waste will be moved throughout the building and sorted, to something as simple as redesigning the pick-up area.

"Our trucks have a 90-degree turning radius. If you have a system where the truck has to jockey around three or four times to pick up a can, you're going to tear your parking lot up."

After construction, Allied will even monitor and document the recyclables and waste that comes out of the building during its five-year certification period.

These are all value-added services that Allied offers with its traditional hauling service. There is, at this time, no extra expense to building owners or contractors for any of the consulting, training or management services.

Lynds admits that the margins for recycling are better for waste management as well, but the company has yet to embrace that model. The program is sales and customer driven, designed to attract growth from within the expanding green building construction segment.

This strategy could allow Allied to capture significant new market share in the near future, Lynds believes, when the new LEED Existing Building certification is embraced by the marketplace. The LEED EB segment has the potential to be 15 times that of LEED NC, he said.

If Lynds' commitment to green weren't evident enough, he's hoping to give away a possibly lucrative start-up idea to help drive its penetration.

"Recycling costs the contractor less," he said. "We try to offset the price with the recyclables, and we're trying to find more sources for recycling. One of the markets we're really trying to develop is gypsum."

One of the highest-volume construction waste items, the gypsum found in wallboard has potential as a valuable recyclable. Reintroducing gypsum to manufacturing is relatively easy, Lynds said, with only a slightly higher cost than original production

The practice of recycling gypsum is starting to take hold on the eastern seaboard, driven by a European firm that Lynds has had engaged for two years.

The cost of gypsum is $80 a ton in the Boston-Washington corridor, but only $30 here. The return here would offset the cost of shipping the used gypsum to the nearest processing plant in Chicago, but there would be no $50-per-ton margin. Lynds believes that if a firm were to open a processing plant locally, such a venture would see a much higher margin by eliminating shipping costs.

"We need somebody to step forward and take the initiative," Lynds said. "I've got all the contacts in the gypsum and machinery industry. Their processing machines cost a million and a half dollars. I can get one for $250,000.

"And with the local green movement, it's going to become more and more viable."    

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