Propelled by tremendous interest from both the public and private sectors, sustainable building rapidly is transcending its humble beginnings as a niche sector to represent a lucrative and viable part of the overall construction industry. FMI's Nonresidential Green Forecast indicates that green construction will have grown by an estimated 110% from 2005-2008 to reach $21 billion by year-end. Additionally, a panel of industry leaders polled by FMI indicated that within five years, they anticipate more than 35% of their backlogs will consist of green projects.

Due to myriad demand drivers, there is an increasing emphasis on sustainable design and the development of new concrete products and applications. One new product available for low-traffic applications is pervious concrete. The cementitious material coats the aggregate particles with a paste, creating an open-cell structure that allows water to pass directly through. This creates a sustainable advantage by naturally filtering polluted surface water. The clean water recharges the groundwater supply and aquifers and reduces the need for stormwater management and retention ponds. The EPA designated pervious concrete as one of its best management practices.

When determining if a product is appropriate to use in a sustainable application, the life cycle of that material should be evaluated. Concrete is made of cement, water, and aggregates, all of which can have recycled components. The process of mining and processing cement releases tons of carbon into the atmosphere. This environmental impact can be mitigated by replacing a portion of the cement with fly ash - a byproduct from power plants - thereby reducing carbon emissions created in concrete production. Concrete is also 100% recyclable; it can be crushed and reused as the aggregate in new concrete applications.

It is important to consider the environmental impact of material choices. Paved surfaces, such as parking lots and roofs, make up the majority of the surface area in the built environment. Asphalt, an oil-based product, is a common choice for paved spaces. Its dark color stores significant amounts of heat, resulting in the heat island effect causing urban temperatures to rise significantly higher than rural areas. Concrete is light in color, reflects 27% of light that reaches it, and stores significantly less heat. Because of the reflectance, less artificial light is required in both indoor and outdoor applications. The cooler ambient temperature also requires less cooling from surrounding buildings. Using concrete as a paving material requires the use of less energy resources.

Concrete applications also can improve the LEED certification process. Contractors can help their clients earn anywhere from 11 to 21 LEED points by using concrete to improve the site's sustainability, reach recycled or local materials goals, and build a durable, energy efficient structure.

The convergence of multiple demand factors from energy costs to government initiatives are providing assurances to contractors that green building is here to stay. Green-building capabilities increasingly are becoming a differentiator for contractors nationwide and conducting a careful analysis of sustainable building opportunities should be a part of your firm's long-term strategy.

Danielle DePasquale is a staff consultant with FMI, management consultants and investment bankers for the construction industry. She contributes her knowledge specifically to FMI's Residential Practice by assisting home builders in their effort to improve their material and cost management systems. She can be reached at 303-398-7277 or

Briston Blair is a consultant at FMI where he focuses on the unique strategy, business development, and financial needs of his clients. He works with contractors nationwide to develop and implement sound strategic solutions aimed at taking advantage of organizational strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats. He can be reached at 919-785-9293 or