Building bridges

Photo credit Diana Rothery

Skanska USA expresses its corporate commitment to the triple bottom line through its Sustainability Agenda. The following is the final article in our five-part series exploring how Skanska is approaching the triple bottom line for the good of its clients, its respective businesses and for the good of the places we live, play and work. You can read parts 1, 2, 3, and 4 here.

Imagine being back in elementary school, picking kickball teams at recess. If you’re picking from just a couple of classes, you might put together a nice team. If you pick from the whole school, with so many more people to choose, you will probably pick an even better team.

That kind of inclusiveness is at the heart of efforts that are becoming more common in construction to recruit more subcontractors. The true benefit is that by bringing more local partners into the always-local business of construction, contractors have the ability to promote the long term sustainability of their communities.

When some contractors say sustainability, they usually roll out a presentation of all of their LEED buildings. I always want to know who built these projects: who were the folks swinging the hammers?

A contractor that is committed to sustainability has to consider how it engages the local subcontractor community. Are we expanding our pool of qualified subcontractors in our areas? How aggressively do we recruit new subs when we enter new areas? What about certified disadvantaged business enterprises? Are we giving them a fair shake?

We meet a lot of small businesses that need the types of work the large prime contractors have in their markets. For many of these smaller subs, though, the world of big contracting presents a tough situation: the need for the work, but the inability to break into that work, not knowing what is required.

Our response to that hasn’t been to show them a textbook. Instead, we take the time and energy to train subs in all of our markets on how they can…continue reading.[pagebreak] We take the time and energy to train subs in all of our markets on how they can work with larger contractors. Our 10-week BOOST program is one example of this effort. We cover everything from insurance and bonding to how to best put together estimates and bids.

The interesting result is that we know our competitors have benefited from this expanded pool of well-trained subcontractors. So have we. The real winners are the communities where these subs work every day. Locally based small businesses can grow with new work. They spend more dollars locally. And in many cases, they walk away with the pride that comes from work well done – the kind of feeling that inspires the next project, and ideally, generations of people in a healthy local business environment.

Communities with thriving small business communities last. We’ve gone through an era where small businesses have struggled to adapt to technology and the convenience of big box stores. Traditionally disadvantaged businesses have had it even harder. The uniquely local aspects of construction put our industry in the driver’s seat to support local small businesses and help them thrive.

For all we know, we’re training small firms that will some day be our competitors. If so, it will be the ultimate proof that these sorts of efforts to bring more subs under the tent not only create sustainable local economies, but actual growth.

Beyond the efforts to include more and more local businesses in our projects, we also have the responsibility to give back to the communities we work in.

As contractors, we need to consider how we can best affect our communities. Monetary donations are certainly always welcome, especially in our current economy, where it seems like budget cuts are the norm.

That said, we have the opportunity to make a more lasting effect. With skilled craftspeople on our teams, why not look at giving time and materials instead of just dollars. Our team in Seattle rebuilt a picnic shelter in a popular city park last year. Not only did the team donate the labor, they found suppliers willing to donate all the needed materials which would have cost the city well into six figures. Now the community can enjoy this resource in the long term, yet the cost to the city in terms of time and money was very little.

Sustainable communities take more than green building. True to the triple bottom line of sustainability, if contractors leave out the social and economic approaches in their projects, are they really building sustainably?

Mel Jones is the Diversity Manager for Skanska USA Building.

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