Thornton Tomasetti is a national engineering and architecture firm serving clients in 50 countries on projects of all sizes and complexity, from the tallest buildings and longest spans to the restoration of historic properties. Founded in 1956, this 600-person firm has offices across the U.S. and in the Asia-Pacific, Europe and the Middle East. With practices in building structure, skin and performance; construction support services; property loss consulting and building sustainability, the firm is committed to addressing the full lifecycle of a structure. And now, with its acquisition of Fore Solutions, a green building consulting firm, Thornton Tomasetti is able to integrate green objectives across all its practices and expand its sustainability consulting services.
NREI spoke to Thornton Tomasetti Principal and U.S. Green Building Council Faculty Member Gunnar Hubbard, AIA, about what the firm’s intensive expansion into sustainability means.
An edited transcript of that interview follows.
NREI: Thornton Tomasetti recently acquired green building consulting company Fore Solutions. What do each of the firms gain from each other in knowledge and expertise, and how does it affect the competition on behalf of both?
Gunnar Hubbard: Thornton Tomasetti now has six practice areas and can provide a diversity of services to our clients. Our structural engineering practice is still the largest in the company, but now our structural engineers can team up with our green building consultants to offer a more complete package to clients interested in building or renovating with environmental performance as a driving factor in the design and construction of the building. Collaborations with structure and other practice areas, such as building skin and performance, will lead to exciting solutions for high-performance buildings that other engineering firms may not be able to offer.
Before the acquisition, Thornton Tomasetti had witnessed a growing interest in the building industry for green building and had been a team player on many buildings that had received LEED certification. With the creation of its Green Building Strategy Team in 2007 and a sustainability department in 2010, Thornton Tomasetti started offering sustainability services and performing sustainability project work. The 2012 acquisition of Fore Solutions—a well-established green building consulting firm in Portland, Maine—allowed the corporation to significantly expand its sustainability consulting services and integrate green objectives across all its practices. The addition of Fore Solutions gives Thornton Tomasetti expanded experience and an established brand in the green building world.
Had this acquisition not occurred, Fore Solutions and Thornton Tomasetti could have continued to offer what they each do best, but the marriage has improved our competitive advantage in the marketplace and will lead to more opportunities across the world for both in the burgeoning green building marketplace.
NREI: Talk about how the acquisition of Fore Solutions expands Thornton Tomasetti’s range of opportunity regarding sustainable projects.
Gunnar Hubbard:With the acquisition, Thornton Tomasetti has gained a practice with strong experience in offering LEED consulting for a range of building types and rating systems, expertise in energy modeling and other modes of sustainability analysis and the knowledge for innovation in the building field to create the highest-performing buildings possible for the climate, budget and client aspiration. The Acadia Gateway Center (in Portland, Maine) and the Genzyme Corporation Biologics Support Center are both projects that Fore Solutions brought to Thornton Tomasetti, and these were projects in which we were hired to provide LEED consulting. We brought to these projects an integrated, front-loaded approach that assured the best solutions for meeting the LEED criteria at the lowest cost.
NREI: With the acquisition of Fore Solutions, Thornton Tomasetti is integrating green objectives across all of its practices. What exactly does this entail?
Gunnar Hubbard: We are now looking at how all of Thornton Tomasetti’s practice areas can contribute to high-performance green buildings and we are also looking internally at greening our own offices and operations through a strategic corporate sustainability program.
Structural engineers make decisions that can contribute to a green building, but traditionally this has not been a consideration for structural engineers. Thornton Tomasetti is developing best practices for our engineers to assist them in considering approaches that have the least impact on the environment and human health, such as when selecting the structural materials used in a building that have a consideration for embodied energy and impact on our carbon emissions in to the atmosphere. Through collaborations with the Sustainability Practice, a green building approach can become commonplace in the work that our employees perform, whether regarding the building structure, building skin, whole building, or when accessing or repairing the damage to buildings.
Throughout the corporation, we are looking for opportunities for sustainability in our own operations, by reducing the amount of energy and water used in our offices, reducing waste, purchasing responsibly, and exploring ways to cut down on emissions from commuting and travel. Thornton Tomasetti was the first structural engineering firm to join the AIA 2030 Commitment, and we are seeking to reduce the embodied energy of our Structural projects to meet the AIA 2030 goal of carbon neutral buildings by 2030.
NREI: How exactly is sustainability impacting the engineering field?
Gunnar Hubbard: Sustainability is about the integration of disciplines and approaches to achieve the best performance, and engineers are becoming more aware, as they sit on integrated teams for green buildings, of how their work has an impact. They are also seeing more and more clients asking for green buildings and requiring green building experience in their RFPs. At Thornton Tomasetti this upsurge in interest in green building first lead to an effort to have our employees accredited in LEED and we currently have more than 170 employees who are LEED APs. Now, several years later, we increased capacity for offering expertise to our clients in this area.
Recently, we have seen more engineering firms join the AIA 2030 Commitment, which shows that these firms are seeing this as a competitive advantage. We see signs of interest among structural engineers in integrating sustainability into their work—the Institution of Structural Engineers recently published a guide to green building ratings systems and how they influence design for structural engineers, for example. And as engineers look for opportunities to incorporate sustainability into their work, they are also “practicing what they preach” and developing corporate sustainability programs. While architects can claim early leadership of the green building movement, engineers are seeing a place for them in this industry.