A Green Business Network Member Spotlight
Get to know a fellow Green Business Network member company – Burns & McDonnell. This month, we visited with Andy Sauer, a green infrastructure and stormwater manager, to learn more about how Burns & McDonnell sets itself apart by focusing on its employees, sustainability and engaging the next generation of engineers and scientists.
Burns & McDonnell is a full-service engineering, architecture, construction, environmental and consulting solutions firm, based in Kansas City, Missouri, with more than 7,600 employees spanning 55 offices globally. For this interview, we spoke with Andy Sauer who has been at Burns & McDonnell for six years as the green infrastructure and stormwater manager for the Burns & McDonnell Water Group.
In the time he’s been there, Sauer says it’s been exciting to see how the firm is growing, which he attributes in large part to how it values its employees. “One unique thing about us is our Employee Stock Ownership Program,” say Sauer. “At Burns & Mac, when you start on day one, you are an owner. We refer to ourselves as employee owners and it’s a big part of our culture. We’re all on the same footing, and it motivates everyone to make our clients successful. There aren’t too many other firms]of this size that are fully employee-owned.”
Sauer is seeing rapid growth in the use of design-build methodology for many projects. Design-build is a delivery approach that utilizes a single contract with the project owner to provide both design and construction services, from initial concept through completion.
“Our integrated construction group is growing every day. When we use design-build because it reduces time for the client,” Sauer says. “This gives us the opportunity to cut waste from the beginning and affords us the flexibility to make changes as needed.”
Sauer has also experienced a major focus on sustainability throughout various projects. “We really stress looking at the long-term costs of infrastructure,” he says. “It’s all about asking the right questions, and sometimes, it’s even asking ourselves ‘Are we doing the right project?’ That can be a very scary question to ask your clients as an engineering firm. But we’re able to start that conversation and back it up by showing the data we’ve collected, through examples and sharing other people’s experiences. It’s all about the data.”
One large local project Sauer oversees specifically is KC Water’s Smart Sewer Program. In 2010, the City of Kansas City, Missouri signed a federal consent decree to reduce stormwater overflow that goes into our rivers and sewers. Sauer says one solution many other municipalities have turned to is building large storage tunnels below grade to store overflow.
“From a sustainability standpoint, that solution can be very expensive to operate,” he says. “You have to pump the water out after you dump it down into the tunnel and it can be costly and requires a significant amount of energy to run large pumps
“When you think about the costs to a city long-term, this approach doesn’t make a lot of sense. That requires a massive amount of energy to turn on the pump to get the water back out and then the energy needed to treat the water as well. There are better ways to do that. Here in Kansas City, we’re trying to discover an alternative approach to building a tunnel.”
One innovative option is to focus on green infrastructure, catching rainwater where it falls and using it near the source, for example, to sustain street trees and landscape vegetation.
For Sauer, the Smart Sewer Program intersects directly with his passion for water and land conservation. “I can’t separate the two. A lot of people just focus on water, but we need to be protecting the land as well, especially those areas along streams that serve as buffers,” Sauer says. Urban sustainability often deals with how we develop and redevelop land considering how rain water runs off the land and into public infrastructure. To bring attention to this intersection, Sauer helped create the KC Urban Stormwater Conference, which takes place every two years and involves professional water quality organizations from both Kansas and Missouri, as well as Mid-America Regional Council.
Sauer says working on projects with clients is only one way Burns & McDonnell makes sustainability a priority. The company focuses on it internally as well.
Environmental features at their campus headquarters off Wornall Road in Kansas City include solar panels, 16 electric vehicle charging stations, green infrastructure elements to contain and control stormwater runoff around the campus, occupancy controls for HVAC and lighting, and automated shades on all exterior windows (90% of the building’s exterior is glass).
Sauer sees strong leadership and passion for sustainability from many employees and puts a lot of focus in helping to grow future generations of engineers and scientists. “I really believe that in order to grow your business, you need to embrace sustainability,” he says. “Many professionals in these industries want to be a part of companies that embrace both short- and long-term sustainability and environmental principles.”
One way Burns & McDonell accomplishes this is through its robust internship program to recruit new employees. Sauer says most of its new hires comes from its internship program — many have even changed their educational path to align with an area they worked on during their internship at Burns & McDonnell. Even throughout the summer of 2020, Burns & McDonnell was able to pivot to a virtual internship program. “It was really important to us to still be able to engage an internship class despite the difficulties presented by the pandemic.”
The company also engages elementary and secondary students in STEM. Every two years, Burns & McDonnell hosts a local K-12 competition called Battle of the Brains where students create exhibit ideas for Science City at Union Station.