For more advice, visit Web Exclusive: More Advice from Marty Bhatia or contact Marty Bhatia at 312-850-9911 or marty@OmHomesOnline.com.

To profit from sustainability, understanding the concept isn't enough. Mason contractors must bring some expertise to the table. Contractors who can combine experience with green building awareness are the most valuable partners.

Marty Bhatia founded his sustainable development company, OM Homes in Chicago, to improve the environment by building projects smarter. Initially, he had difficulty finding partners who shared his philosophy. “We took on new roles in the construction process out of self-defense,” he says.

OM Homes is now a developer, builder, real estate brokerage, and building supply company. Bhatia offers advice on tackling this market.

Know how your work affects the overall project

Because green building is still such an undefined field, contractors must know about everything surrounding their area of responsibility. “You will become infinitely more valuable if you read the building plans and understand how your work will impact other trades-and how they will affect you,” says Bhatia.

Contractors should ask to sit with designers and recommend products to help the building perform at its best. A contractor should be aware of what can help or hurt a building's overall energy performance; for example, identifying problem areas in the building envelope.

Mason contractors should know about the thermal mass of brick, block, and stone. How will a product affect energy efficiency? Will it keep the building cool and reduce the urban heat island effect?

Stormwater management is increasingly important. Mason contractors should know how different types of brick and pavers can be installed as permeable pavement.

Know your materials

Even on projects involving standard masonry installation procedures, a green-savvy contractor makes a difference. “Pay close attention to the makeup of materials you choose,” suggests Bhatia. The goal is to eliminate as many toxins as possible without degrading their quality or the building's operation.

Beware of manufacturers' claims that a product will make you a green contractor. His advice: “Require documented proof of performance before you commit to using it, and let your GC or owner know about your efforts.”

Contractors should know the materials' origins (local is always best), their amount of recycled content, and how jobsite waste can be reused or recycled. “We will often award work to a contractor with a higher bid who is willing to palletize old brick or reuse them on site,” says Bhatia.