Thomas Thayer, president and CEO, Tri-North Builders

Tom Thayer remembers how it used to be. A few years back, when his Fitchburg-based general contracting firm began focusing on green building, "we really had to talk people into it," by educating them as to the benefits.

"That has really changed," says Thayer. Now businesses come to Tri-North already knowing that incorporating green design features into new construction "is good for the environment and good for their companies."

Thayer, a native of Chicago, has been in the business of building buildings since 1976, when he and his wife moved to Madison. He and others started Tri-North Builders in 1981, specializing in commercial, health-care, hospitality and retail construction. Its local projects include the $55 million City Center West office complex in Middleton and major renovation at the Dane County Regional Airport.

"When we started Tri-North," says Thayer, "we had no idea what it would become. We were just out to survive."

In fact, it found a way to thrive. Headquartered in Fitchburg, Tri-North now builds between 250 and 350 buildings each year, all over the country. It has about 100 employees locally and more than 200 nationwide, including field offices in Milwaukee, Dallas, San Francisco and New Hampshire.

Some of Tri-North's clients, says Thayer, are seeking LEED certification, the gold standard for green building. Others are taking baby steps, like recycling construction and building waste. Tri-North takes a "common sense" approach, calculating how green design features pay for themselves in terms of energy savings, sometimes in just a few years.

But Thayer stresses that there are other benefits. The added light and improved air flow in a properly designed green building make for a "much healthier, better environment" for workers and visitors.

In other words, Tri-North helps make green building a win-win-win proposition.

- Bill Lueders