A woman-owned green-construction company
When Mary Tappouni was looking for jobs after graduating in 1994 with a degree in construction from the University of North Florida in Jacksonville, she quickly learned that the industry wasn’t entirely welcoming to women.
A few local contracting firms offered her positions, but they paid half as much as the firm she worked with while in college, and they never offered her the project- management positions she applied for. In fact, they told her they simply didn’t have women in management positions. She knew she was ready for a leadership role, so Tappouni, who was then 26 years old, launched her own sustainable and environmentally sound construction company, Breaking Ground Contracting.
“Being successful was never about being the best woman-owned general contractor, but the best business owner and general contractor we could be,” says Tappouni of her company, where women hold most of the upper- management positions.“However, we also know that in a male-dominated profession, we have to perform better and know more than our male counterparts. That is where the hard work, passion, and perseverance comes in.“
Tappouni’s knowledge of the construction industry and on-the-job research eventually led her to the emerging field of green building.
“In starting my business so early, I had to teach myself a lot of things I may have learned through traditional employment,” she says. As a result, Breaking Ground, grew into a company that constructs, renovates, and consults on eco-friendly properties. The company’s contracting arm focuses on green commercial buildings and outdoor spaces, and the Breaking Ground Homes division helps customers build or renovate green homes.
Tappouni’s company uses green building materials and processes on every project and in her business operations. It promotes a variety of green rating systems including Florida Green Building Coalition, LEED, Green Globes, Passive House, Living Building Challenge, the Urban Land Institute’s Building Healthy Places Initiative, and the Well Building Standard, just to name a few.
“We incorporate green-building practices on all of our projects, regardless of whether a client specifically asks for them or not, just because we felt it was more about walking the talk than just sort of advertising as a green builder,” says Tappouni.
Breaking Ground does a large scope of work for clients, including the design and construction of a project, as well as education on operating in a sustainable building. Since its opening, Breaking Ground has led commercial, government, recreational, custom home, health care, and historic projects.
Breaking Ground’s own office building has served as a means to teach others about green building techniques. Building features that represent the company’s eco-friendly values include a green roof, natural swales and rain gardens that improve the quality and quantity of stormwater run-off, and reclaimed wood. In the future, Breaking Ground also plans to incorporate living walls—vertical gardens that improve air quality, increase insulation and cooling, and create habitats for small animals.
Tappouni feels that Breaking Ground’s work not only helps each client live a healthier life, but it also benefits her staff.
“It’s not just about our clients. It’s also about making sure what we use on the job site is healthy, long-term, for our employees,” she says.
Breaking Ground Contracting has helped remodel and construct two schools, using recycled materials and nontoxic paint. According to earthday.org, schools with green-building designs can improve air quality and reduce absenteeism due to asthma and other illnesses.
“There’s no shortage of contractors, so for me, it’s just kind of blending personal philosophy and my business philosophy,” says Tappouni. “It’s really important for me to be passionate about what I do, and I love what I do. I didn’t just want to be another contractor building buildings.”
In Jacksonville,Tappouni has received positive reactions to Breaking Ground Contracting’s environmental and sustainable philosophy, and she believes her company’s success reflects a change in attitude across northeast Florida.
“There are many organizations in Northeast Florida making a difference at both the corporate and grassroots level. Everyone is not on the same level of interest or understanding of these issues, but we love the opportunity to have the conversation,” she says.