The number of real estate developers applying to have their projects certified as meeting environmentally friendly green standards has almost doubled over the past 11 months as they scramble to keep up with public demand.
When the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) launched its LEED (leadership in energy and environmental design) certification process in April 2005, it started with 112 applications from across the country, says LEED program manager Ian Theaker. Those applications have been climbing ever since and reached 223 this past March.
"There's an immense pent-up demand for green buildings right now," he says. "But the frustrating thing is you still have speculators out there who want an immediate two- or three-year return on their investment. Your biggest return is with the building operators later on down the road, because they save on substantially lower operating costs. That's where the real money is."
LEED Canada is based on a similar model that started in the United States and uses a points system to rate projects in five different categories: Sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor air quality. When points are added up, projects are awarded silver, gold or platinum status.
Registration is the first step in the LEED Canada certification process as architects submit drawings and detailed forms on what environmental features they plan to include in a site. Once the building is finished, one of four teams of experts stationed across Canada will review everything before it gets final official certification. The review is extensive; one list of criteria used by the CaGBC to define green buildings has 90 pages of details.
Theaker says that while a lot of U.S. projects aim for silver-level certification, Canadians have been different. "We go for the gold in most cases. It's really not that difficult for the better architects to obtain. They've been doing this for years. It comes naturally for them."
In March, the largest number of LEED registrations came from British Columbia, with 70 applications or 32 per cent of the total. Close behind was Ontario at 64 applications (29 per cent), followed by Alberta with 37 certification requests (17 per cent), Manitoba with 10 (four per cent) and Saskatchewan with seven (three per cent).
B.C. initially had its own version of LEED Canada certification, using the metric system and adapting criteria to allow for the province's unusual geography.
However, CaGBC officials recently asked them to file applications under the same criteria as everyone else, Theaker says.
"Everything got started in B.C., so we're farther ahead," he said in a telephone interview from his Vancouver office. "Other provinces are really coming along lately though, so you may see at least some of them catch up soon."
However, one architecture professor says too many developers go wrong when they get caught up in certification programs such as LEED and lose track of the real issue as a result.
"The developers don't really care, to tell you the truth," says Tang Lee of the University of Calgary's School of Environmental Design. "This should not be all about getting a little plaque or certificate so they can have bragging rights. The bigger emphasis should be on what they are doing for future generations with the environment."
Lee says awards should be given out 20 years after the buildings are finished to see if they live up to their original energy-saving promises.
He concedes, however, that his idea has flaws because individual tenants may not follow through with recycling programs or turn the lights off when they leave at night - things that are not the fault of the developer or architect.
The federal government needs to put more money into education programs that show the public why they should be concerned about the environment, he says.
In Manitoba, Marlene Roy offered to help her employer look at environmentally friendly green options when their office lease was getting close to expiration. The information resources co-ordinator had always been interested in sustainable design and says it was a chance to "build even more awareness" amongst her colleagues.
The project took on added importance because of who her employer is - Winnipeg-based International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD).
Roy says that rather than sighing and rolling their eyes, most local architects were intrigued by the prospect of working on a sustainable design project. Although IISD chose a local firm, in the end the landlord convinced them to stay in the original space after extensive renovations.
"All of the carpets, paint and other materials still had to be green. It was an interesting experience for us to see this from a different perspective," she says.
The institute was started about 15 years ago by former prime minister Brian Mulroney and former Manitoba premier Gary Filmon. Some media in Winnipeg have suggested it was originally set up to appease Manitoba residents when they lost a lucrative defence contract to Montreal for political reasons.
Regardless, the group does research and lobbies politicians around the world. In addition to its Winnipeg headquarters, the organization has offices in Ottawa, New York and Geneva.
"We've come a long way, but other countries in Europe are far more advanced when it comes to protecting the environment," Roy says.
One of the largest LEED-certified projects is in Victoria. When it's completed in 2016, Dockside Lands will cover about 15 acres of former industrial waterfront property with mixed commercial, residential and light industrial development. The project has a total budget of $300 million.
The developer wants LEED platinum status for each of the buildings on the site, and according to a sales document the site will become "a global showcase for large-scale sustainable development."
"We've included a number of green features, not just in the buildings but also as part of the total project," says Vancouver-based Peter Busby of Busby Perkins + Will, one of the architects working on the project.
The sales brochure lists environmentally friendly features such as bicycle racks, a car-sharing program and an onsite water-treatment plant.
There also will be play areas for children and walking trails throughout, according to the document.
"This will probably be the best in Canada when it comes to sustainable design," says Busby, who already has a reputation for other green projects such as the Brentwood Skytrain terminal in Burnaby, B.C., the Nicola Valley Institute of Technology in Merritt, B.C., and the computer science building at York University in Toronto.
Busby's colleagues questioned if he would be able to use his green building initiatives in Ontario, a much colder climate compared to B.C. where he had gained most of his experience.
"They actually work better out there because there's much more energy used and, therefore, a greater need for conservation," he says, adding that Ontario buildings use two to three times more energy on average than on the West Coast. Colder winters require more heating and hotter summers more air conditioning.
One Toronto developer recently announced the first residential highrise condominium to receive LEED Canada silver certification.
MintoUrban Communities Inc. says the 33-storey Radiance @ MintoGardens, at Sheppard Avenue and Yonge Street, is 33 per cent more energy efficient than other buildings.
The reduction in energy used saved Radiance residents $200,000 in common-area costs during the building's first year of occupancy, according to a news release.
Water meters in each suite also have helped encourage conservation, reducing consumption by 55 per cent annually.
The building also has a recycling chute on each floor for a 70-per-cent reduction of waste volume that would otherwise go into landfill sites as garbage.
"I think this is the wave of the future," says Andrew Pride, vice-president of Minto Energy Management. "I believe you're going to see a lot more buildings being constructed to the LEED standard everywhere. It's the way to go."
Minto has been retrofitting its existing portfolio of apartment buildings with environmentally friendly improvements, Pride says, which benefits the environment as well as creating energy savings for the company.
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