Lean and Green

The first summit of the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) held in Toronto in June was sold out, attracting 1,200 participants representing a broad range from the building industry as well as government, utility and corporate finance officials. The summit could not have been more timely with the announcement the previous week of substantial layoffs at General Motors’ Oshawa factory and reports of the disappearance of the honey bee. The simultaneous launch of www.planetgreen.comand the first independent “green” television network in the US is another indicator that the sustainability movement is currently riding a wave of public and corporate awareness. The summit theme of “Shifting into the Mainstream” was clearly appropriate.

Founded in 2001, the CaGBC (www.cagbc.org) has the express intent of promoting the building industry’s potential to cut energy use and significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and pollution, and to conserve water and finite resources. They have set a target of energy and water reductions of 50 percent in over one million homes and 100,000 businesses by 2015, and to have carbon-neutral buildings by 2030. The Council has adapted the US Green Building Council’s system of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) for rating the sustainability of buildings as well as providing a green credential through the LEED AP certification exam. Rating systems have been developed for single-family houses, multiple-family dwellings, mixed-use buildings, commercial buildings and institutions. Recent additions include the Green Building Performance Initiatives to improve the performance of existing commercial and institutional buildings as well as assessments for neighbourhood development, leased space, campuses and multiple buildings. LEED ratings address issues of climate change through energy consumption, resource depletion (materials), air quality, water efficiency, sustainable siting and location, as well as innovation and design. LEED is being redeveloped to include the life cycle of buildings, carbon footprints, and other categories such as social equity and respect for community and culture. There are currently 3,609 accredited professionals and more than 400 registered projects in Canada.

The CaGBC was modelled on the US Green Building Council which now has 15,700 member organizations and 74 chapters. Twenty-five states and 100 cities and municipal councils are now using LEED standards for their buildings. There are 53,000 accredited professionals and over 25,000 buildings registered or in line for registration with LEED. Most recent is the inauguration of the World Green Building Council which has 70 members including China and India. Kevin Hydes, CaGBC chair, spoke of the commitment to protect the three sacred elements of water, land and air, to inspire best practice in the building industry, and to recognize that as this industry employs 100 million people worldwide, there are significant challenges and goals for achieving global sustainability. Unlike Canada, China has introduced a mandatory energy-labelling system for all new buildings. One of the key issues being addressed is fragmentation in the building industry, which is a barrier to the integration of sustainability.

The summit was preceded by the CaGBC’s sixth annual education day for “greening the curriculum” for post-secondary education. It was emphasized that as with buildings, sustainability has to be integral to the curriculum and not merely tacked on as an extra. McGill University’s Daniel Pearl, a founding member of the CaGBC, articulated that sustainability needs to be part of any ethically responsible curriculum. The theme of an integrated design process underscored the presentations, indicating that collaboration by all team members from project conception is essential to achieving sustainability in every facet and at every stage of a project.

Keynote speaker Trevor Butler of the aptly named UK firm Archineer, emphasized team and community collaboration in his work with BDP (Building Design Partnership) and in projects with Richard Kroeker at Dalhousie University, where an integrated design approach has resulted in the Pictou Landing Health Centre and the Yellow Pages Building. Butler was one of several speakers to state that sustainability was as much about reducing carbon footprints as it was about sustaining community and culture and the creation of beauty.

Paul van Geel spoke of Carleton University’s commitment to the integrated design process through the restructuring of its curriculum to create core courses based on sustainable principles, which are to be taken by both architects and engineers. Wendy Wilson, a Fanshawe College English teacher, enlisted multidisciplinary students to collaborate on a sustainable building book. Ted Rosen reported that in 2006, Centennial Community College relaunched its architectural technology program with sustainability integrated into every facet of the curriculum. Students have increasingly taken a lead role, and Arlene Gould of York University reported a student-initiated retrofit of a campus building which was integrated into course work. Chantal Cornu of the University of Waterloo led other students in the Grand House Student Co-operative project which took the work of Rural Studio as its precedent. The project process involved working with the community and local builders, and provided on-site training and work for the locally unemployed.

The main summit sessions were devoted to reports from various client groups, developers, builders, government and utility bodies on their sustainable initiatives and their experiences with LEED. These included Toronto Mayor David Miller, BC Minister of Housing Rick Coleman, and Gerry Rose, representing Manitoba Hydro, which introduced smart meters as early as 1989.

The summit’s co-chairs, Michael Brookes of the Real Property Association of Canada and Alan Greenberg of Minto, a development corporation whose interests in sustainable developments stretch back to the Innova House in 1992, celebrated with other corporate representatives regarding their various successes in achieving LEED status. They all agreed that sustainability is a necessary tool for reducing costs as well as marketing purposes. It is also part of the new corporate ethic of social responsibility which has a triple bottom line of economic, ecological and social factors.

This was evident in the heartfelt statements of developer Joe Van Bellegham of Windmill West and Three Point Properties, who revealed how the experience of working on Victoria’s Dockside Green had changed his values. Dockside Green will save 70 million gallons of water a year and provide new community opportunities. Rediscovering a new sense of purpose, Van Bellegham encouraged banks not to lend to non-ecological projects, architects to refuse clients who are not embracing ecological principles, and politicians to muster the courage to take a stand.

Peter Busby of Busby Perkins + Will and current chair and founding member of the CaGBC, sets a high standard for architects in his commitment to sustainable practice in Vancouver. His range of projects extend from Vento, the first LEED Platinum multi-family housing project in North America, to Dockside Green, the first carbon- neutral community development in Canada, to the EcoDensity Project–which through the strategic use of a reconfigured public transport system and changes in zoning–could dramatically decrease the per capita carbon footprint of Vancouver.

Throughout the presentations, problems with LEED were cited, such as the limits inherent in the scoring and the need to provide credits for other sustainable features such as passive ventilation. The cost and difficulty of achieving LEED certification could be prohibitive. For example, when the cost of certification for a community recreation centre was estimated to be $100,000, the client, a government body, chose to divert those fu
nds to other more pressing needs. Another difficulty is understanding the differences between LEED and other systems such as R2000, Energy Star and the Net Zero Energy program. Energy Star as a product is more widely recognized by the general public. A further difficulty is that the Canadian Home Builders’ Association does not support LEED for homes. It is hoped that in the interest of clarity as well as public recognition, these different systems might be integrated into a single entity. At the institutional and commercial level, there is a call for greater emphasis on monitoring post-occupancy building performance to determine if LEED criteria are being met, and the need to educate building managers and occupants. Others argue there should be more government incentives such as tax abatements, density bonuses or planning trades for sustainability initiatives. There is the question too of the significance of LEED given that to achieve LEED certification, a project only needs to achieve 26 out of 70 points, and for Platinum status, 52 out of 70 points.

While the politicians emphasized political goodwill in their commitment to the goal of fighting climate change, most others speakers–and indeed one whole session–focused on the economic payback, indicating that without this, the incentive would be lacking to pursue a sustainable agenda. The wind was completely taken out of their sails by the electrifying, intelligent and compelling presentation by Dr. David Suzuki, who demanded that the economic parameters be redefined, reminding us that economics and ecology have the same root word “eco” from the Greek oikos meaning “home.” He was astounded that green buildings still have to be justified on economic terms, when the crux of the matter is the effect on nature itself. The problem is the perspective, which sees humans as the most important thing on earth, and continuous economic growth as the primary goal not only of business but of government. He challenged us to find the sense of urgency in this current crisis, which in the past has led to effective action in meeting such crises as Pearl Harbour and the space race. “How much stuff do we need?” he exclaimed, stating that it was suicide to cling to current notions and policies of growth when we are currently facing 1,000 ecological Pearl Harbours. The impact on the audience was best summarized by Alan Greenberg’s response to one of Suzuki’s metaphors, “Now I feel like bacteria!”

How do we sustain that moment of revelation, a kind of baptism into new life and perspective, and not let it subside into just another instance of more greenwash? How is it to be a significant tsunami and not just a market-driven tide of fashion? Because we have been here before with the 1987 Brundtland Report defining sustainability, the 1988 Toronto Global Warming conference, and in the wake of the OPEC oil crisis, the 1977 Franklin Report urging Canada to invest in renewable energy. Instead, Canada is currently the biggest per-capita energy consumer in the world. The week after the conference The Globe and Mail reported on the results of the quarterly C-Suite Survey, which indicates that in contrast to 2007 results, the business community does not see climate change as very important or very urgent. As the 2008 G8 summit opened, early reports indicate that only Canada and the US are unwilling to agree to set mid-term targets for reducing emissions.

These current realities underline the necessity of the conference theme, “Shifting into the Mainstream.” The CaGBC has created two frameworks within which sustainable building can be achieved. Perhaps these initiatives should no longer be voluntary but mandatory, building codes should be veritably green, and professional accreditation for schools and practitioners should be granted only when sustainable targets have been met. In his closing remarks, conviction and urgency breaking his speech, Thomas Mueller, President and CEO of the CaGBC, urged that without the implementation of policies and practices, the consequences would be dire. CA

Marybeth McTeague is an architect, architectural historian and a member of the CaGBC. She teaches at the University of Toronto and Ryerson University.