Building lasting change with LEED

CaGBC's Mark Hutchinson reflects on the program's past, looks to its future
Tuesday, July 2, 2013
By Daniel Viola

Sustainable building practices can no longer be brushed off by skeptical developers as a trend. According to the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC), there are now more than 1,000 Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings in Canada – and that number is only going to continue to rise.

Today, many of the country’s LEED buildings are located in Toronto, Calgary and Vancouver.

“LEED has become the norm for new constructions (in these cities),” explains Mark Hutchinson, director of green building programs at the CaGBC.

LEED certification is now becoming a standard in other cities, particularly Montreal, as well, he says.

Early after its introduction, the green building program experienced rapid growth, with the number of LEED projects doubling and even tripling year-over-year.

“One LEED project spurs on another,” says Hutchinson.

One reason for this is LEED certification gives developers a competitive advantage. A sustainable building not only helps reduce energy costs for owners and occupants; it can help attract new, quality tenants. As a result, when one project in an area becomes LEED certified, other developers follow suit just to keep up.

Hutchinson says when the CaGBC started administering Canada’s LEED program in 2005, British Columbia led the charge. Now, only eight years later, the program has been adopted nationwide, from the west coast to the east.

“Today, there are projects within every province,” he boasts, adding Ontario and Quebec currently have the most new certified projects under development in the country.

Hutchinson explains that in smaller markets, some municipal governments have mandated that all new public buildings meet LEED standards. By promoting sustainable design through example, these governments have essentially pressured the private sector to follow suit. Hutchinson says this has not been the case in larger cities like Toronto or Vancouver, where private developers have taken to LEED without prodding. Today, the number of LEED-certified public and private buildings across the country is relatively even.

At present, there are six different LEED rating systems: LEED New Construction (NC), LEED Core and Shell (CS), LEED Commercial Interiors (CI), LEED Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance (EB:O&M)LEED Homes and LEED Neighbourhood Development (ND). Each targets a specific type of property and has different objectives. New buildings can be certified for their design and construction practices, existing buildings can receive a certificate for their ongoing operations (which are monitored and can be lost if standards are not continuously met) and tenants can be certified for their sustainable operations within a specific unit of a larger building.

“What the participants get out (of their accreditation) varies a little bit,” says Hutchinson.

However, all certificates act as a testimonial to the outside world – particularly to customers, clients and prospective tenants – of the property owner’s commitment to sustainable practices.

Each rating system has four possible levels of certification: certified, silver, gold and platinum. Hutchinson says that as the program expanded across the country, developers strived for higher and higher levels of certification. This illustrates they are not just doing the bare minimum to take advantage of the LEED brand; rather, property owners and developers see there are tangible benefits of top-tier sustainable design and operations. Today, more than half of all Canadian LEED projects are certified gold or platinum.

Hutchinson adds that more projects are earning the highest levels of certification because developers are also trying to ‘out green’ each other in an effort to attract business. The reduction in cost of sustainable design and construction as the green industry has grown has also played a role. Put simply, developers today can do more with less money.

According to the CaGBC, the environmental impact of Canada’s LEED program has:

  • Resulted in more than 1.6 million equivalent Megawatt-hours of energy savings – enough to power 54,307 homes for a full year.
  • Eliminated 312,006 equivalent carbon dioxide tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions – comparable to removing 58,980 cars from the roads for a year.
  • Resulted in 3.3 billion litres of water savings – the same as 1,336 Olympic-sized swimming pools.
  • Recycled more than 2 million tonnes of construction and demolition waste – the equivalent of 639,642 garbage truck loads.

When comparing Canada’s progress to other countries, Hutchinson says, “Canada is not in a bad place in relation to a large part of the world.” However, proportionally, Canada still lags behind many countries in the move towards sustainability.

To become as sustainable as, say, Denmark or Switzerland, Canada needs to look at its past building practices.

“We can’t only (focus) on buildings being built (today),” says Hutchinson, who argues that retrofitting older buildings to become more energy-efficient is essential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Canada’s older buildings are not going anywhere anytime soon. Thirty years from now, the majority of the country’s building stock will likely still be comprised of buildings constructed during the 20th century. Because of this, Hutchinson says that for the CaGBC, the next step towards a greener future means fixing Canada’s not so green past.

Daniel Viola is the online editor for Building Strategies & Sustainability and Canadian Property Management magazines. He is also the editor of Property Management Report.

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