Going green is good for business – this is no longer a question in today’s economic reality. What was once a grassroots movement is now mainstream, with building owners and operators regularly incorporating green building measures in their practices and plans. Added to this, all three levels of government have recently announced climate change plans, pushing green building further into the spotlight as building emission reduction strategies are sure to play a big role in meeting these targets.
This increased focus on green buildings is a welcome change for many organizations like Oxford Properties Group, that have been working over the past decade to make sustainability a key pillar of its business strategy. Oxford formalized its commitment to green buildings in 2008 because it recognized early on that sustainability was important to its customers and a smart investment. Eight years later, more than 80 per cent of its office portfolio is LEED certified (many at the Gold or Platinum levels), there has been a 26 per cent improvement in the energy efficiency of its managed portfolio (on a per square foot basis, since 2010) and it has engaged more than 75,000 customers in sustainability events and green team meetings since 2012.
Demonstrating environmental leadership through green building’s ‘Gold Standard’
The guiding principles of Oxford’s Sustainable Intelligence program shape all aspects of its approach to sustainability, and for Oxford, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system aligns well with these principles – particularly those around leadership, performance, and credibility.
Considered the ‘gold standard’ in green building internationally, LEED is the most widely used measurement for building sustainability worldwide with projects in more than 160 countries. Among the many available rating systems, LEED’s position as a global leader made it Oxford’s rating system of choice. It is the consensus “best in class” choice of the industry – a robust standard that is constantly evolving, developed by a broad range of individuals, and achieved through a rigorous third-party review process that demands the best from each building.
LEED EB:O&M: Achieving excellence in retrofit projects
A big part of Oxford’s sustainability strategy and that of an increasing number of our peers in Canada including Cadillac Fairview, Bentall Kennedy and GWL, has been the idea that the ‘greenest building is one that is already built’. This means recognizing the opportunities and returns that green renovations and retrofits can drive within existing buildings. The LEED program allows owners and operators to monitor existing real estate in order to maximize performance and get the most out of all building types.
Take for example Oxford’s Centennial Place, one of Alberta’s first office complexes of more than one million square feet to achieve LEED Platinum under the Existing Buildings rating system. When Oxford optimized the operations of this two-tower office complex located in downtown Calgary, we used LEED as a guide and the results have not just been good for operations, but in their ability to provide a direct and ongoing benefit to our customers.
Key to this certification was the building management team working with customer representatives to implement significant sustainability measures in the building. The goal was to increase occupant comfort and satisfaction, while improving energy performance and reducing the environmental impact of the buildings. This included fine-tuning the operation of building systems to achieve better energy efficiency, extensive energy sub-metering to better understand opportunities for continuous improvement, a comprehensive green cleaning program and instituting demand-controlled ventilation to optimize outdoor air delivery, among many others.
With these changes Oxford expects to:
- Save 2.5 eGWh of energy per year (equivalent to the energy use of 57 single-family homes);
- Reduce our GHG emissions by 620 tonnes of CO2e per year (equivalent of taking 131 vehicles off the road for a year); and
- Divert 494 tonnes of waste annually (equal to 35 garbage trucks each year).
These results will lead to an estimated $40,000 in lowered annual operating costs. Multiply the results from this one building and apply that to an entire portfolio, and the potential is significant.
Green buildings are the way forward
Aside from Oxford’s success with green building, there are numerous studies and reports that present data to support these benefits. A 2014 Canada Green Building Council/McGraw Hill Construction report found that more than 40 per cent of building owners surveyed in Canada say that healthier building practices inherent in green buildings have or will lead to increased building value, the ability to lease space more quickly and increased rent for their properties.
Another report by the World Green Building Council showed that healthier indoor spaces lead to happier, more productive employees, including improvements in productivity of up to 11 per cent as the result of better air quality, and short term sick leave reduction of up to 35 per cent in offices ventilated with increased outdoor air supply rates.
Then there is the bread and butter of green building – the direct financial benefit that comes from more efficient operations. On average, studies show that LEED certified projects show an overall net savings of approximately $294.31 per square metre over an estimated 33-year economic lifespan of a building. At Oxford, the team has driven considerable financial benefits across its portfolio as a result of its commitment to sustainability and LEED – more than $60 million in avoided energy costs since 2007.
Whether it’s new builds or retrofits, offices or mixed-use residential – the case for greener buildings is clear, and the tools to get there already exist. By incorporating comprehensive programs like LEED into your current and future business plans, you’ll be able to achieve the environmental, organizational and economic benefits that come with being a leader in the industry.
Darryl Neate is director of sustainability for Oxford Properties Group