sustainable workplaces

Inside the Sustainable Workplaces program pilot

Tenants share what they learned during their test run of BOMA Canada's new certification
Friday, May 6, 2016
By Michelle Ervin

The Building Owners and Managers Association of Canada, better known as BOMA Canada, has launched its new Sustainable Workplaces module, which adds to its recently revamped complement of environmental certifications for commercial real estate. The standardized framework requires tenants to benchmark, monitor and set goals in seven areas that they have some measure of control over: energy, water, waste, e-waste, construction and renovation, procurement practices, business and employee travel and indoor air quality.

Five organizations completed a pilot of the certification program, including Bentall Kennedy and East Port Properties, as well as some of East Port Properties’ tenants. Now the program is rolling out to workplaces across the asset classes for which BOMA BEST certification is available, including light industrial, office and open-air retail properties.

The impetus for the new certification was two-fold, as Bala Gnanam, director of sustainable operations and strategic partnerships at BOMA Toronto, explains. It’s a way for tenants leasing space in BOMA BEST and LEED-certified buildings to support their landlords’ environmental efforts. It’s also a way for tenants leasing space in buildings without green certifications to show their commitment to operating sustainably.

“It was the realization that the building owners can only do so much, and they can do their work within the common areas, and they can engage with tenants, but the bulk of the work space is actually occupied by others,” says Gnanam.

The Sustainable Workplaces module closely mirrors BOMA BEST’s other modules, but is less rigourous considering that tenants have no control over the base building systems. Instead, it is policy-driven, asking tenants to document existing best practices and create a blueprint for continuous improvement.

Judy Wall, vice president of East Port Properties, says her organization signed on for the pilot to see if it wanted to participate when the Sustainable Properties module formally launched. The organization already possessed a BOMA BEST Gold rating at Scotia Centre, an 11-storey office tower in St. John’s, Newfoundland, and was pursuing a BOMA BEST rating at its new six-storey office building, 351 Water St., also in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

East Port Properties facilitated the participation of three of its tenants, Husky Energy, law firm Cox & Palmer and the Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers. Property manager Kim Saunders hosted a half dozen committee meetings with representatives from each of the tenants.

BOMA provided a guideline document for the organizations to follow. The property manager helped with areas such as energy and water, which the tenants lacked complete control over.

“We have to work together, because [the tenants] can’t decide when to shut the air down or when to shut the heat down, but the landlord is trying to operate as efficiently as we can,” Wall notes. “So where we come together is in saying: ‘Are you really in the building from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., or are you really in the building from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.?’ Because then we can start shaving a little bit at the edges.”

Ultimately, she adds, it was not the bragging rights, but the associated benefits, such as increased efficiency and reduced costs, that interested East Port Properties in getting its tenants involved in the certification program.

The property management company had already engaged Cox & Palmer, a full-service law firm with leased space in the Scotia Centre, in its sustainability initiatives. As Gloria Young, CFO and director of operations at the law firm, recalls, East Port Properties audited the law firm’s waste in what she describes as an “eye-opening” exercise. (Barely used garbage bags were the largest source of its waste.)

By the time Cox & Palmer embarked on the path to Sustainable Workplaces certification, the firm had already switched to mini, unlined desktop bins that force employees to consider whether what they’re throwing out is really garbage or recycling, and that are emptied daily at a central garbage station. The firm had also implemented a composting program at the request of its landlord.

Cox & Palmer was doing much of the work that would be required to earn certification — it was just a matter of writing it down, says Young. However, the pilot project also happened to overlap with the firm’s relocation to and renovation of two floors in the office building, giving it the opportunity to deploy some additional best practices.

Previously, Cox & Palmer occupied two unconnected floors. In its new offices, the firm inserted an interior staircase, so now employees can move between the two adjoining floors without using the elevator. Among other sustainable features, the renovated space is also outfitted with glass doors that allow natural light to penetrate the floorplate, controls that switch off lighting in sections after 15 minutes of no motion, low-flow faucets and toilets as well as new appliances with energy efficiency ratings.

As BOMA Canada makes Sustainable Workplaces available for broad participation, Young confirms that Cox & Palmer intends to maintain its certification.

“It benefits everyone at the end of the day — we’re reducing what’s going to the landfills, we’re reducing our energy consumption, we’re trying to be healthier,” she says. “And it’s not as difficult when you start doing it; you realize some of this is common sense and it comes quite naturally.”

Husky Energy, a neighbouring 351 Water St. tenant, likewise saw the pilot project as a chance to propel its existing sustainability initiatives. Says media spokesperson Colleen McConnell:

“There were several benefits including heightened awareness of the many ways in which we can individually and collectively have an impact on reducing waste and creating a sustainable office space.”

Michelle Ervin is the editor of Canadian Facility Management & Design.

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