Iris Tufa & Kyle Pinto

No contesting Earth Hour Challenge momentum

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Earth Hour 2016 is set for Saturday, March 19 from 8:30 to 9:30 p.m. This year’s annual call to power down — turning off lights and all non-essential appliances and equipment — for one full hour is the 10th such effort since the event was first launched in Sydney, Australia in 2007. Already a global phenomenon since 2008, participation has grown every year with individuals, organizations and governments all signing on to the challenge. Sustainability engagement specialists, Iris Tufa and Kyle Pinto, with the Toronto-based energy management consulting firm, Energy@Work, talk about their work with the Building Owners and Management Association (BOMA) Toronto to promote and implement a friendly energy-saving competition in the city’s commercial real estate sector.

What’s the impact of the commercial sector’s participation in Earth Hour?

There has been a lot of participation at the household level as organizations like WWF Canada promote whole-city challenges. Real estate organizations have a couple of important reasons for wanting to get involved: 1) because it aligns with their corporate social responsibility mandate; and 2) because it encourage behaviour that will help reduce energy and operating costs.

Commercial and institutional buildings in Canada account for about 12 per cent of Canada’s secondary energy use and 11 per cent of national greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Not only do energy savings mean less GHG emissions, they also mean cost savings on utility bills.

How does the BOMA Earth Hour Challenge encourage and coordinate individual building efforts?

It’s all in good fun, but the challenge really draws on the competitive nature among property managers, also using the global momentum of the Earth Hour initiative to inspire property management companies to reduce electricity consumption year round. Participants can participate in the Building Challenge, Tenant Challenge or the new Property Management Challenge introduced in 2016. Several major property management firms including Bentall Kennedy, Cadillac Fairview, Menkes and Oxford are sponsoring this year’s event.

Ultimately, we hope participants will use Earth Hour achievements as a starting point for year-long reductions. Already, the event has evolved as participation has grown from fewer than one hundred to nearly 300 buildings last year. For example, the Tenant Challenge was added in 2014, enabled through the growing industry adoption of sub-metering, while this year’s new element allows property management firms to enter their own office spaces to compete against their peers.

“Earth Hour is all about awareness. When people can actually ‘see’ what is operating on a Saturday night, they begin to ask why,” reflects Energy@Work’s Scott Rouse. “This is a great starting point towards positive change.”

How can Earth Hour build awareness?

Despite efforts at both the property and corporate level, you can often see Toronto office towers lit up late into the night. One reason is that professional tenants working long days in these office towers require after-hours lighting. However, this is not always the case. Lighting and cleaning schedules, lack of occupancy sensors or even failing equipment can cause lighting to be left on when buildings are essentially empty.

How does Earth Hour complement other initiatives in the commercial real estate sector?

The commercial real estate sector has been quite active in terms of sustainability. Canada is a leader in green buildings, we have the most LEED certified buildings outside of the United States and similar certifications such as the recently revamped BOMA BEST are very prominent here. In addition, Canadian real estate firms reported better performance than the rest of the world on average in the Global Real Estate Benchmarking Survey (GRESB) last year. Competition has definitely been something that has fuelled progress in the industry as property management firms look to get any competitive advantage possible.

Like the highly successful Race to Reduce, the BOMA Toronto Earth Hour Challenge is a friendly competition, and, at the end of the day, all competitors seem happy to see sustainability progressing. That competitive drive to be the best simultaneously motivates change and makes the conversation around sustainability interesting, but, before and after the competition, collaboration tends to take centre stage. Everyone is actively sharing best practices because we are all in this together.

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