Canada's Building Green: The Race is on for Platinum

Written by Posted On Monday, 27 February 2006 16:00

The Olympic battles for gold are behind us, but in the Canadian housing market, the competition for platinum is just heating up.

"The race is on to have the first platinum LEED residential building," said Thomas Mueller, President of the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC), a 22-member elected non-profit Board which represents a coalition of Canadian building industry leaders from regions and professions across Canada.

Green building involves increasing structure efficiency with respect to energy, water and materials usage while reducing impact on human health and the environment.

CaGBC holds the licence for the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Canada New Construction and Major Renovation rating system, an adaptation of the US Green Building Councils LEED Green Building Rating System which has been tailored specifically for Canadian climates, construction practices and regulations. With four possible levels of certification (certified, silver, gold and platinum), LEED is flexible enough to accommodate a wide range of green-building strategies and projects. Final ratings are based on an independent review and audits, and the total points scored according to a system involving the following categories:

  • Sustainable Sites

  • Water Efficiency

  • Energy and Atmosphere

  • Materials and Resources

  • Indoor Environmental Quality

  • Innovation & Design Process

The LEED rating system will take CaGBC -- and Canada -- toward the organization's vision of "a transformed built environment, leading to a sustainable future." Originally established in December 2002 as an offshoot of the sustainable building initiative of the Royal Architecture Institute of Canada , CaGBC has grown to more than 1100 member organizations and 6 chapters across Canada. When the Council began, the green movement was noticeably stronger in the west, but now the level of interest in green technologies, techniques and building materials has spread from coast to coast to coast.

"Change has occurred quite significantly in the last two to three years," said Mueller. "Now residential highrise developers who would never think about the environment are. Now large companies in Toronto -- Tridel, Minto -- and large companies in BC are. [Green building] is starting to be more mainstream."

Although governments spend millions admonishing individual Canadians to "reduce, reuse, recycle," personal daily living is a minor pollution source compared to business and industrial activities. Buildings alone produce from 30 percent to 40 percent of greenhouse gases. Since they are part of the pollution problem, designing and constructing them to be part of the solution seems logical.

The advantages of building green are easier to sell to those who think beyond physically constructing a building. Those intent on continued involvement accept slightly higher construction costs knowing they'll be there to reap long-term benefits, which include healthy environments and energy savings. Developers interested in completing construction and selling off as quickly as possible, may not be concerned with end-user gains measured over years or decades. That's where they're out of step with emerging market trends.

There's a rising ground-swell of demand for green structures driven by escalating energy costs, wide-spread adoption of socially-responsible business ethics and greater awareness that Canadian buildings can and should be more than they are. Consumers hold the power to provide developers with the incentive to go green. Fueled by increasing media exposure, buyer demand for residential, commercial and industrial green buildings can add caché to LEED projects, reduce sales times and increase property values.

"We think it is a simple choice and who we are as a family -- a company -- is to respect the environment," said Jim Pearson, CEO of British Columbia's Aviawest Resorts Inc. , referring to the commitment to green building that drives the family's development company to complete the first Canadian LEED platinum residential building. "A lot of developers can chose to respect the environment and use green building practices. There are levels of involvement that cost more than others, but some of them are simple design factors. More [developers] are starting to pay attention and consumers are demanding more."

Aviawest's platinum LEED entry, Parkside Victoria Resort & Spa , sits in the heart of downtown Victoria and features two towers joined by a three-storey atrium. Parkside is designed to create a 50 percent to 60 percent reduction in general energy consumption and, therefore, savings to the fractional owners of this condominium project. The atrium, landscaped roof gardens and natural bamboo flooring are visible green features, but a sophisticated heating/cooling system is just one of many green behind-the-scenes elements.

"We are in it for the long-term," said Pearson, explaining that their management company will take over once construction is complete in March 2007. "Parkside is 75 percent sold and we are not actively marketing the balance as we believe it will achieve still higher prices once [Parkside is] complete, and that hedges us against increasing construction cost. Prices have risen 17 percent since the initial day when, in 5 hours, we sold 45 percent."

The talent, skill and creativity necessary to achieve platinum status makes the race for this greenest of all LEED ratings a tribute to the ingenuity and commitment of Canadian building professions.

"We spend 90 percent of our time indoors and so that is the [importance] of your work and home environment, but if people knew all the things put in their homes, they would run screaming out of there," said Mueller referring to volatile chemicals released from building materials and other environmentally-unfriendly factors introduced by traditional construction methods. "Where the green building movement has taken off is LEED, which provides a common language of what a green building ought to be. When you talk about drivers, this has been a driver that everyone can use and that makes sense to everyone. Encouragement from the consumer goes a long way. Consumers can ask for more."

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