Mediaplanet: How have green building and sustainability initiatives in Canadian construction been received by the industry as a whole?

Thomas Mueller: Since the CaGBC was first established in 2002, green building has been embraced across the industry. All levels of government have green building policies for their own building stock, and over the last five years the commercial real estate sector has taken a leadership role in constructing and retrofitting buildings to a LEED Gold or Platinum standard. The LEED building rating system has played a crucial role in defining green building as a holistic approach to the design and construction of buildings that are better for the environment, and for the health and well-being of the occupants. Over 5,000 projects are now registered under the LEED rating system and over 2,000 have been certified making up 78 million square meters of buildings in Canada.  

MP: What types of benefits have you noticed from a more focused green building and sustainability effort by members of the industry?  

TM: The success of green building is attributable to the fact that it works well economically by generating significant return on investment for owners, it is good for the environment with notable reductions in energy and water use, reduced carbon emissions and waste disposal; along with health benefits associated with better working or living environments. In fact, since 2005 the CaGBC has been collecting data to evaluate the impact LEED Canada certifications (from the Canadian industry) has made on Canadian energy and water consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and waste diversion. The resulting benefits speak for themselves:  

 Energy savings of 4,320,206 eMWh, which is enough to power 143,533 homes in Canada for a full year.

 A 822,731 CO2e tonne reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, which equates to taking 155,526 cars off the road for a year.   Water savings totalling over 8.7 billion litres, the equivalent of 3,505 Olympic-sized swimming pools.  Recycling over 1.1 million tonnes of construction/demolition waste, which represents 348,691 garbage truck loads.  Installing 157,309 sq metres of green roofs, or an area the size of 104 NHL hockey rinks, to reduce the urban heat island effect and mitigate storm water flows in urban areas.

"Energy savings of 4,320,206 eMWh, which is enough to power 143,533 homes in Canada for a full year."

MP: Why is being environmentally responsible and sustainable so important for the industry moving forward?

TM: Without a doubt, the buildings sector has the largest environmental footprint of any industry in the world. Green building has emerged as a ready-made solution to reducing environmental impacts particularly carbon emissions, as over 35 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada come from heating, cooling and lighting buildings and homes. Green building uptake is driven by environmental considerations, as well as financial benefits particularly reduced operating costs from energy and, for commercial landlords, tenant attraction, retention and premium lease rates. In addition, green building aligns well with government sustainability plans and corporate social responsibility strategies.   

MP: What can companies do heading into the future to ensure cohesion and success regarding their sustainability plans and initiatives? 

TM: The focus has to be on the implementation of sustainability plans and initiatives. Strategy has to be developed and considered with a view on if and how it can be implemented in the foreseeable future. The urgency around climate change mitigation and resiliency requires immediate and targeted action without delay. Green building construction and retrofit are concepts that are well understood, and with actionable approaches that result in tangible benefits within a defined time period.           

MP: What can other sectors learn from the Canadian construction industry regarding green building and sustainability? 

TM: Assessing and understanding the business case of sustainability initiatives is critical for their long-term uptake and success in the industry. For example, green building provides a proven business case, stringent “stretch targets,” a framework to achieve proposed targets and, offers rigorous verification though programs like LEED to ensure proposals have been followed through and resulted in real on the ground change. Without certification, outcomes will be uncertain and undocumented, leaving stakeholders and public to wonder whether or not real change has been achieved. As well, continuous improvement toward increasing levels of innovation and impact is a core consideration. By constantly striving to do better and do more, cost savings, employee satisfaction levels and overall benefits will also continue to grow.

MP: What’s an example of an industry wide initiative regarding green building and sustainability that has been extremely successful over the last five years?  

TM: The LEED certification program has grown substantially over the past decade in Canada, particularly over the last five years. Both large and small commercial real estate owners have pursued LEED certification and realized the many benefits that green building brings to building owners and users. This includes energy and water savings that can have a significant ROI, increased productivity rates due to healthier indoor environments, and the marketing value – LEED as a recognized global brand shows clients and the public that your company is committed to change and reducing its environmental footprint. Increasingly, projects are aiming for our highest, most rigorous levels of certification – LEED Gold and Platinum. This shows that owners are seeing the benefits of green building and are beginning to understand that enhanced environmental performance will lead to bigger gains all around.