Buildings generate up to 35 percent of all carbon emissions, so addressing construction and design methods to question the way that things are done is a good place to start. Although improvements have been made in recent years, there’s still progress to be made if we want to effectively mitigate against climate change. Sustainability is not a buzzword anymore; it’s a necessity. The future of our environment depends on it.

For the well-being of the environment, it’s important that improvements continue to be made; that builders, designers and building managers continue to pursue new methods and technology that ensure optimal energy efficiency.

Conscientious design for a sustainable future

“The decisions that you make regarding new buildings and what you design into them are going to stay with you for a significant period of time, so it’s critical that you make the right choices,” explains Mike Singleton, Executive Director at Sustainable Buildings Canada.

“If you don’t design in sustainable features, you’re really losing an opportunity.”

For a developer who wants to construct a sustainable building, the design stage is key. If the vision for sustainability is loosened at this early stage, there often is a gradual decrease in sustainable focus as the project progresses.

A strict philosophy of sustainability must be in place, even before design is underway. 

“If you want a sustainable and energy efficient building that doesn’t use a lot of water, and perhaps collects resources and puts them back into the infrastructure, you really need specialists to design it that way,” says Singleton.

Building a greener future

The building contractor has a very important part to play, being directly responsible for materials, waste management and recycling.

Green buildings also require a higher quality of structure to be truly energy efficient, so builders have to be certain that every stage of construction is completed with absolute precision.

All materials have an embodied environmental impact, so choosing the right ones are critical. Heating, cooling, and lighting in buildings and homes contributes significant carbon emissions in Canada.

If you add the embodied energy to extract, transport manufacture and install materials, you can add another 10-15 percent of greenhouse gases.

“The contractor has to observe carefully that the right products are being used during construction,” says Thomas Mueller, President and CEO of the Canada Green Building Council.

“Even when insulating and sealing the building using glues and caulking, the contractor must be careful to use products that are not offgassing harmful chemicals, which can impact indoor air quality for years.”

How integrated design creates better buildings

Construction of an energy efficient building requires cohesion through all the stages of design and development.

If one team member in the process doesn’t share the vision of sustainability the building will fail to live up to its potential.

“We call it integrated design,” says Mueller. “It’s about all team members, from the architect and engineer to the contractor and the landscape architect, along with the owner—developing a shared vision and an integrated design of the building.”

Design and construction is typically a sequential process. Although, the Canada Green Building Council notices that when the integrated approach is adopted, buildings are more likely to be well thought out, high performing, and able to maintain their performance overtime.

“It’s a smoother process because everybody’s on the same page,” says Mueller.

Setting the blueprint

Introduced to Canada ten years ago, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a rating system for the design, construction, operation, and maintenance of sustainable buildings.

It uses a common language on what constitutes a green building and sets standards and thresholds in the areas of energy efficiency, water usage, construction site management, materials selection, indoor air quality and occupant health.

 Most buildings that achieve LEED status today get gold and platinum certification—something which illustrates the improvements that have occurred in the Canadian building industry over the past ten years. “It sets the blueprint for how to design and build sustainable buildings,” says Mueller.

For a greener future, it’s important that improvements continue to be made—that builders, designers, and building managers continue to pursue new methods and technology to ensure optimal energy efficiency.

Building a better environment

To stay competitive, all organizations within the industry must pursue sustainability. Those that don’t will find themselves left behind. Currently, Canada’s building industry isn’t doing too badly, but there’s definitely room for improvement—and soon LEED will be demanding it. 

“The ultimate, long-term aspiration of LEED is to build buildings that are net positive, that means they contribute to cleaner air, take carbon out of the atmosphere and produce clean water and energy,” say Mueller.