In taking a leading role in green building, Canada is setting an example that other nations will be sure to soon follow. Leading Canadian contractors have helped to prove that green building is a sustainable pursuit, both environmentally and economically, and not a transient fad. But, why have Canadian construction companies achieved such success in green building and how can we encourage more contractors to join the green revolution?   

A Canadian approach to green building

“Canadian developers are beginning to see the benefits of green buildings because improving the sustainable futures of their buildings also helps them to attract first-rate tenants,” said Rob Otway, Vice President and District Manager, PCL Construction Management Inc. “Green building provides an opportunity to cut operating costs and improve overall function, which makes the structure more attractive and easier to lease.”

Otway believes that the Canadian construction sector is starting to mature. There’s a greater understanding that a well-performing green building saves on energy costs, has more productive working environments for staff, and has a positive impact on the environment, all without costing a premium. 

“Green building provides an opportunity to cut operating costs and improve overall function, which makes the structure more attractive and easier to lease.”

“It’s also a part of who we are as Canadians,” Otway says. “We want to be environmentally conscious and we see this as one of the avenues where, as part of the design and build community, we can do our part to lessen our impact on the environment.”

Common misconceptions 

Certain misconceptions are preventing more contractors and developers from entering into Canada’s green building sector. The most commonly held misconception is that constructing new sustainable buildings costs a significant premium, when compared with less efficient structures. 

People throw around figures, saying that a green building may cost 10 percent more to construct, but often there is no extra cost to building green. “Sometimes there are additional costs when you build to specific green deliverables, but these extra costs also bring added value,” explains Andres Bernal, Managing Director of Sustainable Building Services at EllisDon.

There is also a misconception that retrofitting an existing building to make it more green requires huge investment. In fact, says Bernal, most of the costs associated with making buildings more energy efficient are built into capital programs.

“You need to pay for the replacement of mechanical systems and you need to pay for the marketing of the building, but all of these costs are built into the operational performance of the building,” Bernal says. “The market is learning this, and learning it fast.”

Growing the industry 

Bernal believes that raising awareness of sustainability within the construction industry is vital if Canada’s green building trade is going to continue to progress and play a part in helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. “Training construction companies and staff on green construction will be critical in terms of making green buildings cheaper and more efficient,” he says. “Learning the fundamentals of green construction allows everybody involved to have an informed conversation with the construction team and consultants.”

Otway thinks that the green building industry in Canada is going to continue to strive for progression. As a Director on the board of the CaGBC, Otway is witnessing a wide-scale effort from industry leaders to modify designs in order to create healthier environments for occupants. “I think we’ll see an increased ability to use our buildings to generate electricity, which will cut emissions and reduce energy costs even further,” says Otway. “New technology will help to drive the next phase of green building.”