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November 18, 2011

Food for “Green” Thoughts

by sergueikaminski
foodforgreenthought

In 2006, the world used approx. 30% more resources in one year than nature could regenerate in that same year. We currently maintain this overrun by ­liquidating the planet’s natural resources. Some people don’t know about this problem; some ignore it, but there are others who take it seriously.

A growing list of companies all over the world are making commitments to change their business practices to reduce their impact on the environment. Locally, Enermodal Engineering, Google, and Walter Fedy are among those leading the pack.

Enermodal Engineering

We are particularly proud that Colliers is part of the “green” initiative as well. Our company has adopted a global sustainability program in which we are committed to providing green services, worldwide knowledge and education programs, along with taking a hard look at how we can “green” our operations. Specifically, Colliers Canada has pledged to reduce our total emissions by 20% by 2015 (approx. 9% reduction to date) and to achieve carbon neutrality by the end of 2011 (on track). The environmental impact of general office users should not be underestimated; buildings are generally responsible for 12% of water use, 30% of greenhouse gas emissions, 65% of waste output, and 70% of electricity consumption, leaving plenty of room for companies to make a dent in the national effort to clean up Canada’s environmental footprint.

Besides saving the environment, what are other benefits of green buildings? In their 2010 Global Survey, McKinsey & Company attempted to measure just how profitable a squeaky clean green company image can be. Their findings point to an interesting shift in perception on the value of sustainability for business. In one year, improving operational efficiency and lowering cost” increased by 14% (now 33%); this is the number one reason why companies are choosing to put sustainability strategies in place.

The 2006 Cone Millennial Cause Study found that an alternative incentive for “greening” operations may lie in Generation Xers’ growing concerns about corporate responsibility. The study, which surveyed young Canadians about to enter the workforce, highlighted the following results:

  • 83% of respondents will trust a company more if it is socially / environmentally responsible
  • 70% of respondents wanted to work for a company that cares about how it impacts or contributes to society
  • 69% feel that their company’s social and/or environmental activities make them feel proud to work there
  • 64% report that their company’s social and/ or environmental activities make them feel loyal to their company.

It would be interesting to see if, 5 years later, these young respondents found their way into a company that met their criteria.

So how are business leaders in Waterloo Region responding to these emerging trends and how do we compare to the rest of Canada?

We have decided to use the numbers for Canadian LEED registered projects posted here.
(Confidential projects are not taken into account):

Region

No of Projects

GTA

526

Greater Vancouver Area

318

Greater Montreal

241

Greater Calgary

184

Greater Ottawa-Gatineau

159

Greater Edmonton

127

Winnipeg

87

Greater Victoria

72

Greater Quebec

53

Waterloo Region

51

Greater Halifax

33

Hamilton and area

29

Saskatoon

26

London and Area

25

Kingston

25

Niagara Region

24

In this list, Waterloo Region occupies a respectable 10th place, ahead of other areas in Southwestern Ontario. If we consider the size of green projects per capita (as per 2006 census), our Region moves to 14th place, trailing London by 7 positions.

However, in Waterloo Region, only 38% of all LEED registered projects are commercial (vs. 70% in London or 84% in GTA). Only 5.3% of all tenanted and owner occupied office buildings/spaces are green. Although multiple governmental, not-for-profit, and institutional LEED development projects reflect the growing importance and long-term benefits of sustainable buildings, the market cannot be considered green unless investors and developers become significantly more active.

Waterloo Region Courthouse

Now, several restraining factors come into play. Among them are technical issues. Former owner of Kitchener’s landmark office building at 55 King Street West, Michael Balnar, said this of his attempt to install solar panels on the building:

“Installing solar panels on buildings is an opportunity worth taking advantage of. Other than helping the environmental cause, there is the benefit of receiving revenue for the power that is sold to the grid.

However, there are some factors that determine if a building is suitable for solar. The height of the building may mean an additional cost; penthouse equipment rooms or HVACs may mean shading and limited space; and shading from other buildings may also be a negative factor. Also, access to the grid is critical.

At 55 King Street, the height of the building and the limited and shaded rooftop space (a result of equipment and penthouses) made the solar project unfeasible.

However, we have three commercial buildings with low ceiling height, close grid access, and limited to no shade. At those properties, we have made applications with the OPA for solar panels.”

But, mostly, this is all about costs. Right now, most developers simply can’t justify the cost to build green. One local developer stated that “the cost of a ‘green’ building can be as much as 40-50% higher than the cost of a conventional building”. Therefore, developers would not build green buildings unless the A class tenants ask for it. The tenants would prefer green buildings over conventional ones, but they don’t want to pay for them either. Perhaps, we can break this cycle by improved education and by showing ALL the aspects of green buildings. This strategy might be the most efficient, especially in light of the fact that cost reductions or increased incentives are unlikely to come.

Edited by: Lisa Ewaschuk

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