Green Building: LEED and Business
In the previous installment of this article series on green buildings, the basics of the LEED environmental certification process for buildings were outlined, with some local Albertan examples offered as illustration. Today, I hope to elaborate on LEED as it exists in larger scopes of context, both in Canada, and in addressing its impact on approaches to building.
LEED in Canada
The LEED certification process was adopted by the Canada Green Building Council in 2002, and as such acts as the primary identifier of green building initiatives across the country.
There are over three thousand LEED certified projects across Canada. Ontario leads, with over one thousand total certified projects, and Quebec and British Columbia follow. Fourth place is then held by Alberta, with notable projects such as the University of Calgary Green Building program. These totals are nothing to scoff at; cumulatively, LEED spaces in Canada have exceeded a billion square feet!
Existing Buildings, Governmental Institutions, and Commercial Entities
Crucially, it is not always through the construction of new buildings that sustainability goals can be achieved - this is recognized by the Canada Green Building Council, as it is stated even on their website that "the greenest building is one that is already built". For this reason, qualifying LEED projects can also transform existing buildings into better, "greener" versions of what came before. This process focuses on changes which can be made internally to systems handling chemical cleaning and waste, recycling, heating, and other environmental "upgrades", so to speak. And to see an example of such a transformed building, one might not have to look too far. ATB Place, ATCO Centre, Manulife Place - these are all commercially-owned buildings with gold LEED certification, all situation in downtown Edmonton.
So it isn't just government institutions such as the University of Calgary who are investing in these green solutions - a fair fraction of LEED projects are actually the undertaking of commercial entities. This seems counter to the evil big business archetype often imagined in green initiative contexts, so why is it the case?
Benefits and Challenges
While a new project will cost approximately 2% more under LEED certification conditions than it would under normal conditions, there is plenty of evidence to support the claim that any initial financial drawbacks are recovered due to the very nature of the green building characteristics. Savings in energy, water, and maintenance seem to "make up" for the additional construction expenditure in a matter of years. So it seems, in fact, to be an exceptionally happy coincidence that what works best long-term for businesses also works best for the earth.
All of this isn't to say that LEED faces no criticisms or challenges. Some states in the US have gone as far as to ban LEED due to one particular criterion of the program's scoring; Alabama, Georgia, Maine, and Mississippi all have effectively prohibited the pursual of LEED certification by disallowing any green building program which encourages use of sustainable, externally-sourced timber materials. As these are all areas with significant involvement in the lumber industry, and whose local products often do not match the criteria LEED requires to declare them sustainable, meeting this standard means sacrificing cheaper materials. Keep in mind, sustainable timber composes only one point in LEED scoring - potentially, there are many other ways a building can achieve LEED certification even if it does not meet this requirement!
Ultimately, the green building question does seem to come down to a classic choice: initial cost sacrifice with the expectation of future energy savings, or cheaper building costs with typical energy cost losses over time. Although among Green Medium readers, the better of the two options may be somewhat agreed upon, it remains a politically-weighted decision. To continue the further development of green architecture, support must exist from the public to incite government action on the part of sustainable building, in the form of policy, as well as direct support by developing government buildings in accordance to green protocols.
Canada Green Building Council. Canada Green Building Council, 2018. https://www.cagbc.org/
LEED in Motion: Canada. USGBC, 2017. https://www.usgbc.org/resources/leed-motion-canada
Sweeney, John. "The Good Business of Green Buildings." Wealth Management, 25 Aug. 2016, http://www.wealthmanagement.com/estate-planning/good-business-green-buildings.
"How LEED green building certification can help your business." Business Development Bank of Canada. https://www.bdc.ca/en/articles-tools/business-strategy-planning/manage-business/pages/how-leed-green-building-certification-can-help-your-business.aspx