Buildings have a dramatic impact on their occupants and the environment. Buildings use large amounts of resources during construction and renovation, and continue to do so throughout their operation. Small and mid-sized businesses, whether they own the building they occupy or not, have an opportunity to reduce environmental impacts and costs, and improve indoor environments and company image. As a business, you may be involved in aspects of commercial building management including:
- Building construction
- Building renovation
- Building operation
- Building maintenance
Residential and commercial buildings in Canada have a big environmental footprint. They use or produce roughly:
- 50% of the extracted natural resources and 1/3 of the country's energy use
- 25% of landfill waste
- 10% of airborne particulates
- 35% of greenhouse gases
Many of these impacts are caused by the estimated 500,000 commercial and institutional buildings across the country. These impacts occur during construction, deconstruction, renovation and occupancy, and their magnitude is partially due to the fact that Canadians spend about 90% of their time in buildings, at home, at work or at play.
Many building operation and maintenance issues for small business are addressed in the Energy, Waste and Water sections of this roadmap. This section will focus largely on building construction and renovation and the role of small business to reduce its environmental and social impacts through the building process and landlord relationships.
To reduce the environmental impacts of commercial buildings, new construction and renovation projects should incorporate sustainable materials and products that reduce raw material use and minimize harmful environmental impacts in resource extraction, manufacturing, transportation and installation. Choose fixtures and systems (heating, lighting) that are more efficient during the building's operation. Utility systems in existing buildings need to be properly maintained, and occupants engaged in reducing the building's energy, water and waste.
Building ownership largely determines which approach to take in improving the environmental performance of buildings and the health of the occupants. Building owners have more influence over their buildings during new construction and renovations and can affect operations and maintenance to reduce negative impacts and save costs. However, leasees have influence over some aspects of building renovation, operation and maintenance, depending on the terms of the lease. For instance, if a lease specifies that the tenant pay for building operating costs (waste management, energy and water costs), the tenant has more of a direct, financial incentive to make changes to reduce materials and resource use.
New Building Construction
Incorporating sustainability considerations into new construction is essential since building aspects that consume energy and water resources are set during the design of new buildings. Not only are the most cost-effective efficiency improvements related to building envelope and design, decisions during the design phase significantly affect the resource use of a building over its lifetime.
There are several commonly accepted ways to reduce the negative environmental impacts and enhance occupant health of new building construction in the planning stages:
- Site/Structure: Opportunities to locate the building along a public transit corridor, renovating a building instead of tearing down and building a new one, and orientating a new building appropriately to prevent heat gain from the sun, maximize shade from trees, enable renewable energy generation, and enhance daylight and views.
- Material Selection: The opportunity to use environmentally preferred building materials, including locally sourced materials, recycled, reused and sustainably harvested materials, and low toxicity materials that improve indoor air quality.
- Water: Opportunities to capture and use rain water to reduce potable (high quality) water use, design for water-saving fixtures, and building green roofs to prevent water run-off from the roof, filtering pollutants and reducing water flow into storm sewers that can overwhelm the waterways they discharge into and damage critical fish habitat (see below for more on green roofs).
- Energy: Opportunities to achieve high-efficiency building performance include incorporating alternative energy systems, an energy-efficient building envelope, efficient lighting, and heating/cooling systems to reduce building energy use.
- Indoor Environment: Opportunities to improve occupant health, well being and productivity by maximizing daylight, reducing noise, ensuring ventilation and moisture control, and avoiding materials that can impact air quality negatively.
- Operations and Maintenance: Opportunities to plan for reduced operations and maintenance by specifying materials and systems that simplify and reduce maintenance requirements. For instance, the choice of a sustainable flooring material can reduce the need for stripping and waxing that could require toxic chemicals.
To build a greener and healthier building, it's essential to bring the construction team together at the outset to consider how to maximize your sustainability, including financial, objectives. Since building design professionals typically operate in isolation of each other, bringing together builders, architects, engineers, interior designers, landscapers and other professionals at the design stage can help flag the opportunities to maximize your investments in environmental outcomes. This is referred to as integrated design process (IDP) and should be a key first step of any construction project. As a growing number of architects, developers and contractors have green building experience, it is becoming easier to hire professionals with experience in IDP
If your business involves manufacturing, food processing, printing, or any other process that uses significant energy or water, it is important to ensure the process designers are included in the IDP. If the building and process are engineered separately, there may be missed opportunities; for example, in using waste heat from the process to heat the building.
In planning the construction phase, you may also want to consider social aspects like the hiring practices of contractors and whether or not they hire those with employment barriers. For example, Bridgman Collaborative Architecture, an architect and planning design firm, hired Inner City Renovations (ICR) to complete its office conversion of a former bank in Winnipeg. ICR is a social enterprise whose mandate is to help alleviate poverty in the inner city by providing education, training and quality full-time employment for inner-city low income residents. This roadmap refers to this approach as social purchasing.
When undertaking a building renovation, environmental factors are a consideration during both deconstruction and renovation.
One very important aspect of building renovation is the deconstruction phase. In the past, preparing for renovation meant demolition, with materials pulled out of the building (wood, metal, drywall, etc.), mixed together and disposed in the landfill. Gradually this cradle to grave approach to deconstruction is being replaced with reuse and reduced waste goals, reflecting a cradle to cradle mentality. Developers have come to realize that so much deconstruction material is high value and can be reused, resold or recycled if carefully separated. Keeping windows, fixtures, carpets, and other materials intact during deconstruction allows them to be sold or donated to charities rather than land-filled. For instance, Habitat for Humanity operates ReStore locations across Canada. Businesses donate new or used building equipment to ReStore for them to resell to raise funds for Habitat's affordable housing building program. Contractors or home owners can then purchase salvaged goods from ReStore or other used building materials suppliers for use in new construction or renovation.
Deconstruction reuses valuable building materials and diverts materials from the landfill saving the builder or developer money from disposal costs where disposal fees are high. For instance, in Metro Vancouver, the deconstruction of the 3300 ft2 Pan-Hellenic building at the University of British Columbia diverted 93% of material from landfill through reuse and recycling, saving the university over $10,000.
Many of the same considerations apply to renovation as to new construction. Look for environmentally preferable materials, and systems and features that reduce energy and water use and protect indoor air quality.
For smaller interior renovations, whether or not you own the building will affect the business case for improvements to energy and water efficiency, such as with more efficient lighting and fixtures. It's important, however, to factor in the downstream economic benefits, since sustainable building improvements may also enhance your employees' productivity and well-being (see Benefits section), and can have a positive effect on your business' environmental reputation from reduced greenhouse gases and other environmental impacts. Even though the leasehold improvements would enhance your landlord's assets, your firm may recoup its investments during the term of your lease, and may enhance its image as a result of reduced environmental impacts.
Building Operation and Maintenance
The operation and maintenance of a building is crucial to reducing its environmental impacts and improving social aspects like employee comfort and well-being, as the Investa Property Group points out:
It's a common misconception that to be "green" a building has to demonstrate state-of-the-art technology and contemporary design. Some of the best performing buildings are older buildings where the building manager has taken measures to optimize performance and supports tenants to do the same. Good building management is critical to achieving positive environmental and social outcomes.
The sections on Water Energy, and Waste (Materials) Management provide further information on how to reduce the negative environmental impacts and enhance the social impacts of building operation and maintenance.
Green Building Certification
This section summarizes LEED and BOMA Green Globes, two methods commonly used to assess the environmental qualities of a building. There are many similarities between the two approaches. LEED, however, is more stringent, requiring documentation to substantiate each point pursued. There are pros and cons of each method, depending on your business objectives, so it is worth investigating the two programs to see which one works best for you.
LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is a green building rating program. It is an independently verified (third party certified) system, awarding a certification of certified, silver, gold or platinum based on points achieved in the following aspects:
- Sustainable Sites: The siting of a building in relation to sustainability. Sustainable Sites covers whether a building is near transit, how it manages soil erosion and stormwater, and its contribution to urban density.
- Water Efficiency: Measures the reduction in water use that a building achieves. Water Efficiency covers the overall reduction in water use by the building's water systems (taps, toilets, boilers), landscaping that reduces water by using drought-tolerant plants, and wastewater technologies that reduce water.
- Energy and Atmosphere: Refers to energy source, energy efficiency and eliminating use of chemicals that damage the atmosphere (e.g. may be ozone depleting). Energy and Atmosphere covers building energy performance, use of renewable energy or green power, and ozone protection.
- Materials and Resources: Refers to the reduction of resource use and sourcing of salvaged, recycled materials from close to home. Materials and Resources includes reuse of parts of an existing building (walls, floors, roof) during a renovation, diverting construction waste from the landfill, and the use of recycled, regional or environmentally certified products.
- Indoor Environmental Quality: Assesses efforts to provide a healthy indoor environment for building occupants. Indoor Environmental Quality refers to ventilation, the ability of occupants to control the temperature, the amount of available natural daylight, and low levels of air polluting chemicals in building materials, paints, carpets and adhesives.
- Innovation and Design Process: Addresses exemplary sustainability efforts. Innovation and Design Process awards points for innovative sustainability features and includes whether or not a registered LEED professional was hired for the project. LEED 2009 also includes a credit called Regional Priority which can address an environmental issue that is important in that region.
- The LEED program initially covered new construction and major renovations. The program now also offers a standard that provides guidance on the operations and maintenance aspects of existing buildings, such as the purchase of environmentally preferred furniture, green cleaning products and services, and sustainable purchasing policies to protect air quality and reduce resource use. (See Green Purchasing for more details.) LEED also offers a rating system called Commercial Interiors which is applicable to building fit up for leases, or interior renovations.
Fifth Town Artisan Cheese is the first LEED Platinum manufacturing facility in Canada. The Picton, Ontario cheese company received the high rating for its building by:
- Reusing materials left over from constructing its dairy to design and construct its tasting pavilion
- Installing a 10,000 litre cistern to collect rainwater
- Building a bio-wetland system to treat whey and wastewater
- Implementing a green energy strategy that includes solar panels, a wind turbine, a geothermal system for heating and cooling needs, a highly insulated facility, and zoned-based sensors and automatic controls to manage heating, cooling and electricity requirements, and
- Building cheese aging caves underground to reduce cooling needs
BOMA BESt (Building Environmental Standards) is the Canadian industry standard for green building certification for existing buildings. Six areas of a building’s environmental performance and management are critically evaluated: energy, water, waste reduction, emissions and effluents, indoor environment, and environmental management systems. Launched in 2005 by the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) of Canada, the BOMA BESt Program addresses an industry need for realistic standards to assess energy and overall environmental performance of existing buildings. Since the Program’s inception, over 2000 buildings representing hundreds of millions of square feet of Canadian commercial real estate have achieved BOMA BESt certification. It is a national program delivered through local BOMA Associations across the country. For a building to achieve Level 1 certification, it must meet BOMA’s 14 BESt Practices as verified by an independent third-party. To achieve higher levels of certification (Levels 2 through 4) an applicant must complete the BESt Practices in addition to the full BOMA BESt Assessment Module specific to building type. All information submitted to the Program is verified by an independent third party before certification is awarded. The Program currently offers four online Assessment Modules for existing buildings: office, open air retail, light industrial and enclosed shopping centres. A Module for multi-unit residential buildings will be available online soon.
There is a third building rating system emerging in the North American marketplace that would be of interest to owners who would value an elite sustainable building for environmental, economic, or societal reasons. This is called the Living Building Challenge, which is the most stringent system, requiring net zero energy use and net zero water use. It is realistically only applicable to new buildings.
A green roof is an engineered roofing system that uses vegetation (plants, a growing medium and a waterproof membrane) to achieve a number of social, economic and environmental benefits. Installing a green roof on your building reduces the need for heating (and air conditioning where relevant), absorbs rainwater, provides habitat for birds and beneficial insects, and extends the life of your roof.
In 2009 BC-based Radha Yoga & Eatery, a yoga centre and restaurant, installed a partial green roof on its 100-year-old building. Since the roof's structural capacity would not support a full green roof, they added an ultra light-weight green roof supplied by Xeroflor Canada. The product consists of sedum with growing medium rooted into a synthetic mat, with a water retention fleece and drainage mat underneath. The system weighs in at only 10 pounds per square foot and is laid on top of the existing roof structure. For Radha, this 500 square foot roof is a low-maintenance way to gain some of the benefits of a green roof.
Leaseholders can work with landlords on terms and conditions that offer tenants (and landlords) incentives to reduce energy, water, waste and greenhouse gases.
If you pay your own utility bills directly, you can make a business case for energy improvements such as lighting, insulation, and water-saving fixtures to reduce your bills, your resource use and your greenhouse gas emissions. Even if you don't pay your own utilities, the fees are rolled into your lease, so it is in the interests of all tenants to reduce waste and energy and water use.
A green lease is essentially an agreement between the landlord and tenant on improvements and how to split the savings. Although this might be possible part way through a lease, the best time to negotiate is before the lease is signed or when it is being renewed. Tenants should address rent structure and operating expenses (and how they are calculated), energy use, as well as any green cleaning and recycling and waste management services provided by the landlord. A model Green Lease, along with a user guide, is available at Real Property Association of Canada.
One of the most obvious benefits of sustainable buildings is cost savings as a result of reduced operating costs: energy use, water use, and maintenance account for up to 85% of a building's lifetime costs. Eco-efficient building systems and fixtures can reduce energy and water costs by 30 to 40%. The best new buildings are designed to achieve 70% reduction in energy costs over the building code requirements. Maintenance costs can be reduced since efficient systems like heating are often smaller and easier to maintain, and fixtures like energy efficient lighting require less frequent bulb changing over time. Although there can be increased capital costs of approximately 2% in green builds and renovations, those costs are often quickly recuperated through reduced operating costs.
Employees can benefit from an improved environment due to reduced noise, and better lighting, air quality, and temperature control, which can translate into bottom line productivity benefits for businesses. Since payroll costs are so significant for most small and mid-sized businesses, improving employee productivity even slightly can result in considerable financial benefits. Research shows that absenteeism and health issues (asthma, allergies, respiratory diseases) are lower in green buildings and that productivity is 2-10% greater in buildings with increased ventilation, improved lighting (including daylighting), reduced off-gassing, and better temperature control.
Employee attraction and retention
A sustainable workplace may be more attractive to prospective new employees in sectors where there is significant competition for skilled employees and where it may be difficult to retain skilled employees.
Green building projects are relatively new for small and mid-sized businesses. The projects are good news stories, and media interest can build your brand's image. Earned media can provide small businesses with small advertising budgets an opportunity to gain free publicity.
The Listel Hotel in Vancouver, BC, for example, installed a solar hot water system and earned media attention from as far away as Idaho, Nevada, California and Hawaii. See the Marketing section for more information on earned media.
Deconstruction and Renovation
Metro Vancouver green builders' website (Build Smart) provides tools to assist with salvaging and recycling materials during demolition (demolition guide, information on the benefits, a model specification and a waste management guide).
Habitat for Humanity ReStores:
Donate used building materials or buy used materials for re-use in renovation or new construction projects.
Green Building Certification Canada Green Building Council LEED Rating System:
Operations and Maintenance
Operations and Maintenance Guides for lighting, building shell, power quality and heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems:
Real Property Association of Canada (REALpac) Green Lease Guide for Commercial Office Tenants offers office tenants information on how to approach building sustainability within lease negotiations:
Office Green Lease: Model Green Lease Guide for Office Tenants provides a template for a green lease for office tenants:
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