Greening Existing Buildings: Sustainable Solutions May be found in Obvious Places
By: Meirav Even-Har, Toronto
In the corporate sustainability dialogue we often pay attention to companies from the "visible" sectors. By visible, I mean those that have a significant environmental footprint such as the oil, gas and mining sectors. Visible can also relate to companies that make the goods we purchase, such as food and beverage, apparel and so on. Outside the realm of most people's awareness is the footprint of buildings and everything that is involved with keeping the lights on, the floors clean and the air conditioning running. Buildings - for work and home - remain for the most part under the public radar because we all inhabit them.
Canadian municipal and provincial governments are increasingly paying close attention to the environmental footprint of buildings. As part of Vancouver's Greenest City plan are aggressive goals such as reducing total GHG emissions by 6% below 1990 levels, leading to 80% by 2050. Because buildings are complex "machines" that involve many suppliers, internal and external stakeholder groups, greening existing buildings is no easy task. However, it is where a great deal of potential for energy efficiency exists.
I recently attended the Canada Green Building Council's national conference in Toronto, where I sat in on a session presented by BJLC titled Sustainable Facilities Management Strategies to Improve Building Performance. While most of us don't think about facilities management practices while at work, there are direct links to employee health and well being. One of the panellists spoke about his company's green cleaning solutions. Bee-Clean is a Canadian-owned business with approximately 10,000 employees that clean over 250 million square feet of commercial space each night. Certified with EcoLogo and Green Seal, green cleaning is a serious and complex production. Green cleaning means eliminating the use of harmful chemicals; instead, the Bee-Clean has purchased ionization cleaners. The Ionator is a multi-surface cleaner and also kills more than 99.9% of most harmful bacteria with tap water and an electric current.
Another innovative solution shared at the session was one by exactET, a provider of climate-controlled irrigation for urban landscaping. The company's service is focused on scheduling irrigation to be as efficient as possible, leading to an average water savings of up to 80%. While water pricing is relatively low throughout Canada, it is precious commodity in dry areas such as Calgary, Alberta.
A third panellist, from TD Bank Financial Group, shared some of the innovative solutions the company is implementing at its many branches. TD Bank has come to recognize the importance of ensuring that its real estate runs efficiently, with a continuous effort to the lower overall environmental footprint. The bank's London, Ontario branch is a small (~5,000 square feet) but powerful example of how investment can make a difference. The roof has 68 PV Array solar panels to generate electricity, as well as a thermal ice storage air conditioning system called "Ice Bear". Many changes at the branch were relatively simple: changing exterior and interior light fixtures, installing lighting sensors, and replacing plumbing fixtures to low flow.
Why should companies - known as occupants to building managers - care about how "green" their building is?
For one, a green building means lower corporate footprint and better metrics to include in a CSR report. But beyond the numbers, a sustainably managed building offers lower operational costs, better air quality, more efficient landscaping, and above make for a better partner to the city. Less pressure on the electrical grid, less waste to landfill and better management of stormwater helps maintain city infrastructure and in turn helps our collective tax dollars be put to better use.
Image by Lucas Braun (Own work) CC-BY-SA-3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons