Executive Panel Shares Insights Into Future Of Green Real Estate In Canada

By: Meirav Even-Har, Toronto

The energy and environmental footprint of buildings has become a major topic of discussion in the world of CSR. The subject has also made repeated appearances in this blog's coverage of Canadian business sustainability issues. We all work in buildings, and so no business is exempt from having a building-related "footprint." For owners and managers of office, retail, industrial and residential buildings, the past five years have been a major stepping stone in recognizing the importance of sustainability. On April 4th about 400 people representing the building sector gathered in Toronto to present and learn about how to move the industry forward on its sustainability agenda.

A senior executive panel representing building asset managers, a provincial power authority, architecture and engineering firms, shared their views. When asked what are the key trends for the industry in the next two years, the panel concluded with the following:
* Increased transparency
* Greater tenant engagement
* Increase on performance-based measurements
* Building renewal activity (major renovations)
* Green building certification continue to expand
* Energy benchmarking: capturing metrics better
* Operations: making existing buildings operate more efficiently.

Unlike previous years' senior executive panel, this year the conversation skipped over the business case for sustainability. Remco Daal, President & COO at Bentall Kennedy succinctly explained: "the low hanging fruit is done, now it's about changing behaviour." He was specifically talking about the need for better tenant engagement, one of the top trends identified by everyone on the panel.

Mr. Daal also spoke about the need to anticipate the longevity and operational sustainability of buildings managed on behalf of large owners. Buildings - or assets, in industry vernacular - have a 40 to 50 year cycle, depending on the asset type. Responsible property investment requires anticipating the external market influencers that can raise, maintain or lower value. Andrew McAllan, Senior Vice President & Managing Director of Real Estate Management for Oxford Properties Group Inc., agreed. The company invested time and resources in researching what industry has been accomplishing outside of Canada, and implemented initiatives based on learnings. " can't afford to be left behind," he concluded.

Pension Funds have been the foremost drivers of sustainability in the industry. For Bentall Kennedy and Oxford, working on behalf of pension funds, there is an understanding that their clients/owners look for opportunities to put their commitments into operation, through their real estate assets. While providing high returns is certainly the top goal of any management company; financial investment in renewables such as solar and wind fixtures on buildings means less money now, but reduced liability and increased value in the long run. This sort of longer-term thinking is impressive.

The second group of motivators for owners and managers has been tenants. Companies that occupy office space look for greener workplaces, as well as developing a new, cooperative relationship with landlords to reduce their environmental footprint. As more and more companies report on their corporate footprint in annual sustainability reports, landlords are required to not only provide the metrics, but help increase efficiencies to maintain tenancy.

While everyone on the panel agreed the Canadian and global building industry is at the very beginning of its sustainability journey, there has been a progression. Rationalizing the business is in the past - at least for leading companies. For them, embedding sustainability in operations and behaviour is the next goal. It was an encouraging news to hear at this conference; let's hope the momentum will only grow.


To learn more about the 2012 Green Real Estate Conference: www.realestateforums.com/greenref/en/index.php

Photo Credit: Wind turbines, Neasden. By Cathy Cox (via Wikimedia Commons)