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(Tom Sandler/Tom Sandler for The Globe and Mail)
(Tom Sandler/Tom Sandler for The Globe and Mail)

Professor sees red over 'green building' claims Add to ...

Don't get Dan Harvey started on Toronto's eco-friendly initiatives. Renewable energy? Wind turbines? "A joke," the University of Toronto environmental studies professor says - at least, until we can start reducing our energy footprint in a significant way.

A lot has been made of the city's attempts to green its buildings, which suck up the lion's share of Toronto's energy consumption. But they don't go nearly far enough, he insists. And the problem isn't the city's huge supply of old, crumbling towers: It's the shiny new buildings going up we should be worried about.

To a degree, Toronto's hands are tied when it comes to messing with Ontario's building code. But the key to greener buildings, Prof. Harvey insists, is bringing in laws with teeth.

What should we be doing?

We suffer from brain-dead building design. We're building all-glass condominiums, all-glass office buildings. The office buildings are hermetically sealed - they have entire glazing sections facing west with no external shading devices. These buildings are uninhabitable without massive air-conditioning systems. … It's really pointless to do anything else until you address this issue. I say you've got it all backwards. And the problem is, these buildings we're stuck with for 50, 100, I don't know how many years. I mean, even a coal power plant is only going to last 40 years. A brain-dead building - and that's almost all we're building - is going to last 100 years.

The city's been touting its green building standards, things like the mayor's tower renewal. Do those help?

Tower renewal involves retrofitting existing old buildings. Those buildings from the sixties and seventies, those are salvageable. I don't know how we're going to salvage what's being built right now. The most important thing is to stop what we're doing right now with new buildings.



So the existing codes aren't helping?

There's no way you can make an all-glass building green. There's no such thing as a green SUV. You shouldn't be building SUVs in the first place; you shouldn't be building all-glass buildings in the first place. And no amount of high-tech or fancy stuff can turn an inherently bad design into a green building.









So things like requirements for green roofs - no good?

Well they'll help a little, but that's a small part of the picture. If you put a green roof on top of an all-glass building, it's a bit of a joke. It's not a green building.

Apart from the glass, what is the problem?

They're hermetically sealed, they don't have shading. If you want an all-glass building, okay, you should have adjustable, external shading at least on the west side. On the south side you can have a fixed overhang because in the summer the sun is high enough that you can shade it. You need adjustable shading and to protect it from the wind and the elements you need a second glazing over top. … If you're going to design with nature, the four sides of the building are probably not going to look the same.

We thought we'd be really cute at the University of Toronto and put in a building with a double-skinned facade but since we wanted everyone to see it and we could only afford one side, we put it on the south side. It doesn't do very much. On the west is where you need it. So you look at this building, this centre for cellular biology and research on College Street, and it's a joke. I mean it's a gesture towards green and sustainability but it's done all wrong. Go inside it and go walk along the west side on an afternoon day - the west side is all glazing and hermetically sealed.

From the city's perspective, what do you think should change in terms of building regulations?

I don't know if the city has the power. I think it's the province. If it's the city, fine. You have to say, 'Okay, we need performance-oriented standards.' And none of the buildings right now even come close to it.

What would you need?

You have to say, 'Okay, this is the maximum allowable energy per square metre, per year, for air conditioning, energy, ventilation and heating. It's got to be a consumption-related standard. And the larger the building, the tougher the standard has to be. It's easier to meet it if it's a larger building, because it's a surface-to-volume ratio. We need standards with teeth, and we don't have anything right now that has teeth in it.

Are there any cities that have done that?

Frankfurt, Germany. The Germans blow us away. It is a disgrace, the difference. The Germans have something called a passive-house standard. … For heating, it's a [maximum]requirement of 15 kilowatt hours per square metre of floor per year. The average heating requirement of all residential buildings in Canada for existing buildings is 150. Ten times.

Tomorrow: Joe D'Abramo, Toronto's director of zoning and environmental planning, talks about where Toronto is leading cities across the continent on green building standards.

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