Expect the CN Tower to be awash in green light when Greenbuild 2011 sets up camp directly in its shadow at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre next week.
From October 4 to 7, the city will swell with 20,000 – 30,000 extra-green international types who'll exchange information, ideas and, most importantly, learn a thing or two about our country's sustainable practices.
To that end, the "Canada House" pavilion will take over Steam Whistle Brewery (green good guys themselves) in the roundhouse across the street. Hosted by the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC), Canada House will shine the light on Canadian companies, host matchmaking sessions and feature an informal chat lounge with Canadian experts.
Because I've often covered sustainability in this space, I've gathered my own experts for a pre-Greenbuild roundtable discussion: Terrell Wong of Stone's Throw Design, winner of the 2006 Archetype Sustainable House competition (built at Kortright Centre), Martin Liefhebber of Breathe Architects, winner of the 1991 Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation's Healthy House competition (built in Riverdale), Paul Dowsett of sustainable.TO, winner of a recent web competition to design a low-cost, low-energy house for New Orleans (pre-construction), Gerry Lang, senior architect at Diamond + Schmitt and University of Toronto sustainable instructor, and Lloyd Alter, past president of the Architectural Conservancy of Ontario and TreeHugger.com writer.
Some answers have been omitted entirely or edited for length.
Architourist: When did you become aware of sustainable practices?
Terrell Wong: I credit Ranger Rick [children's] magazine for my obsession with all things green. Everything I have learned has been through reading and experimenting.
Martin Liefhebber: I was never unaware of sustainable practices. I was born in the Netherlands, where rules of erosion dynamics and wind power were required since the middle ages in order to create and retain land and to keep the inhabitants safe by constantly pumping the water out.
Paul Dowsett: My parents, growing up in the Depression, were models of frugality. Then growing up in the late '60s through the '70s, I absorbed the ecological sustainability ethos of that time.
Lloyd Alter: When I was in architecture school in the '70s I was fascinated with [Buckminster] Fuller, efficient design [and] small spaces. I have been ever since.
Architourist: Does Toronto deserve to host Greenbuild 2011?
PD: Yes, absolutely! We are home to a deep talent pool of sustainable city builders – just ask Richard Florida, an American urban studies theorist who has chosen to live here, much like Jane Jacobs before him. According to recent Economist Intelligence Unit research, Toronto ranked ninth overall in the U.S. and Canada Green City Index (27 large city survey), and second highest in Canada.
LA: It did at the time that it was booked, but now [it] will be a big embarrassment with [Mayor] Ford and the complete lack of interest in green being expressed by the current civic government.
Gerry Lang: Things are happening here. When I attended Greenbuild in 2006 in Denver, about a third of the exhibitors and lecturers were from Canada – proportionately three times higher than the U.S.
Architourist: If you could take attendees to visit only ONE building, which would it be?
TW: A building that has lasted for over 100 years. Energy retrofits will do more than any new construction to reduce energy use.
ML: The Carrot Common by Paul Ruber and David Walsh. It is not just about if it has solar or a green roof, or if it is an energy miser … that project gives back to the community.
PD: The Evergreen Brick Works, a community environmental centre that inspires and equips visitors to live, work and play more sustainably.
LA: Stephen Teeple's 60 Richmond St. E.
GL: The Evergreen Brick Works project.
Architourist: Author Daniel Brook writes that the LEED (Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design) point system "creates perverse incentives to design around the checklist rather than to build the greenest building possible." Thoughts?
TW: To truly make something sustainable you have to simply do less. It's very hard to quantify what you did not have to do. It's much easier to create a certification system that benefits manufacturers when you purchase their products. You can't buy your way to sustainability. There is no such thing as a 'green product.' Something had to be destroyed to make all the products we buy to build buildings.
PD: I also think that the 'inequality' of the points is of fundamental concern. The same value is given for a bike rack or a boot bench, as is given for air sealing and heat recovery measures.
GL: Some points are definitely cheaper to achieve than others, and sometimes odd mixes of systems and user satisfaction result; you even get a point for having a LEED accredited professional on your team!
Architourist: What is the easiest way for a homeowner to go green without a major renovation?
TW: Put a hat on it! We all understand that hot air rises and many [homes] in Toronto are heating the sky!
PD: This is going to sound very unsexy and much like what we heard back during the oil crisis of the 1970s, but: seal up those gaps in the exterior wall to get the best possible air-tightness and install as much insulation as you can. These two measures are the very foundation of the Passive House Standard, the world's most rigorous building energy standard.
ML: The easiest answer is by conserving and the greatest payback comes from proper insulation. However, if we look beyond the building, the home needs to be in a community with a food store within walking distance.
GL: Smarten up all the electronic devices in the home, so that heating, lighting, appliances, A/C, computers, TVs, water use, etc. are coordinated to only draw current when necessary. It would also make a huge difference if people allowed the landscape of their property to assume the native species of their part of the world. No manicured lawns in the suburbs of Las Vegas!
For more information on Greenbuild 2011, visit www.greenbuildexpo.org.