Canada has committed to reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030 – and improving the environmental performance of buildings has to be a critical part of that effort, says Thomas Mueller, president and CEO of the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC).
Buildings currently generate over 30 per cent of Canada's greenhouse gas emissions, and Mr. Mueller believes sustainable building practices can help to achieve the dual goal of reducing their carbon emissions as well as their energy consumption.
Green buildings already have a strong track record. Calculated cumulatively between 2005 and the end of 2015, Canada's LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) buildings have benefited Canadians with energy savings of 6,503,647 MWh – which is enough to power 220,702 homes for a full year – and a 1,261,016 tonne reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, which equals taking 238,377 cars off the road annually.
Yet there is room for growth, and Mr. Mueller says reaching climate targets will require improving the performance of new and particularly existing buildings.
"There is a strong business case supporting operational improvements or retrofits of existing buildings, and investments in green upgrades are typically recovered in three to seven years," he explains.
A technology solution that brings significant energy savings comes from Kiko Water Systems, whose managing director Jeff Addison received a 2017 Clean50 award.
"Our proprietary nanotechnology works with heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) systems that use water to transfer energy," explains Mr. Addison. "By weakening hydrogen bonding and lowering the specific heat capacity and surface tension of the water, our technology allows water to become a better conductor of energy. This improves the capacity of the entire system to operate more efficiently – which extends its lifespan – and greatly reduces energy consumption."
Average energy savings come in at about 20 per cent for an entire HVAC system, he says. An example is the company's work with Vancouver's Four Seasons Hotel, which led to $157,000 in net savings over two years and was chosen as one of the 2017 Clean50 top 15 projects.
To lower the threshold for building owners and operators looking to utilize Kiko Water Systems technology, the company has developed a unique business model, says Mr. Addison. "There are a number of technology solutions available, but most of them require a substantial amount of money and time to implement," he explains. "We can install our technology into a system in a matter of hours and achieve energy savings shortly after." In return, Kiko Water Systems charges a monthly service fee, which is lower than the energy savings the technology generates, and that benefits not only the environment, but also their clients' bottom lines.
Mr. Addison describes solutions like these as "low-hanging fruit" for building owners or operators looking to meet internal or municipal energy savings goals. He adds that there are growing expectations from stakeholders and tenants that residential and commercial real estate owners implement sustainability measures. And, in the case of the Four Seasons, hotel guests are increasingly choosing to support environmentally aware service providers.
Mr. Mueller believes capacity training for building owners, managers, contractors and developers can create a wider awareness of technology solutions and best practices, and lead to informed decisions.
While he sees a role for changes to regulations – such as the national building code – Mr. Mueller cautions that such measures typically take time to implement and tend to focus on lower thresholds as they apply to the entire building sector.
"At the council, we're successfully using advanced standards and tools to drive the market forward," he says. "We can then use these advanced building projects to show the industry what is achievable with a positive return on investment and then start to mainstream these practices, technologies and approaches.
"The combination of action to drive advanced performance and improvements to the building code is an effective approach from both the industry's business and the public sector's regulatory perspective," says Mr. Mueller.
Proving that sustainable building practices can lead to substantial financial, market and social benefits encourages voluntary action, he says. "We've already seen that the green building sector generates jobs, stimulates the economy and increases the demand for new technologies. Improving building environmental performance simply makes good business sense," he adds.
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