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Clean indoor air, environmental conservation, waste reduction: Who can argue with the merits of a "green" building?

Although costs associated with implementing many sustainability features may have been a barrier for some developers, things are changing. Wider availability of green technologies and a greater willingness by industry leaders to adopt new designs and products have contributed to a wider acceptance and a drop in prices. As a result, more buildings and homes are becoming or aiming to be LEED-certified in Canada.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is an internationally recognized rating system that is a mark of excellence for green building in more than 160 countries.

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Since 2004, the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) has certified more than 3,000 LEED projects in Canada and registered more than 7,000 – the second highest number of LEED projects in the world, after the United States, where LEED got its start.

In Toronto, one in 15 new condo developments achieves LEED certification, according to a TD Economics special report.

LEED projects earn points in nine  key aspects of "green" buildings. These include: water efficiency, materials and resources; innovation; location and transportation; sustainable sites; energy and atmosphere; indoor environmental quality; regional priority; and integrative process. Based on the number of points achieved, a project earns one of four LEED rating levels: certified, silver, gold and platinum. LEED works for all buildings at all phases of development, from new construction to existing buildings.

Some of the advantages of LEED certification are more energy and resource-efficient buildings, resulting in reduced stress on the environment and lower utility costs for homeowners, healthier and more productive spaces as well as increased building value.

Environmentally sustainable features may include anything from energy-efficient appliances to low-flow plumbing fixtures (which reduce potable water consumption), or storm-water cisterns that capture rain for the building's plants, which are all either drought tolerant or native plantings.

LEED Fast Facts

  • Per capita, Canada has the highest level of LEED projects in the world.
  • There were 430 LEED-certified projects in Canada in 2017 (an increase of 24 from the year before.
  • Of those 430, there were 76 LEED-certified; 155 LEED Silver; 163 LEED Gold; and 36 LEED Platinum (the highest level).
  • The total number of LEED projects in Canada since inception is now 3,697.
  • LEED registered space in Canada totals one-billion square feet.

According to Mark Hutchinson, vice-president of green building programs at CaGBC, LEED projects have prevented 1.8 million tons of C02 emissions in Canada, which is the equivalent to taking about 383,000 cars off the road.

And that's not all. "We've saved over 18 billion litres of potable water, equivalent to 7,000 Olympic-size swimming pools," he explains. "And we've avoided more than two million tons of construction waste – that's like 650,000 garbage trucks." All figures are cumulative to the end of 2016.

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LEED began in 1993. But some developers, such as Shane Baghai, owner and CEO of Shane Baghai Group of Companies, began taking their own initiatives much earlier.

"Shane Baghai Group of Companies always promoted renewable energy – as an example, geothermal heating, energy-efficient glazing, solar power, recycled materials etc. – from the 1970s," he explains.

"We have always maintained that we were observant and well aware of some need such as the LEED program in order to improve our energy consumption, promote conservation and light a path for the future generation in our quest of zero-emission buildings."

It's estimated most people spend 90 per cent of their time indoors and, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, indoor air is between two and 10 times more polluted than outdoor air.

LEED-certified homes are designed to maximize fresh air indoors and minimize exposure to airborne toxins and pollutants. "A lot of products such as paints, finishes and carpets contain harmful chemicals," Mr. Hutchinson says. "Ideally, you'd want to use products that have very little or no off-gassing of volatile organic compounds, and install air ventilation that captures finer particulates."

Meanwhile, efforts continue to refine, improve and enhance our living spaces. Biophilic design, for example, is gaining adherents. Elsewhere, the CaGBC is planning to provide certification for a new rating system called WELL – the first building standard to focus exclusively on the health and wellness of people in buildings through the seven concepts of air, water, nourishment, light, fitness, comfort, and mind.

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Biophilic Design

If, like many people, you spend the majority of your work and personal time in an urban environment, you may have what some experts call nature deficit. Our communities, it seems, are alienating us from the natural world, with negative consequences for our health and well-being.

Enter biophilic design, which advocates for innovative and a sustainable design that reconnects people with nature.

“People in the green building industry are keen to incorporate it,” says Mark Hutchinson, vice-president of green building programs at CaGBC.

“The idea is to mimic elements of nature, which can be accomplished in a number of ways. Some of it is aesthetic, to make the living space more appealing and relaxing to inhabitants. Sometimes it tries to address practical needs.” An example could be integrating plants into buildings, whether for green roofs or plants growing on vertical walls.

“They might tie it into the ventilation so that air is coming from the building through the back of the wall through the vegetation, picking up moisture from plants and to some extent the plants will pull out compounds in the air and it will help clean the air,” Mr. Hutchinson explains. “Decades ago, people wrote about how plants filter our air, but actually applying it is relatively new, within the last 10 years. It’s just one aspect of green building.”

Other features of biophilic design include improved natural and artificial lighting, as well as internal and external views onto nature. It could apply to any type of building such as schools, hospitals and housing. Among the potential benefits to homeowners are a more calming environment, a reduction in neighbourhood crime and an increase in property values.

This content was produced by The Globe and Mail's Globe Content Studio. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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