In the past few decades, the terms ‘green’, ‘eco-friendly’ and ‘sustainable’ have emerged as buzz words used to market new products and ideas. Their grasp has not evaded the building industry, as more and more projects are now using ‘sustainable’ construction practices. However, in order to build sustainably, one must be able to define it. In 1987, the United Nations defined sustainability as, “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (United Nations)
In 1998, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) developed the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program to act as a third party recognition for green buildings. By using a pre-set rating system, buildings can earn points which allow for different levels of certification (Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum). It has been proven that the use of the LEED system can lead to lower operating costs, increased asset value, reduction in energy/resource use, and healthier/safer environment for occupants (USGBC). In addition, meeting LEED standards allows buildings to apply for money-savings incentives and tax rebates.
In the United States alone, USGBC estimates that more than 4.3 million people live and work in LEED certified buildings. It is also estimated that 44% of all commercial and institutional construction in America is “green”, the majority of these associated with the LEED program. USGBC estimates that this percentage will surpass 55% as early as 2016 (USGBC Report).
Due to it’s success, the LEED certification program is now being implemented throughout the world. Taipei 101, located in Taiwan, is one of the tallest buildings in the world and boasts a LEED Platinum certification.
One of the key features of Taipei 101’s environmentally friendly setup is a 30% decrease in potable water usage (compared to average building consumption), saving about 28,000,000 litres of potable water annually (USGBC Taipei 101 Summary).
In 2002, Canada developed the Canadian Green Building Council (CaGBC). The CaGBC acts similarly to the USGBC, providing resources to projects aiming for LEED certification, as well as training LEED accredited professionals.
This has lead to an increasing number of LEED certified buildings throughout the country. A building located in Waterloo Ontario was one of the first student residences to achieve LEED Platinum accreditation. Despite costing the developer 10% more to build than traditional construction, this building boats low energy consumption and very low maintenance costs (The Record). In addition, the Waterloo region has a number of other developments looking to achieve similar LEED credentials. This is a promising sign for Canada’s version of ‘Silicon Valley’.
In Vancouver, a construction permit has been submitted for what will be one of Canada’s tallest office towers with LEED Platinum certification. Construction of the $200 million building will begin in October, and is expected to be completed in 2017 (CBC Report).
The new tower will use half the energy of traditional office buildings that are similar in size, greatly reducing the operating costs for tenants. This marks the beginning of what many hope will be the ‘green revolution’ in Vancouver. Herbert Meier, director of real estate asset management for the project stated, “We believe in Vancouver’s economy and its future…We believe in supporting the City of Vancouver’s vision to become the world’s ‘greenest’ city by 2020.” (CBC Report)
It is apparent that the current standards for construction are inadequate. As a result, the industry must continue to embrace the ‘green’ movement by implementing new techniques. It is encouraging however that as the industry begins to incorporate the principles set forth by LEED, cities will begin to finally take action on the growing issue of climate change.