Canadian Consulting Engineer

Leed Moves ON

August 1, 2008
By Bronwen Parsons

The LEED building labeling system is heading for changes, while meanwhile the Go Green rating system is making big strides.

The LEED building labeling system is heading for changes, while meanwhile the Go Green rating system is making big strides.

inJune, 1,200 smartly dressed people of every age and stripe filled a large hall at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre for the first national summit of the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC). Upstairs, the giant exposition hall was filled with countless “green” building products.

How things have changed. A decade ago, the most you could hope for at a conference on sustainable buildings would be 100 or so people. They were a dedicated group of young architects, engineers and some government gurus who had taken up the cause. They listened hard and spoke with the fervour of religious converts. They were “greenies,” out on the fringe, fighting against a huge tide of mainstream building practices and trying to get construction to start thinking about how this massive industry of huge physical impacts could “tread more lightly” on Mother Earth.

Clearly the CaGBC’s Toronto event was well named “Shifting into the Mainstream.” Like every other business, construction has found its environmental conscience. Green is everywhere.

Suddenly everyone wants to hear David Suzuki speak. Up on stage with him and the politicians at the Toronto conference were some of the pioneer Canadian green engineers and architects, people like Kevin Hydes and Peter Busby, addressing the crowds, talking fast and presenting astonishing figures and statistics about the ballooning green building industry. In North America, for example, 10% of construction starts are predicted to be green by 2010, said one speaker. And the U. S.

Green Building Council estimates that every day approximately $464 million worth of construction projects register for LEED.

Status of LEED in Canada

LEED, which stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, has been at the forefront of the green building movement. The LEED building rating system was launched in the U. S. in 2000, in Canada in 2004, and is now used in 80 countries.

In this short period, LEED has become almost a household word. LEED is mentioned in home dcor magazines; construction hoardings boast that buildings are designed to a LEED standard in order to attract buyers.

In Canada, the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) administers the LEED program. By July, almost 900 buildings had registered for LEED certification with CaGBC, and 106 had actually certified.

There are five levels of LEED certification, with Platinum at the top, ranging down through Gold, Silver, and simply Certified. The scoring is based on six areas: the building’s energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, water savings, issues related to the site, use of materials, indoor air quality, and innovative design. By July in Canada, six buildings had reached platinum certification, 40 had gold, and the rest were silver or certified. Ontario and B. C. were running neck and neck with the most LEED certified projects (35 and 34 respectively), with Alberta third with 22.

Canada also has 3,000 LEED Accredited Professionals, or LEED APs. These are individuals “who have demonstrated a thorough understanding of green building practices and principles and familiarity with LEED requirements, resources, and processes.”

The Canada Green Building Council’s goal is to certify 100,000 commercial buildings and a million homes as having achieved documented greenhouse gas reductions by 2015.

LEED moves on

As LEED enters the mainstream, it is also entering a new phase of its development. At the Toronto Conference the Canada Green Building Council announced a “new generation” of LEED to launch in 2009.

For building designers and engineers, this is important news. Currently, most buildings are registered with LEED when they begin design, and don’t achieve certification until after they have been completed. It’s a long process that can take years. It results in a one-time certification, which is verified by a team of experts appointed by the CaGBC. (The U. S. Green Building Council has created a separate branch for certification purposes, trying to ensure impartiality in the process.)

Whereas LEED certification now represents the promised performance of a building at the start of its life, a picture taken at one point in time, that is going to change. CaGBC has announced it is creating a LEED system for measuring a building’s ongoing operational performance after it has been brought into service. For this, the focus will be on energy use, emissions and water conservation.

First, however, the CaGBC needs to establish benchmarks for ongoing building operations, so it has invited government and private developers to submit their buildings for pilot studies. This program is being called the “Green Building Performance Initiative” and is being launched for commercial buildings, public administration buildings and K-12 schools. At least 40 buildings are in pilot studies so far.

At the same time CaGBC is running similar benchmarking programs for residential building developments and for neighbourhoods. It hopes to launch LEED for Homes and LEED for Neighbourhood Development by next year.

These moves will take LEED further away from its original one-size-fits-all approach, to a system that tailors itself to different types of buildings and larger developments. CaGBC works closely with the U. S. Green Building Council in formulating these differentiated LEED systems, but adapts them to Canadian regulations, different building materials, etc.

Quicker and cheaper

Nancy Grenier, head of communications at the Canada Green Building Council in Vancouver, explains they are also working closely with the U. S. Green Building Council on something called a “Bookshelf.” It will enable building owners to go online to check out their building’s performance and identify improvements by using the LEED template.

Lowering the cost of LEED certification is also on the radar. The council has plans to: “increase the ability to certify projects quicker and cheaper for new and existing buildings of all types.”

Currently, the cost of applying and certifying buildings depends on their size and location. To register a 9,290-m3 (100,000 sq. ft.) building in Ontario for LEED New Construction costs $2,348. For actual certification once the building is completed, it costs $9,385. For members of CaGBC the prices are reduced by 30- 40%. If the building owner feels the need to hire special LEED consultants to steer the building design through the certification process, then there are additional consultants’ costs.

Green Globes and Go Green

While LEED has become the best known green building labelling system, it is not the only one.

The Green Globes rating system was developed by architect Jiri Skopek of ECD Group, Toronto, around the same time as LEED in 2000. Green Globes grew out of the BREEAM building rating system of the United Kingdom and was known as BREEAM Green Leaf in its earlier days.

ECD continues to develop and maintain the Green Globes system, but at the beginning of July the company was bought out by Jones Lang LaSalle, a huge international property management company. Jones Lang LaSalle also acquired the Green Globes technology platform.

In place of LEED’s platinum, gold, and silver ratings, Green Globes uses a number rating. For example, last November, the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan Fipke Centre announced it had earned five Green Globes — the highest rating. The $30 million building has a groundwater energy system for cooling and heating, and a wind tower for air exchange.

Canada’s federal government also uses the Green Globes rating system for some of its smaller projects.

900 buildings certified “Go Green”

Though less familiar to the general public than LEED, Green Globes is well known in the property management industry, especially after it wa
s adopted by the Building Owners and Management Association (BOMA) in 2005. BOMA uses the Green Globes system as part of its Go Green Plus certification program for assessing existing buildings.

Currently BOMA has over 900 buildings certified in its Go Green and Go Green Plus programs — almost nine times more build- ings than are LEED certified. The two BOMA programs include commercial and institutional buildings of every size. Go Green is a set of best practices, and Go Green Plus is an online assessment questionnaire, scoring and benchmarking program. Both involve third-party verification.

Nada Sutic, manager of green initiatives at BOMA Canada, says she doesn’t think of LEED and Go Green as direct competitors. “Most in the industry feel there is room for two rating or certification systems,” she says.

The big difference between BOMA’s Go Green and LEED until now has been that Go Green is for existing buildings to help the owners and their operators measure how well the systems are performing. ” Obviously, the new LEED performance benchmarking for ongoing operations will move the two rating systems closer together.

The Go Green Plus program is relatively simple and inexpensive. The applicant completes a questionnaire on line, entering data on the building’s energy use, water consumption, indoor air quality, etc. from the last 12 months.

Other questions relate to the site and to building management issues, such as communication with the tenants.

“The big issue is management,” says Sutic. “You might have the best building automation systems in the world, but without good management to train operators to use them, what’s the benefit?” she asks.

After the user has entered the data — there are about 150 questions — the Go Green Plus program generates a report instantly. After that a third party pays a site visit to verify the information. For example, the reviewer might check to see if the energy efficient lighting stated on the application form is used throughout the facility, or in fact is only in 50% of the space.

Whereas LEED uses a team of assessors, Go Green might just have one individual reviewer, and the onsite walk-through might take just three or four hours. BOMA operates the Go Green system from its local offices, which sometimes use a third party insurance auditing specialist like CGI to do the site visit.

The Go Green program fees range from $750 for a building under 100,000 sq. ft. to $3,000 for buildings over 500,000 sq. ft. It is a single fee, whereas LEED charges both an application and a certification fee.

Ecocalculator and other tools

For assessing the sustainability of new buildings it’s important to measure the life-cycle environmental impact of its different materials and components. A lifecycle assessment takes into account “embodied” energy used in manufacturing and transporting a product, the associated emissions, and the depletion of natural resources and materials. It’s a complex calculation, but starting in the early 1990s, the Athena Institute, which operates out of Merrickville, Ontario and is headed by Wayne Trusty, began to evaluate the life cycle impact of hundreds of building materials and structural assemblies. Athena now has a huge database.

From that database, the institute developed a detailed program, the Athena Impact Estimator for Buildings. It can model detailed designs of most building types for their life cycle impact.

Then from that tool, the Institute worked with Morrison Hershfield consulting engineers of Toronto and the University of Minnesota to develop the Athena EcoCalculator for Assemblies. The EcoCalculator was commissioned for use with Green Globes and is incorporated within the rating system. The U. S. Green Building Council has also decided to incorings porate the EcoCalculator within LEED and the tool has won awards from the U. S. Environmental Protection Agency, the American Institute of Architects and others. The Eco- Calculator can be downloaded for free from.

Eco this, and Green that

Indeed, as the green building industry comes into its own, the number of green building evaluation systems is growing. Natural Resources Canada, for example, has the eco-ENERGY for Buildings and Houses program, which lists building energy labelling and “validation of new building designs” among its services. In the U. S., the ENERGY STAR program run by the Environmental Protection Agency is expanding from a system that began labelling energy-efficient appliances and equipment, to being a label applied to entire new homes and commercial and industrial buildings.

The venerable American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) is becoming increasing interested in developing standards of practice for green building design. It is working with the U. S. Green Building Council and the Illuminating and Engineering Society of North America to develop Standard 189P as an ANSI baseline to be incorporated into building codes for sustainable design and construction.

Then there are all the different green advocacy organizations. To name just three on the international stage, besides the World Green Building Council (which has its secretariat near Toronto and is chaired by Stantec’s Kevin Hydes), there is the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (an association of 200 companies), and the Clinton Climate Initiative (it provides funding for 40 cities for large scale environmental projects; Toronto has signed on).

And in Canada, at the University of B. C., which in many ways was the birthplace of Canada’s green building movement under the leadership of Professor Ray Cole, the Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) will open in 2010.

If it’s bewildering to have so many “green” and “sustainability” programs, it is also amazing. It’s amazing to realize that in less than a decade the construction industry in North America has moved so far from a situation where the majority of engineers and builders were uninterested at best, sceptical at worst, about green building. Now we’re now at a stage where most building designers are being driven along by this fast-flowing stream.


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