Saturday, March 08, 2008


This week I took a journey into unknown territory, in an environment that kept me out of the sun. I spent two days listening to architects, construction engineers, designers, municipal planners, authors of building codes, certification administrators, energy consultants, and building contractors of every discipline. I learned a great deal as one of 400 participants in the ‘Building Green in a Changing Climate’ conference and trade show held in Courtenay.

Public demand for environmental standards and accountability has sparked change in the construction industry and some companies are complying with tough standards in order to attract customers. Rising material costs, as well as an increase in operational costs for all buildings, have combined with skyrocketing energy costs. The result is that the construction industry is beginning to realize that it must seek out alternatives. In today’s market place building ‘green’ makes sense economically.

A great deal of creative and technical innovation is being generated with amazing results that will effectively revolutionize the building industry. However, only a small percentage of industrial, institutional, or residential construction projects are currently being built using green thinking and materials. The ground swell has begun and now it is up to the public to move it forward so that industry follows through with this green trend.

Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design is a market driven system, which is attempting to prove to consumers that building construction meets with the highest environmental standards. LEED is an internationally recognized rating system that encourages the construction of green buildings, administered by the Canada Green Building Council. Accredited professionals are trained and certified to monitor projects in order to award buildings with coveted ratings.

LEED has 5 principle categories by which it assesses construction projects for environmental sensitivity: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality. Certification is based on the number of points awarded for their compliance with these standards. Innovation in the design process can win additional points and negative points from noncompliant areas can be off set by points gained in other areas of the overall project.

One contractor admitted that they separated all of the construction waste material, went to great lengths and expense to transport it to the proper facility, and then discovered that it was all dumped into the same land fill. None of the material was recycled because the governing authorities had not implement any recycling at that facility. However, the building received LEED points based on the fact that the contractors had done their part to recycle the material. Other large projects reached targets of 95% recycling of waste materials where the proper facilities were available in larger urban centers.

In today’s real-estate market on Vancouver Island, with the potential for massive returns on investment dollars, entire communities are being built from scratch. The theory is that environmental devastation, caused by bulldozing large tracts of land, can be off-set by the ability to plan an entire town based on platinum rated ‘green’ standards. On paper it may work to move environmental points from one area to another, but on the ground when the road is blasted in and the trees are cut down the ecosystem is changed forever.

The term ‘Net-Zero’ refers to the energy consumption of a building, this along with ‘carbon neutral’ were catch phrases used repeatedly throughout the conference. In the forefront of my mine was the term “Green wash!” However, I truly believe that many of the professionals who made presentations at ‘Building Green’ want to change construction and are working towards a green future.

A strong argument was presented about sustainable building practices, since current construction practices tend to produce homes which may only last 30 to 40 years. European models have proven that residential buildings can exist for hundreds of years by using the proper care and attention to design, construction, and materials. The call was for building standards that will increase the longevity of buildings so that they are accountable to the amount of energy and resources put into them, thereby effecting environmental sustainability.