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Colliers Project Leaders on how to do sustainability

Putting together Colliers Project Leaders’ newly released Sustainability Impact Report, Ralf Niel...

Putting together Colliers Project Leaders’ newly released Sustainability Impact Report, Ralf Nielsen got hit with a sudden insight.

The Algonquin College of Construction Excellence, a project Colliers helped project manage.

The Algonquin College of Construction Excellence, a project Colliers helped project manage.

Nielsen, the company’s director of sustainability, realized that Colliers could do much more than just help a client put in high-efficiency technology or achieve a LEED Gold building.

Rather, the potential exists to introduce innovative ideas around spin-off or collaborative projects that would bring other local, social and economic benefits.

“What stood out is there are some incredible projects that we’ve been doing that we didn’t even really know about,” Nielsen said.

He gave the example of work Colliers has been doing for Sualt Ste. Marie Public Utility Project, helping with the replacement of old high-pressure sodium street lights to newer LED lighting.

Over the course of the project, Colliers partnered with Riversedge Developments, who said they could divert the waste from the project.

Riversedge established a program with Ontario Works to provide training to unemployed individuals, who ended up recycling 26.8 tonnes of metal and diverting 43 tonnes of material from the landfill.

“That initiative spun off a whole bunch of social and economic benefits in the community,” Nielsen said.

Over 8,000 projects

The kinds of service Colliers Project Leaders provides includes working with clients to determine whether they should stay put, renovate, rebuild, lease or build new; and helping establish environmental and social sustainability objects and targets for project owners, stakeholders and others early in the project planning.

The company has been involved in over 8,000 projects worth some $10-billion. They include acting as project manager for the Algonquin College Centre for Construction Excellence.

That building is LEED Platinum-certified, includes a 4,000 metre green roof and won the Canada Green Building Council Academic Leadership award in 2012.

Colliers Project Leaders performed a different kind of consulting when it helped Canada Border Services Agency develop its sustainability management framework for its Real Property assets.

Built on sustainable design and construction, efficient operations and regulatory compliance, the plan is meant to optimize the agency’s return on assets while minimizing financial, legal and environmental risks.

One per cent of net profits goes to charitable and non-profit groups

Within its own business, Colliers Project Leaders is working on reducing its energy footprint through initiatives such as right-sizing its offices, the use of employee hoteling, and electronic document storage.

Fifty-three per cent of the company’s office space is located in green certified buildings.

As well, the firm provides subsidized transit passes to employees in Ottawa and Vancouver; runs paper reduction challenges and commuter challenges; and has a company-wide ban on the provision of bottled water.

The company also commits an average of more than one per cent of its net profits to charitable and non-profit organizations.

Nielsen said corporate sustainability begins with understanding where a company currently is, and that requires measurement and tracking.

“Whether or not you choose to report it is another question,” he said. “It can be beneficial because it opens up that dialogue with stakeholders, employees and clients.”

The biggest challenge has been educating clients

For its own purposes, Colliers Project Leaders uses the basic principles of reporting and disclosure as outlined by the Global Reporting Initiative’s G4 Guidelines and the Sustainability Accounting Standard Board’s Engineering & Construction Standard.

Nielsen said it’s important to integrate sustainability into the business and figure out where the sustainability advantage can be gained, or where the shared value is with clients.

“If you’re a professional services firm, you should be looking at what your services are and where you can integrate sustainability into those services to provide better value to your clients,” Nielsen said. “That’s really what it’s all about.”

The biggest challenge facing Colliers Project Leaders has been educating clients about sustainable technologies and practices. Nielsen said that if they’re successful persuading clients to integrate those into their projects, they could make a big difference in terms of their bottom line, as well as any associated environmental benefits.

Looking ahead, Colliers Project Leaders identifies climate change adaptation and regeneration as one of the challenges in the future. The report notes that clients’ buildings and infrastructure will have to “become resilient and make net-positive contributions to the regeneration of our ecosystems and communities.”

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