Lessons learned from the experts at the first Green Real Estate Conference

Last weeks Green Real Estate conference in Ottawa, the first of its kind in Canada, provided a prime opportunity to learn from the experts and pioneers in the Green Building sector. While many participants cited preserving the natural environment for future generations as motivation for attending clearly most were also there to acquire ‘nuts and bolts’ information about how to green their business, lessons learned and new ideas.

Co-chair of the conference, Paul Finkbeiner, President of GWL Realty Advisors Inc. explained that he had done extensive research in preparation for the conference and as a first step toward the ‘greening’ of his company.   GWL has over $8-billion in real estate assets, 600 employees and 9 regional offices. Finkbeiner is considering the benefits of ‘a green building strategy’ for GWL’s clients, such as pension funds, who expect reliable annual yields from their investments. According to Finkbeiner, “It makes sense from a TBL (triple bottom line) perspective, so why wouldn’t we do it.”

A common thread emerged from experienced green builders that early planning and a focus on ‘process’ was key to a successful green building project. According to Peter Halsall, President of Halsall Associates Ltd. , “Its not about technology.  It’s about the process. What is needed to make a building green is here now.  It is not bleeding edge”.

Although buildings have been ‘greened’ mid-way through the design phase, builders such as Bill Campbell, Senior Vice President at Minto Commercial highly recommended ‘doing it right from the beginning” and using an integrated design process (IDP) in conjunction with the LEED guidelines.  The open discussion and debate that is integral to an IDP was deemed necessary to overcome ‘new design’ problems such as significant changes to HVAC systems, lighting and building electronics.

William Browning author of Greening the Building and the Bottom Line also spoke strongly in favour of an IDP and ambitious goals. He said that it cost less to construct a building designed to optimize the benefits of building green, with energy savings in excess of 50% of conventional buildings than a building targeted for modest energy savings in the 20% range.

Jonathon Westeinde, Managing Partner of Windmill Development Group advised that developers ‘commit (to building green) before you put a drawing on paper.’ He also suggested a careful site selection, choosing the ‘right team’ and an IDP.  He identified the weakest link in building green as the tendering and construction phase.  He described how Windmill’s first developments in Calgary required extensive work with the trades over such things as installing ‘wheat board’ kitchens. He said a first project in a new jurisdiction would be time consuming while a second building would be a lot easier.

Pioneers in Green Buildings have learned from their experiences and are moving ahead with new ideas. Bill Campbell mentioned that replacing the roof on industrial buildings is the single largest maintenance cost. Success with a 17-year-old green roof on the Minto Place office building in Ottawa is propelling Minto to consider green roofs for its entire industrial portfolio. Cheryl Gladu, a Partner in multi-family green builder, EcoCite Developments says one of their next projects is going to be an ‘off the grid’ building.

Craig Tresham, Senior Vice President, Avison Young Commercial Real Estate is an outspoken advocate of Green Buildings and responsible for stick handling the development of a green office building in Halifax on property owned by Summit REIT, developed by Giffels and tenanted by Royal Sun Alliance.  Craig proclaimed that green buildings are simply ‘the way business is going to be done”.  

The Federal Government PWGSC was a sponsor of the Green Real Estate Conference and it has been a leader in green building initiatives across the country.  While the conference was primarily concerned with new buildings, the greening of Canada’s built environment is considered urgent. Tim McGrath, Assistant Deputy Minister, Real Property Branch, PWGSC noted that for the Federal Government, and probably other building owners, there is a continuing issue of what is an appropriate standard, limitation in the ability to change existing buildings and a lack of costing information. 

Participants at the conference agreed that a successful green building project require strong leadership and a clear vision for what ‘green’ means. Since the recently elected Federal Conservative Government does not include the environment among its top five priorities it seems unlikely that it will be a champion of Green Real Estate.

The initiative taken by York Communications owners George Pryzbylowski and Jacqui Elliot in organizing the conference and commitment of real estate executives like Paul Finkbeiner of GWL Realty to a Green corporate mandate suggest that the private sector is going to be a driving force behind the greening of Canadian real estate.

Amory Lovins , world renown scientist, author and promoter of environmental causes who is creditted with having said, “It is far too important an issue to be left to Government” might argue that the greening of real estate without political support is progressing, although at a glacial pace, as it should.

Ann launched RENX in 2001 as a part-time venture and has grown the publication to become a primary source of online news for the Canadian real estate industry. Prior to…

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Ann launched RENX in 2001 as a part-time venture and has grown the publication to become a primary source of online news for the Canadian real estate industry. Prior to…

Read more

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