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Operational gaps slash Vancouver green building gains

Failure to teach green building landlords and tenants how to properly use their systems and techn...

Failure to teach green building landlords and tenants how to properly use their systems and technology is undermining government-led sustainability initiatives in commercial real estate, said stakeholders and experts at a Vancouver forum last week.

Vancouver Green BuildingsThe pursuit of environmentally-friendly standards must not end when its time to move into a green building, and landlords and tenants must be trained how to operate the building’s systems to maintain a high level of efficiency as designed, said Sunny Ghataurah, the president and CEO of AES Engineering on a panel at the Vancouver Real Estate Strategy and Leasing Conference.

Too many landlords don’t understand the green systems, he said, during a panel on sustainable buildings. “Half the time the landlord might not be aware of when they work, or how they’re supposed to work, let alone how a tenant is supposed to operate it.”

As part of Vancouver’s target to become the greenest city in the world by 2020, the city’s mayor and council has required that all commercial building projects seeking rezoning must erect a building that meets Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold criteria, Ghataurah said.

“In order to comply with building code, LEED-Gold is the minimum,” he said. “Very, very easy to do from a developer point of view and from an engineer design point of view as well.”

Vancouver developers have added more than 2-million square feet of downtown office space over the past four years, boosting the city’s inventory of green office space, including marquee buildings such as Telus Garden, and the MNP Tower.

Green office demand surges

Tenants have many reasons to want to occupy LEED-certified or other green-rated buildings and that demand is climbing, said fellow panelist Jennifer Davis, the principal at TurnLeaf Consulting, which specializes in workplace sustainability strategies.

Many firms have corporate mandates to occupy LEED-certified buildings; others want their brand to be associated with environmentally-friendly initiatives, she said.

Others are in competition for top talent in the marketplace. “By 2020, 50% of our workforce will be millennials, so if you’re looking to attract and retain top talent in this market, what your workspace or work environment looks like is going to need to equate to their values,” she said.

Davis said a senior management team from a Vancouver firm was recently seeking a new office. They said they didn’t think sustainability would be very important to their staff when it came to selecting a space, but then they polled their workforce. “Interestingly, sustainability came out on top, so it just goes to show that maybe we’re not listening to the younger generation enough,” she said.

Davis said there are important questions prospective tenants should be asking of the property managers or landlords. “They’ll give you an indication of just how green the building is,” she said, encouraging prospective tenants to ask about specific green objectives, targets and monitoring programs.

“Oftentimes there are significant knowledge gaps and there’s systemic operational gaps that exist,” she said.

Davis recounted another story when consulting at a community centre three years ago.

“We were looking at the indoor pool area. It had this fabulous glass roof,” Davis said. “It was mid-August and it was mid-day. We were walking through and I said to the pool manager, ‘how come all of these lights are on when you’ve got this atrium and you’ve got all this glass’, and he responded, ‘the lights have been on for four months, I don’t know how to turn them off’.”

Discuss green systems  for ‘win-win’

Too often the engineers and building designers finish their work and leave, but the staff don’t know how to use the building systems, agreed Dan Lee, the director of facilities management at the Vancouver Convention Centre — the host of the real estate forum.

He told the forum the City of Vancouver used images of the 1.8 million-square-feet conference centre’s West Building as part of their Greenest City 2020 Action Plan.

“It’s a good expectation to have,” he said, but added that they have sustainability challenges of their own when it comes to managing tenants. The convention centre has a mix of non-convention tenants, including retail stores, services and restaurants.

He said a big challenge has been improving their overall waste diversion numbers. “When we started reviewing this program internally, some our tenants were as low as 40%.”

To bring up those numbers, they launched a program to start weighing the garbage produced by each tenant and educating each businesses about their waste scores.

“We went from a miserable 40% (diversion rate) with some tenants and retailers to as high as 70%,” Lee said. “When they see their behaviour on paper then they adjust their behaviour.”

He said communicating green targets and programs with tenants is a win-win for both parties and essential to running a sustainable building the way it was designed to. “Get your engineering team involved at the commissioning stage as much as possible and get them trained,” he said.

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