Stephen Carpenter on Green Buildings: The first step is getting rid of the waste

To better understand the challenges and opportunities in the rapidly growing green building sector RENX contacted Stephen Carpenter, President of Enermodal Engineering for his perspective on the state of industry. Stephen Carpenter is considered Canada's leading designer of sustainable buildings and has facilitated services to over 40 building projects.

Enermodal Engineering is the most active green building engineering firm in Canada associated with 100 LEED building projects in every sector ranging from education to industrial. Enermodals projects include: the RBC, Telus and Bay/Adelaide office buildings in Toronto, Oxford Centennial Place in Calgary, 300 Queen St. a Federal office building in Ottawa and Maple Leaf Square residential developement in Toronto.

This interview took place at a time when the number of LEED registered and certified buildings have doubled in a year, the technical and financial barriers to going green are diminishing, tenants are requesting green buildings and there are calls for a higher standard of sustainability from within the industry.

Following are excerpts from RENX conversation with Stephen Carpenter:

What is the greatest opportunity for the green building sector?

Carpenter said "One of the greatest opportunities facing the industry is the retrofit of the existing building stock. LEED for existing buildings is relatively new. It was released in the U.S. late in 2004 and, as it stands, it is not officially released in Canada."

Realtors in Toronto have expressed concern to Carpenter about leasing existing office space with the prospect of three new LEED office towers coming on the market in the downtown. The realtors think they may "have to take a bath to get people into older buildings." He added, the prospect of new LEED office buildings is encouraging building owners to consider 'green' retrofits.

How long is it before buildings become unplugged?

"From a sustainability point of view the sector is at a starting point not the end point." Carpenter said "the current crop of buildings are an improvement over those constructed in the past but they are not going to solve all the problems. We have to be careful not to oversell green buildings."

"People are looking for quick fixes and wigits. It isn't about photovoltaics, green roofs and wind generators. It is all about waste. The first step is to get rid of the waste. Solve that problem and then go on with the other things. Green buildings look just like other buildings."

How is Canada's green building sector progressing compared to other countries?

Carpenter explained "European buildings and culture are much better at dealing with waste. They use half the energy we use. They have their heads around the wastage problem."

"We are extremely wasteful the way we design, build and operate buildings." Carpenter provided downtown Toronto "which is still fully lit at night" as evidence. He attributed the lights remaining on as the result of layers of systemic technical issues and operational practices typical of older office towers, and occurring in spite of energy conservation efforts.

He added that in Canada, we have low energy prices that don't reflect the true cost of energy.

What is the greatest challenge facing Enermodal?

Carpenter indicated one of the greatest challenges facing Enermodal is finding enough qualified people, engineers and architects, to work on green buildings. Good green building design requires 'a multi-disciplinary approach' and there are not many people who fully understand with how buildings are designed and constructed. "Green building methods are changing the way we design and construct buildings," he added.

Do you have any concerns about the future of the green buildings?

"One of challenges ahead is that there are a lot of organizations going through their first green buildings." Carpenter questions whether "they will do a second one and how the costs and benefits will weight out." He wonders whether "there will be a sustained interest in green buildings."

Carpenter said, "Developers should be asking not, what is the cost of a LEED buildings, but what is the benefit. The benefits of building green make it a bargain." He also noted that if tenants begin to prefer green buildings that 'an empty office building is not cost effective.'

How has LEED impacted the green building industry? (Stephen Carpenter is on the LEED Canada Technical Advisory Group and a LEED Faculty Member)

"LEED is trying to create a standard measure of building performance similar to other third party certifications like ISO 9000." He observed how ISO 9000 has become an accepted industry standard of high quality over a period of 30 years.

Carpenter indicated that one of the benefits of LEED is that it has established a market for certain sustainable products. He raised sustainable harvested wood as example of a product that Enermodal now actively pursues that was not previously available.

"LEED is a valuable brand and people want their product to comply with it," he said.

What other positive trends do you see in the green building industry?

Carpenter is encouraged by economic sectors "who you would not expect to be interested that have gone ahead with green buildings." He cited two industrial buildings the Steelcare Plant in Hamilton (LEED Gold) and the Omron Dualtec Ecu Division in Oakville (LEED Silver) as examples.

"Municipalities like Kingston, Ontario and cities in York Region, north of Toronto have really moved forward", according to Carpenter. (Towns Go Green on Their Own – March 27, 2007) He contrasted their progress with the Province of Ontario that he said is "way behind" and the Federal Government that has two LEED certified buildings.

What is your favourite Enermodal green building?

The Enermodal head office Green on the Grand in Kitchener, Ontario, Canada's first C-2000 office building is a project that Carpenter is proud to have designed. It uses a remarkable 120 kwh/sq. m. of energy. As well as Enermodal there are four other tenants in the builiding whose energy usage is separately monitor. There is a difference of about 2% in energy usage between them.

Stephen Carpenter will be presenting at the Green Real Estate Conference, April 18, 2007, at the Toronto Convention Centre.

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

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

Industry Events