What are the barriers to building green buildings?

The Green Building sector, although a long simmering phenomena, has flourished in the past 10 years with establishment of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) (1999) and the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) (2003). 

In 2000, Canada had a handful of new green buildings while today there are 60 LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design) certified buildings and hundreds in the queue.  In the U.S., there are 735 LEED certified and 5,562 registered.  As some developers build green, but do not seek LEED certification, these figures understate the total.

While this is an extraordinarily fast growth rate, LEED registered buildings account for only about 4% of those under construction in Canada.  Given the urgent need to mitigate the negative effects of carbon emissions associated with buildings, it raises the question, "What are the barriers to building green?"

Jonathan Westeinde, Managing Partner, Windmill Developments and a director of the Canada Green Building Council said that although “there is amazing momentum in the green building sector the biggest thing is there needs to be a value shift”. 

“Developers who have established a successful market for conventional buildings are fearful about making the change”, according to Westeinde.  “A developer only has to build green once or twice and then they will begin to do things differently.  Attempts to superficially ‘green’ a building may end up costing more than committing to a ‘green’ design process where there is a genuine payback.”

“Competitive forces between green and conventional developments are going to accelerate growth in the number of green buildings,”  Westeinde added. “Now it is a case of there being two buildings, one green and one not, allowing prospective buyers to assess the merits of both.”

“The development cost of green buildings falls across a wide spectrum and relates to many factors including building form and structure, site conditions and to some extent the LEED process,” said Westeinde. “An increase in the number of green buildings will reduce initial development cost by creating a competitive market for the products and services that go into them. “

Westeinde said the CaGBC is considering ways to simplify and accelerate the LEED certification process and reduce the cost to about 25% of the existing level as a way of attracting more applicants.

Another way to encourage green buildings, according to Westeinde, is to get away from a focus on capital costs and look at operating costs over the 50 to 100 year life span of the building.  Westeinde indicated the CaGBC is monitoring the activities of the USGBC's Life Cycle Assessment Working Group. It has developed initial recommendations for incorporating Life Cycle Assessment of building materials as part of LEED.  The USGBC plans to implement an LCA plan by the end of 2007.

Dermot Sweeny of Sweeny, Sterling, Finlayson & Co Architects is in the unique position of acting as the ‘advocate architect’ for the future occupants of two LEED Silver office towers being designed for downtown Toronto: the Telus Tower (32 storeys) at 25 York St. being developed by Menkes and the RBC Centre (43 storeys) at Simcoe and Wellington Sts. which will be owned by Cadillac Fairview. 

Sweeny's firm was also lead architect for Microsoft's head office in Toronto, a building that exemplifies principals of environmental sustainability, acting for both Microsoft and the developer Bentall Capital.

According to Sweeny “Developers are building LEED buildings because it is the right thing to do.  It is building their brand, creating a competitive advantage and the tenants are demanding it.”

“Office building occupants want to attract and retain good knowledge workers.  It is their number one priority,” said Sweeny.  Workers are considering the quality of their workplace when assessing employers and green buildings are known for providing a superior working environment.

Sweeny sees tenants as key to the development of more efficient and better buildings because traditionally operating costs have been passed through to the tenant. “We study the gross cost of occupancy over the life of a lease. Once the tenant understands there is a tremendous advantage over time to certain design features then the tenants demand that of the developer.”

According to Sweeny it is ‘easy’ to build a LEED Silver office building in downtown Toronto at about the same cost as a conventional building.  He indicated that LEED attributes points to urban locations serviced by public transit, benefiting downtown towers, and that the technical challenges can be overcome.

Jonathan Westeinde is the co-chair and Dermot Sweeny will be participating in a discussion about case studies of green office buildings at the up and coming Green Real Estate Conference to be held on April 18 at the Toronto Convention Centre. 


Jonathan Westeinde is Managing Partner of Windmill Developments, a director of the Canada Green Building Council and chair of Building Green Advisory Group, for the Centre for Environmental Cooperation, a NAFTA related organization, concerned with the current status and future prospects for green buildings on the continent.

Windmill Developments is one of Canada’s foremost builders of Green condos including Dockside Green (Victoria), Acqua and Vento (Calgary), The Currents (Ottawa) and others under development Keyma (Calgary), Currents 2 (Ottawa) and an environmentally sustainable urban lifestyle project in South Carolina similar to Dockside Green. 

Click here to view an informative 27-minute video about Dockside Green: An Urban Developer Goes for the Green.

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