The real estate association, whose report details the water usage of 83 office properties across the country, hopes that the pilot report will serve as the first step to allow commercial office building owners and managers to benchmark their H20 consumption against their industry peers.
“We have done energy already and water is sort of the next frontier,” said Julia St. Michael, manager of research and environmental programs with REALpac. “People have been thinking about energy, waste, water, emissions, for some time, the main components of the environmental piece” and water was the logical input to measure.
In some ways, REALpac’s latest benchmarking effort should prove easier to win support and adoption among participants – at least that is what is hoped. “When we did the energy benchmarking study, the setting of a target was really about leading people to achieving a target,” continued St. Michael.
“Some of the activities were really pushing the envelope because we didn’t have anything else here in Canada that compared. Now that we have done that, people are very aware of these types of programs and it is understood that people would be, should be, looking at these other components.”
The study says . . .
The initial results from the study found “wide ranges in annual water use intensity” across different regions and building characteristics, which the association concluded illustrates the diversity among commercial buildings and the requirement for a normalized approach.
Perhaps the biggest challenge REALpac faces is the general lack of sub-metered water use data, which it said in its report “points to the need for more detailed information and deeper understanding of exceptional space types and irrigation areas and how they contribute to overall building water performance.”
In an ideal world, buildings would provide figures for water usage for key processes such as cooling and irrigation.
“We may be even a little bit ahead of the curve in the sense that water data and water metering and water billing is not as sophisticated as energy billing,” St. Michael said. “We may have asked for data that is not actually available yet so it could be interesting moving forward how our understanding of water use in buildings can or will evolve once we get more data.”
One highlight of the study is that greener buildings typically use less water. It found buildings without green certifications show the highest water usage (both actual and normalized), while buildings with LEED certification (exclusively) have the lowest. Commercial buildings in the middle of the pack had either BOMA BESt certification or combined LEED and BOMA BESt certifications.
With world-leading per capita water usage in Canada and the U.S., REALpac is operating under the assumption the Canadian office sector has some catching up to do to reach the usage marks in places like Europe or drought-stricken Australia.
“The feeling is that in Canada we take our fresh water reserves completely for granted and have not looked at measurably and using it wisely – in a very general sense.”
Assumptions could get wet
REALpac has come out of its pilot study with the realization it requires a bigger sample set and far more data to test its assumptions.
The association knows that the geographic variability of water use will not mirror energy use. “For heating, water is not as much of a factor as it is for cooling,” said St. Michael. “So maybe there is not as much variability based on geography.”
REALpac will have its water usage program online early next year in order that owners and property managers can see how they stack up and be included in the association’s annual survey.
Among the perks, REALpac promises participants will be given tools and information to:
• Track water use and building performance over time.
• Make informed asset management decisions.
• Inform and guide capital budgeting programs.
• Develop more focused training programs for building operations professionals.
• Develop employee incentives and compensation programs which incorporate the proven water performance of a building or portfolio.
• Prioritize future initiatives to be taken with respect to water reduction targets and initiatives.
People in the industry will be able to input the data and also calculate some of their normalized water use metrics and start that process of collecting water data, monitoring, tracking and benchmarking performance over time.