The building industry is a significant contributor to environmental degradation due to the complex and long-lasting process of erecting, operating, and eventually deconstructing buildings,1 so the way we approach real estate development projects can significantly reduce our impact on the environment.

In Canada, buildings consume one third of total energy production, without accounting for the energy used to manufacture and transport building materials.2 In addition, the building industry in Canada consumes 50% of extracted natural resources, produces 25% of landfill waste, 10% of airborne particulates and 35% of green house gases (GHG).3

This article will set out the advantages of building green, not only to the environment, but also to the bottom line of a project and to the people who use the building. It will then examine tools and methodologies for achieving green development as well as certification options, including LEED®. Finally, it will outline a range of policy tools available to municipalities to promote green development and will provide case studies of a number of approaches taken by North American cities.

Overview of Green Development

Defining Green in the Building Context

Although popular imagination often restricts the association of green buildings with the environmental components of a project (such as roof top gardens), a closer look at green buildings reveals a wide range of approaches and technologies which go beyond the increase of environmental performance. Green buildings are sometimes referred to as energy-efficient buildings, sustainable buildings or high-performance buildings. In this article, the expression “green buildings” will be used to connote a building conceived with the intention of enhancing environmental, social, and economic performance. This triple-bottom-line approach requires shifting from a short-term perspective to one incorporating long-term, multi-faceted considerations relating to construction, operation and deconstruction.

From a technical standpoint, it is pertinent to look at the five broad categories proposed by the LEED® certification programme to understand the focus of green building design:

  • sustainable site planning;
  • safeguarding water and water efficiency;
  • energy efficiency and renewable energy;
  • conservation of materials and resources; and
  • indoor environmental quality.4

The Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) has added the additional category of innovation in design.5

Examples of elements in a green building, in connection to any of the above mentioned categories, include optimising site orientation, incorporating low-flow toilets, providing bike storage and showers in commercial buildings, harvesting rainwater, designing flexible layouts in commercial interiors, using high efficiency mechanical systems and electrical systems, materials with little embodied energy, geothermal heating, photovoltaic panels, and energy-efficient building envelope solutions.

The Benefits of Green Real Estate

The United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) points out that the building industry “literally builds the foundations for sustainable development, including housing, workplace, public buildings and services, communications, energy, water and sanitary infrastructures, and provides the context for social interactions as well as economic development at the micro-level”.6

Environmental Performance

It is estimated that buildings worldwide use about 30-40% of all primary energy,7 which includes the consumption of fossil fuels. By promoting green buildings, 13% of the GHG reduction required to meet Kyoto could be achieved by the building industry.8

The environmental benefits of green buildings are not however limited to reducing fossil-fuel energy consumption and GHG emissions. Green building components address water management, waste generation, materials recycling, resource conservation and biodiversity. Technical solutions to these concerns can be far-reaching and address many of them at once.

A notable example of a green technology that addresses many environmental concerns is green roofs, which provide alternative drainage solutions, absorb air pollution and store carbon, offer insulating qualities, reduce outdoor noise, provide habitats for small species and contribute to reduce the urban heat island effect.9

Economic Performance

a) Hard Numbers: Capital Costs and Operating Costs

From an investor’s perspective, the most wellknown economic argument for green buildings is the decrease in operating costs. Operating costs refer to the energy use of buildings over their life-cycle for heating, cooling, lighting and ventilation, as well as various maintenance activities such as routine repairs. They also incorporate factors such as insurance, property taxes and churn rates (the cost of reconfiguring space and services to account for tenant moves).10 When buildings are designed with flexibility, using fewer materials that require routine maintenance and devoting efforts to enhance energy performance, operating costs are significantly reduced.

The following examples provided by the CaGBC demonstrate how important these savings can be:11

i) The first LEED® Canada-NC certified building in Canada, Stratus Vineyards in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario, shows a reduction in annual energy consumption of approximately 42% as compared to a similar use building that was not built using green design. A major contributing factor to these savings was that the designer selected an east-west orientation for the buildings complemented by good insulation systems.

ii) A LEED® Canada-NC Gold building, EMS Headquarters and Fleet Centre in Cambridge, Ontario, shows energy savings of 62% relative to the Model National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings (MNECB) as a result of the use of “radiant hydronic floor heating, displacement ventilation, energy recovery ventilators and CFC-free HVAC equipment.” In addition, power consumption was reduced by 54% and overall building water use by 90%.

While green technologies may increase the capital cost necessary for construction, there is often a misconception as to the extent of the increase, if any, required for effective green strategies. A report prepared for Industry Canada in 2005 has consolidated different studies and identified a consensus around a 2% increase for the incorporation of basic green building strategies.12 Projects integrating more advanced green technologies will require greater capital expenditures, but are not likely to exceed an increase of 30%.13

Increases in the capital costs will be offset by the various savings resulting from lower operating costs. The emphasis on direct capital costs as opposed to operating costs in the traditional corporate structure has been identified as one of the barriers to green real estate.14 In line with the long-term approach dictated by sustainable development principles, both capital costs and direct operating costs must be assessed at the outset of a project in order to have an accurate financial portrait of the real estate investments. Life-cycle costing (LCC) is a tool that can be used to establish the performance of a building over the long-term by triggering predictions based on the various green systems and materials in a proposed green building project.

At the end of the 1980s, ING bank constructed new headquarters in Amsterdam, integrating both passive and active green strategies to enhance the energy efficiency of its building. The costs attributed to the energy-efficient systems were held to be approximately $700,000. The energy savings, on the other hand, were estimated at $2.6 million annually, for a payback period of only three months.15 Twenty years later, green technologies and expertise have evolved dramatically, and even greater savings could be expected.

The cost of a green building will necessarily vary according to the uniqueness of each building design, its climatic conditions and its green strategies. A design that relies solely on passive strategies will not automatically be less energy-efficient than a building using sophisticated technologies, but will most likely be less expensive. For example, a well conceived design optimizing site orientation and thereby taking advantage of daylight and natural ventilation might not necessitate greater construction costs than a building designed without these considerations in mind, but could nonetheless trigger significant energy savings.

b) Soft Numbers

In addition to savings in operating costs, there are numerous indirect financial benefits attributable to green building practices:

i) Increase in Property Value: When the benefits of green buildings are successfully conveyed to purchasers, the market value of a building is likely to increase. Although little data is available to illustrate this,16 the most convincing argument remains the incredible momentum both within the real estate sector and the public for green buildings. As Ernst & Young’s market outlook for 2007 points out, in the near future there will be financial risks in not building green.17

ii) Greater Revenue from Rental Fees: There is evidence that tenants consider comfort in office buildings to be a priority and actively look for healthy environments which optimize features such as daylight, high performance heating, ventilating, and airconditioning (HVAC) equipment and natural ventilation. A survey found that 72% of tenant respondents admitted to be willing to pay extra for better working spaces. 18

iii) Encourages Local and Regional Markets: As dictated by the principles of sustainable development, green building design privileges products and materials manufactured near the construction site. This results in local and regional job creation.19

iv) Opportunity for Branding and Improved Corporate Image: Buildings are one of the vehicles through which companies convey their culture and philosophy. A green design can promote the image of a company as one committed to sustainable development and corporate social responsibility.

Environmentally-friendly practices can even be translated quantitatively through increased retail sales. Wal-Mart’s store in Lawrence, Kansas, known locally as the ‘Eco-Mart’, is a case in point. It has shown significant increases in retail sales as a result of the use of skylights and experimental green features. The increases have been compared to the same departments in other Wal-Mart stores in similar contexts and the positive outcome in Lawrence has been attributed to the building’s green features.20

i) Increased Productivity and Salary Gains: A building developer, owner, or tenant committed to the well-being of its occupants and taking measures to provide a sound working environment can yield substantive financial benefits. When considering commercial buildings, salaries can account for 88% of annual commercial expenses.21 Enhanced physical comfort conditions such as reduced glare, access to more natural lighting, pleasant views, etc., lower salary expenses by increasing productivity and reducing absenteeism.22

Well-known examples include ING Bank’s Headquarters in Amsterdam, for which increased daylight and efficient energy systems have resulted in a 15% decrease in absenteeism.23

A productivity increase of 1% can generate savings which surpass the entire energy bill of a building.24 In addition to yielding a higher property value and greater rental fees, there is little doubt that increased productivity and reduced absenteeism will favour tenant attraction and retention, and thereby reduce the cost of space reconfiguration.

Social Performance

A green building is one that is highly sensitive to the well-being of its occupants and that incorporates features that promote their comfort and health. The social implications of buildings are not to be undervalued. It is estimated that people spend 90% of their time indoors.25 The relationship between productivity and the health of occupants is no longer up for debate,26 and poor building design has been associated with a number of health-related problems including mental health issues, allergies, asthma, acute respiratory illness and the sick building syndrome.27 The impacts are particularly acute in office buildings.

A number of features can serve to enhance the quality of life of building occupants. Increased natural lighting and ventilation do not only relieve pressure from electrical and mechanical systems but provide healthier environments in which to live and work. Greater access to the outdoors, stimulating environments, and innovative designs are factors which provide safer, healthier, more enjoyable and productive working spaces.

Again, ING headquarters in Amsterdam is a laudable example and one of the earliest. When the time came for new headquarter offices, ING was looking for a building that was “organic, which integrated art, natural materials, sunlight, plants, energy conservation, low noise, and water”.28 The building, completed in 1987, has all working spaces within 23 feet of a window. Interior louvers were used to reflect natural light onto office ceilings. The design is unconventional and is organized around gardens and courtyards. As a result of the building’s innovative features, not only did the bank’s business grow but the productivity of employees was greatly enhanced, as illustrated by the aforementioned decrease of 15% in the rate of absenteeism.29

How to Build Green

For the past few decades, building professionals have been refining their expertise and consolidating their efforts in the area of green building design. To ensure coherence as well as consistency, and to respond to the need for a documented approach, tools and methodologies have been developed and are now recognized as a key element of achieving green building practices. The end results, namely the green features of a building, are not the sole consideration of green building projects. The means to the end are just as critical. The following briefly highlights the most acknowledged methodologies for achieving successful green buildings.

Design Methodologies for Green Buildings

Integrated Design Process (IDP)

IDP is a multi-disciplinary approach to the design and post-occupancy phases of a project. From the initial stages of a project, IDP brings together representatives of the different building disciplines, including architects, engineers, consultants, building owners and facility managers, who meet regularly to set goals and a common vision for the project as well as to discuss strategies to achieve timely results that are coherent with such goals.30 This approach is fundamentally different from the standard approach where independent industry experts each provide input without collaboration or consultation with each other.


Commissioning ensures quality control by providing for third-party oversight of the development and operation of buildings. Much like IDP, commissioning facilitates the coordination of different building disciplines which have not traditionally worked together, and can serve as a complement to IDP.31 A rigorous commissioning process will take place during all phases of building construction: design, construction, documentation and post-construction. Its scope can also vary, ranging from basic oversight of strategies to extensive supervision of the integration of all building components.32

Assessing Performance: Life-Cycle Assessment Tools

Life-cycle costing, life-cycle assessment and more recently life-cycle inventory are tools used to quantitatively predict the performance of a building over a set time frame, especially in regard to energy consumption. Life-cycle costing is, more precisely, an accounting method measuring the cash inflows and outflows of a product or building, while lifecycle assessment is geared towards the environmental performance of materials and other building components.33 Life-cycle inventory is a branch of life-cycle assessment which focuses specifically on natural resources exploitation and tracks “flows from and to nature” for different products and processes.34 Each can provide a sound comparative basis for deciding between various green strategies.

The ATHENA Institute of Canada has been a leader in the environmental assessment of buildings and has put forth the only North American software for the life cycle assessment of buildings: the Environmental Impact Estimator. It has recently recognized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).35

Standards and Certification

Standards of certification facilitate the process of understanding the green value of buildings for the public by stamping buildings which achieve a minimal level of environmental performance as well as buildings which exceed it.

While buildings are not considered green strictly based on certification as such, benchmarking has been critical in fostering green development. The development of industry standards is facilitating the creation of a market for green buildings by allowing for comparability, raising awareness, providing credible frameworks and setting minimum standards of performance.36

Leaders in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®)

The most commonly known rating system is the LEED® certification process. LEED® is a “consensus-based rating system for designing, constructing, operating and certifying” green buildings.37 The United States Green Building Council created the LEED® system in 1994 in order to stimulate the market for green real estate and raise awareness. Green building councils exist in many countries and represent a coalition of representatives from various sectors of the building industry. They come together under the effigy of the World Green Building Council (WorldGBC). Canada has its own council, the CaGBC, which is present in most provinces through chapter organizations.38

The CaGBC operates with the LEED® rating system and is the sole organisation which has been endowed with the capacity to certify LEED® projects in Canada. It has adapted the LEED® NC (for New Constructions and Major Renovations) and LEED® CI (for Commercial Interiors) programs from the American versions to account for climatic conditions, building practices and regulations specific to Canada. LEED® NC is geared towards commercial and institutional projects or multi-unit residential buildings. The CaGBC is currently working to adapt the LEED® Homes, LEED® EB (for Existing Buildings) and LEED® CR (for Core and Shell) rating systems developed by the USGBC. While these are not yet available in Canada, Canadian projects have the option to register with the USGBC.39

With time, new versions of LEED® are emerging as a result of an increasing demand for tools which respond to the needs of specialised sub-categories within the building industry. The USGBC is particularly active in developing specialised rating tools, and is currently piloting the implementation of LEED® ND certification (for Neighbourhood Development), for which the Université de Montréal’s Montreal-based Gare de Triage project has been chosen as one of the pilot phase projects. Upcoming versions, such as LEED® for Schools, LEED® for Healthcare, LEED® for Retail and LEED® for Laboratories are also currently underway.40

In parallel to developing new versions of LEED®, the LEED® certification process is itself being adapted. The CaGBC, working in collaboration with the USGBC, has launched the LEED® Canada Initiative to create the “next generation of LEED®”. The intent is to develop a rating system which integrates, amongst other features, streamlined elements, an online user interface, and the possibility to record and monitor energy and water use. This will facilitate the development of a unified LEED® system in North America as well as enhance access to LEED® for developers by allowing for a more flexible, efficient and less expensive process. The CaGBC has also introduced the Green Building Performance Initiative. The aim is to create a “large dynamic building performance database and information system for entire building sectors”.41

The credibility and popularity of LEED® are due largely to its independent and transparent process, which is open to scrutiny and benefits from thirdparty assessment. Certifications are the responsibility of LEED® experts but are publicly reviewed for approval by the different membership organisations.42 LEED® further offers the advantage of not being prescriptive based.43 As such, it does not limit the use of innovative technologies by imposing too many technical requirements, but is open to alternative strategies as long as they achieve the desired objective.

Projects must be registered prior to certification, a step which allows the CaGBC to gauge the commitment of the developer to the certification process. To then become LEED® certified in Canada, a project must achieve certain prerequisites and be granted a sufficient number of credits in the following six performance categories:

  • sustainable sites
  • water efficiency
  • energy and atmosphere
  • materials and resources
  • indoor environmental quality
  • innovation and design process

The number of credits granted in each category will dictate the level of certification. LEED® Canada offers four possible levels of certification, with the base standard requiring at least 26 points out of a total of 70 points. For higher levels of achievement, projects can be certified Silver (33-38 points), Gold (39-51 points), or Platinum (above 52 points). As of June 2008, 106 projects were LEED® certified in Canada.44

LEED® does not consider post-occupation assessment as part of its certification process. In other words, certification is granted upon construction, and is therefore only based on projected rather than actual performance. In response to this lacune, the CaGBC is now developing LEED® Complete, a new version which will evaluate performance once a certified building has been in operation for one year.45

BREEAM (Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method)/Green Leaf™ and Green Globes

BREEAM/Green Leaf™ and Green Globes offer the possibility of assessing the performance of existing buildings. Green Globes is an online version of the Canadian BREEAM/Green Leaf™ suite of environmental assessment tools for buildings, and internationally recognized as a method for assessing the energy, environmental and health performance of buildings.46

BREEAM/Green Leaf™ and Green Globes are inexpensive and accessible tools that were developed to allow for in-house assessments of a building’s quality and performance. As such, they are useful introductory tools and help stimulate the market for green buildings by avoiding the costs and complications generally incurred by third-party certifications.47 In light of the foregoing, BREEAM/Green Leaf™ and Green Globes may be more practical than LEED® for smaller projects.48

Green Globes’ online evaluation is based on a confidential questionnaire which creates a scorecard based on the responses. Points are awarded in the following performance categories:

  • site;
  • energy;
  • water;
  • resources;
  • emissions;
  • indoor environment; and
  • project management.

Following the questionnaire, a report underlines the performance, suggests strategies for improvements and provides links to useful information.49

BREEAM/Green Leaf™ and Green Globes are environmental assessment tools rather than certification programs. However, they have been used as a basis for certification by specific associations. In the United States, Green Globes is owned and operated by the Green Building Initiative (GBI), which is working to establish it as an official standard of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI). In Canada, Green Globes products are owned and operated by ECD Energy and Environment Canada, except for the version for existing buildings which is owned and operated by the Building Owners and Managers Association of Canada (BOMA). BOMA Canada has developed a national environmental certification program for existing commercial buildings under the names of Go Green and Go Green Plus.

The program is administered by BOMA Canada, but delivered by the various BOMA local associations present in most provinces. The Go Green designation is valid for a three-year period, after which a new application must be submitted.50

As with other rating systems, the Go Green is orientated around the major tenets of green building design: resource consumption, waste reduction and recycling, building materials, interior environment and tenant awareness. Each of these categories includes predetermined requirements and, unlike LEED®, BOMA will not provide certifications unless all of the established requirements are satisfied under the standards it sets forth.

The Go Green Plus program differs from the Go Green due to the inclusion of a benchmarking component, which provides owners with tools to enhance the performance of their buildings for each requirement to be met.

Unlike LEED® however, where third-party certifiers are revealed and their evaluation can be reviewed, Green Globes provides little detail as to who certifies buildings and how it is being done. This lack of transparency explains in part the predominant use of LEED® by the CaGBC.51

Other Rating Systems

The aforementioned benchmarking tools share the market with other rating systems which provide alternative methods of assessment. The following highlights a few of the other major players in the promotion of green building design and construction more specifically geared towards commercial and industrial projects.

a) Green Building Challenge (GBC) Performance Assessment Process: The GBC is an international consortium which originated in Canada and now includes over twenty countries. In response to globalization, it is devoted to the development of international standards for green building design. These international standards are then adapted by countries according to regional conditions. Representatives of the participating countries come together at regular conferences to discuss controversial matters about green buildings and test alternative methods for assessing environmental performance. This tool is recognized as an important research and development process for green building design.52

b) International Standards Organization (ISO) 14000: This suite of assessment tools permits the environmental evaluation of activities, products and services. Its particularity with regards to the assessment of buildings is that it accounts for all aspects of resource use, including for example the use of printers and computers as well as building design.53

c) Energy Star: Created by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1992, Energy Star started as a voluntary labelling program for energy-efficient products. While products such as computers were the first target, the program now applies to new homes as well as commercial and industrial buildings.54

d) Comprehensive Assessment System for Building Efficiency (CASBEE): CASBEE is a suite of building assessment tools developed by the Japan Sustainable Building Consortium (JSBC), including assessment tools specifically designed for new constructions, existing buildings, renovations, pre-design, and urban developments. CASBEE provides an assessment of the “cyclical process of building design” by scrutinizing all stages of the design process, from pre-design to post-occupation.55

In addition to the creation of rating systems with worldwide applications, tools are being developed on a national basis to facilitate green building practices which are sensitive to regional needs. As has been the case with LEED® in Canada, countries and cities are both adapting and harmonizing widely-recognized standards with their own criteria. For example, Hong Kong has developed the Hong Kong Building Environmental Method, currently in pilot form. Australia has developed its own Green Star rating system.56 In Canada, Toronto has recently released its Green Development Standard, a “made in Toronto approach” incorporating elements of both LEED® and Green Globes.57

Though the array of environmental building assessment tools may appear to direct efforts away from achieving a comprehensive industry standard and thereby fostering market development for green buildings, some experts are of the opinion that the wide range of operations and players in the industry justify multiple benchmarks.58 Allowing for competition between these different rating systems is likely to trigger a race-to-the-top rather than a raceto- the-bottom, ensuring that green building expertise is constantly refined. Further, just as different rating tools may be important to address different objectives, sensitivity to local conditions is also key. A recent UNEP Report has actually recommended both developing national benchmarking tools and adapting these tools to local conditions.59

Green Buildings within Green Communities

Green buildings are not independent pieces of infrastructure, standing independently from one another, but must be considered in the context of their surroundings, with attention given to their site-specific components. The broad, sustainable picture of a project will necessarily take into account how a building relates to its surrounding environment. Transit-oriented development, compact neighbourhoods, and mixed-use developments are considered crucial orientations for all green development, not only to minimize environmental impacts but to foster healthy and vibrant communities.60

The new LEED® ND (Neighbourhood Development) program is a testament to the importance of sustainable site planning when designing green buildings. It recognizes the need for animated communities and promotes the design of neighbourhoods which make jobs and services readily accessible by foot or public transit.

A number of neighbourhoods are currently being designed in Canada to foster the principles set forth by sustainable planning :

a) Dockside Green in Victoria, expected to be certified LEED® Platinum, is a 15-acre harbourfront project that brings three distinct neighbourhoods together into a series of businesses, low and high-rise housing, parks and recreational spaces. 61

b) The Toronto Waterfront Corporation, as part of its waterfront revitalization initiative, is developing West Don Lands as a neighbourhood committed to green development and urban sustainability. Notably, all buildings to be constructed will be required to achieve a LEED® Gold certification.62

c) The site of the future Olympic Village in Vancouver, Southeast False Creek, is another community project making sustainable development a priority. All city buildings must be certified LEED® Gold and the community centre LEED® Platinum, while privately-owned buildings must demonstrate the qualities of LEED® Silver.63 It also sets a list of sustainability principles guiding development from an urban planning standpoint.

Measures to foster sustainable infrastructure and city living can flow from municipal initiatives, developers and owners. Strategies include providing fewer parking spaces and more bike storage, securing commercial leases within residential developments or supporting municipal public-transit policies.

One notable example is the innovative partnership between La Capitale and the Plateau Mont-Royal borough in the Bécik vert project, a bicycle-sharing program that lends bicycles out to citizens who want to bike on Mont-Royal Avenue and neighbouring streets. La Capitale’s office serves as a kiosk for bicycle exchanges.

Another interesting example is the Imperial Tobacco project that retrofitted a derelict industrial building into residential units. Under an agreement with the City of Montreal, the building will provide parking spaces for the car-sharing organisation Communauto.

Legal and Policy Vehicles for Fostering Green Development

Cities are important consumers of energy with more than half of the world’s population living in urban areas.64 It has been estimated that three-quarters of the world’s energy consumption takes places in cities.65 Buildings alone account for 50% of GHG emissions in most cities, reaching a high of 70% in such places as New York and London.66 These numbers indicate an urgent need to reorient building practices, a process in which local governments can play a critical role due to their authority over land use planning. Cities are responsible for issuing building permits and regulate such things as height, density, landscaping, parking and tree planting. With the increased recognition for the need to coordinate green buildings with sustainable infrastructure, municipalities are the logical master planners of green development.

In recent years, several major North American cities both as policy makers and property owners have been actively addressing the environmental impacts of the building industry in their jurisdiction. Cities like Seattle and Portland, two among many in the United States, and Vancouver in Canada, have established green building policies requiring that all civic buildings achieve a predetermined LEED® certification level or its equivalent. Toronto has developed its own Green Development Standard to guide the development of city-owned facilities. Recently, both Vancouver and Portland adopted a policy whereby all new municipal buildings under their control must achieve LEED® Gold standards.67

Municipalities are also important players in promoting the private sector’s commitment to building green. Approaches in this regard range from providing incentives to adopting strict regulatory guidelines. Each municipal jurisdiction examined below has devised a unique approach to addressing the environmental problems posed by buildings, and as such, serves as a distinct model for fostering green development.

Educational and Incentive-Based Approaches

Although the notion of green buildings is becoming popular, developers may lack the technical expertise required to pursue green construction projects. Misconceptions about the complexity and costs of building green may act as deterrents. One of the major barriers to the expansion of green building design is the limited understanding and overall scepticism concerning the feasibility and performance of green building strategies.68

To overcome this obstacle, some cities have set up centres or organisations to promote green buildings, educate on technologies, provide resources and assist citizens with their projects, both residential and commercial. Examples of strategies implemented by major North American cities recognized as being leaders in green development are described below.

Toronto, ON

The City of Toronto has made significant efforts to accelerate the construction of green buildings via incentives and knowledge dissemination:

a) Green Roofs Incentive Pilot Program: Toronto is the first city in Canada to encourage green roof construction via a pilot program in which sixteen applicants were recently awarded a grant of $10 per square meter of eligible green roof area, up to a maximum of CDN$20,000.69

b) Better Buildings Partnership (BBP): Instigated by the Energy Efficiency Office (EEO) in 1996, the BBP was an initiative created to decrease carbon dioxide emissions. It provides financing solutions and professional services for building retrofits in the industrial, commercial, institutional and multi-residential sector to implement energy-efficient measures.70

c) Green Building Retrofit Program: The City of Toronto partnered up with the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) in an international program which brings together many major metropolises in a global effort to fight climate change. Honeywell, Johnson Controls Inc., Siemens and Trane (the four largest energy services companies in the world) have committed to guarantee energy savings from retrofit projects.

Different financial institutions have in turn accepted to finance such projects through loans that will be paid back using the energy savings generated by the retrofits over the subsequent years.71

d) The Toronto Green Development Standard: The Toronto City Council adopted the Green Development Standard with “performance targets and guidelines” applicable to all new city-owned or affiliated buildings and providing assistance, to the private sector. The standard is a “made in Toronto” approach, mixing customized criteria with LEED® and Green Globes criteria.72

New York, NY

New York’s Office of Sustainable Design (OSD) was created by the Department of Design and Construction (DCC) to inform and guide DCC staff in sustainable design projects, following New York’s policy that municipal buildings must incorporate green features.

The OSD identifies and implements “cost-effective ways to promote greater environmental responsibility in building design.” Although its efforts are geared toward assisting municipal staff responsible for greening civic buildings, the OSD also makes its expertise available to the public through manuals and guidelines for green building design. These resources have become a common reference even outside New York City’s limits, and include the DDC’s High Performance Building Guidelines, the High Performance Infrastructure Guidelines and the Manual for Quality, Energy Efficient Lighting. 73

Seattle, WA.

Seattle is recognized as a leader in green building design and provides a wide range of services to the private sector. Its Office of Sustainability and Environment (OSE) seeks “not only to inform, but also to inspire individuals and organizations – both within and outside City government – to take actions that help make Seattle a model of healthy, ecologically sustainable urban living.”74 Alongside a commitment to sustainable infrastructure building, it is active on a number of environmental fronts such as climate change, chemical use reduction and sustainable purchasing.

The OSE works with various city departments, including the Department of Planning and Development, to provide education and training through workshops and seminars as well as financial incentives. Some of these initiatives include:

a) CITY Green Building Program: Through its CITY Green Building Program the Department of Planning and Development fosters green building construction and offers a comprehensive and consolidated set of services to the private sector. It also consolidates information about technologies, provides incentives, technical assistance and educational programs. 75

b) Built Green: Together with other countries and organizations, Seattle is a partner in Built Green, a non-profit residential building program. Built Green provides owners and architects with checklists to assess whether their project meets or exceeds green building standards. Through this initiative, the City has successfully organised design competitions as incentives for participation in the program.76

c) SeaGreen Affordable Housing Guide: Seattle has developed a manual to assist in the design of affordable housing and to ensure that principles of green design are incorporated into all affordable housing projects.77

Chicago, IL

Chicago has developed a number of programs and initiatives as part of its Department of Environment’s mission to encourage its residents to protect the environment. These include: 78

a) Green Permit Program: Since 2005, Chicago expedites the permit issuance process for projects that incorporate innovative green building strategies. The timeline for issuing permits will vary according to the number of green elements included in a project, with most projects receiving permits in less than 30 business days and some in as little as 15 business days.79 Commercial projects must comply with the appropriate LEED® rating system, while small residential projects must meet EnergyStar requirements. So far, the expedited process has been applied to 19 green building projects, and the city has waived $335,000 in consultant review fees for green projects.

b) Center for Green Technology (CCGT): Chicago’s CCGT is an initiative directly geared toward educating citizens about green building design. The centre hosts organisations which provide environmental products and services, offers seminars on green building design technology, and has a resource centre open to visitors.

c) Green Affordable Housing: Chicago has provided funding to affordable housing projects which integrate energy conservation features and other green strategies. Some of these projects are expected to be LEED® certified.

d) Brownfields Initiative: As early as in 1993, Chicago launched this initiative to rehabilitate derelict industrial areas and return them to productive use. The first step of the program was to clean up five industrial sites and prepare them for redevelopment, thereby allowing Chicago to gain first-hand experience for further projects. Chicago hosted the Brownfields Forum in 1994 to discuss financial, legal and ethical issues related to abandoned properties.

e) Green Bungalow Initiative: Chicago facilitated the rehabilitation of historic bungalows, which were retrofitted to permit major energy savings.

f) Green Roofs Initiatives: This program provides $5,000 grants to individuals constructing green roofs.

g) The Green Homes Program 2007: Chicago has also been providing significant support and incentives for smaller residential projects through its Green Homes Program. It provides a mechanism for residential owners to obtain certification of their homes, while most rating tools on the market are not geared towards small residential projects.

Portland, OR

Portland is widely recognized by planners and architects for its urban growth boundary (UGB) and its efforts to contain urban sprawl. In 2003, Portland instituted its Green Building Policy, and by 2005, Portland had the highest number of LEED® projects in the United States.80

Green development in Portland and implementation of its Green Building Policy is carried out jointly by the Office of Sustainable Development (OSD) and the Portland Development Commission (PDC). The PDC’s mission is to “be a catalyst for positive change in the creation of a world-class Twenty-First Century city”.81 and has acted as an urban renewal agency in the development of Portland as a sustainable city. The city’s green building initiatives include: 82

a) The PDC Green Building Program: This requires a developer to meet LEED® standards in order for it to receive public financing over US$300,000, provided this amount also exceeds 10% of the project’s total cost. 83

b) The Green Affordable Housing (GAH) Standard: Portland has developed an affordable housing program with an internal certification standard applicable to all PDC-funded affordable housing constructions. All projects with over 51% of units that qualify as affordable housing are required to incorporate green building techniques.84

c) The G/Rated Program: Administered by the OSD, the G/Rated Program has become Portland’s self-certification program for building owners and managers planning tenant improvements. It acts as a centralised resource centre for citizens interested in green building design. The G/Rated Program aims to expand market demand by proposing policy developments, facilitating green building practices and by providing technical assistance, outreach and financial incentives.85

d) BDS Process Management: Through its Bureau of Development Services, Portland assigns a project manager to projects registered for LEED® silver certification. The trained project manager oversees the coordination and development of the project and acts as a resource person and a liaison with city staff. This method is more popular fast-tracking permit approvals, as it provides assistance at every stage of the project and thereby also accelerates the process.86

Montréal, QC

In Montreal, the initiative of nine organisations involved in the promotion of sustainable development has led to the creation of the Centre for Sustainable Development (CSD), a non-profit organisation which “(…) aims to become a meeting place and forum for reflection, education, and innovation on sustainable development in Montreal”. It will include, amongst the various features of the Centre, a Sustainable Building Interpretation Centre, to be organised around three poles: the exhibition space, the self-guided educational tour and the material displays. As part of its mandate, the Centre will also be participating in research projects, in collaboration with the École de technologie supérieure and the University of Montreal, to help advance the expertise on green building design and construction. Last but not least, the organisers of the project are aiming to achieve LEED® Platinum certification. Although the project is not under the direct leadership of the City of Montreal, the latter is nonetheless involved, namely as a financial contributor.87

Land Use Planning Tools

Municipal and regional regulatory powers can be used to foster green development.

While not all cities benefit from a range of discretionary and regulatory powers aimed at committing developers to build green, those that do can serve as models for rethinking other land use planning schemes.

The following is an analysis of the different planning tools devised by major cities to promote the development of green buildings by the private sector.

Discretionary Tools

a) Québec’s Planning and Architectural Integration Provisions

Québec’s Land Use Planning and Development Act88 has site plan control features in its site planning and architectural integration program provisions.89 When municipalities adopt by-laws delineating areas subject to site plan control, they can attach additional conditions to the issuance of construction or subdivision permits or certificates of authorization or occupation. In so doing, the law authorizes municipalities to control the architectural quality of projects and to ensure that they are harmoniously integrated into the surrounding environment. The Québec Court of Appeal has confirmed that site plans can be used for environmental protection purposes.90 At the moment, however, site plans are mostly understood to be vehicles for enhancing the quality of life in neighbourhoods and development projects, rather than for demanding specific green amenities.

b) Ontario’s Site Plan Control Provisions

Recently, Ontario adopted the Planning and Conservation Land Statute Law Amendment Act,91 and the City of Toronto Act,92 which both grant municipalities broader site plan control powers. Prior to these amendments, site plan control allowed municipalities to impose only limited conditions on developers in predetermined site plan control areas. Now, the exterior design of buildings and the inclusion of sustainable features fall within the scope of municipalities in Ontario. The interior design of buildings, however, remains off limits.93

c) Vancouver’s Official Development Plans (ODP)

Another discretionary tool pertinent to sustainable site planning is specific to the City of Vancouver, which benefits from extensive powers to structure land use planning through its Charter.94 In addition to the powers to zone land and issue development permits, Vancouver can adopt by-laws enacting official development plans (ODP) that allow it to set visions for future development in given areas of the city95 that are binding on property owners.96 The City of Vancouver has secured green development this way, most notably with the development of Southeast False Creek (SEFC), site of the Olympic Village in the upcoming 2010 games. The area is currently subject to an ODP which sets forth a number of sustainable development objectives for its planning and development, such as LEED® certifications for all building constructions.97

d) Bonus Zoning in Seattle

Bonus zoning is an example of a discretionary tool that can be used to promote green development.

When provided for by the enabling legislation, bonus zoning allows a municipality to set two density limits in a given zone: one that is as-of-right, and another that is conditional on the project providing certain predetermined public benefits. Bonus zoning is a commonly-used planning vehicle in many Canadian and American jurisdictions and allows municipalities to achieve a broad range of objectives. For example, in exchange for an increased density, bonus zoning vests municipalities with the authority to enter into agreements with developers to share the costs of additional infrastructure the project may require or to ensure the conservation of historic buildings.98

Bonus zoning has played a role in Seattle’s zoning changes to foster green development through its planning regime. In 2006, Seattle amended its zoning regulations to ensure that developers that are awarded greater heights or densities in their projects commit to achieving a LEED® Silver rating. This requirement is but one of the conditions contemplated by bonus zoning, the others being a contribution to affordable housing and the provision of other public amenities. To ensure compliance, Seattle requires that applicants submit a report demonstrating performance. Failure to submit the report when due results in a penalty of US$500 per day from the due date.99

Using bonus zoning to secure green building components is not permitted in all jurisdictions. In Ontario, for instance, the community benefit referred to in section 37 of the Planning Act100 has to be defined in the Official Plan in force in a given municipality. It is not clear whether green development can satisfy the community benefit requirement referred to in the Planning Act, despite the fact that green buildings are understood to provide public benefits.101

e) Chicago’s Planned Development

Chicago is another major American city to have made efforts to further green development by taking advantage of the discretionary tools available in its governing planning regime. The discretionary process used by Chicago is referred to as “planned development”, and it subjects most large developments such as tall buildings, hospitals, universities, and schools to a negotiation process with the city. One of the purposes of planned developments, as outlined in Chicago’s Zoning Ordinance, is to “encourage protection and conservation of natural resources.”102 It logically flows that green building design is one way to achieve this goal, and Chicago has thereby been successful in securing green elements in planned development.103 Once the process is over, a separate city council ordinance is then passed for each planned development.104

Zoning Amendments

a) Vancouver’s Charter Provisions

Applications for zoning amendments present significant opportunities for reaching agreements with developers regarding the provision of amenities for green buildings. Vancouver has been using rezoning as part of its green building strategy by asking that privately-funded projects incorporate green design practices. Although the British Columbia Local Government Act105 does not allow municipalities to bargain for zoning,106 the City of Vancouver has been successful in securing green building features through rezoning applications. Negotiated on a voluntary basis, the most common features have been a commitment to energy performances 30% better than what is prescribed in the Model National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings 1997 (MNECB), and performances equivalent to LEED® Silver ratings.107

In most Canadian jurisdictions, municipalities cannot impose conditions on developers that apply for a zoning amendment. An alternative that might be considered in some jurisdictions is requiring that agreements with developers or covenants be registered on title to secure conditions.108 When registered, these agreements are strong indications of a developer’s seriousness and his commitment to sustainable design practices, and can become incentives for the city to move ahead with the zoning change. They would nonetheless remain voluntary measures.

b) Ontario’s Conditional Zoning Provisions

Conditional zoning is expected to become a significant planning tool that will foster green development. It allows cities to adopt specific by-laws imposing prescribed conditions on the use, erection or location of buildings or structures. One illustration of this emerging trend can be found in Ontario’s Planning Act and the City of Toronto Act. Both acts contain provisions on conditional zoning,109 which were in large measure a response to the municipalities’ will to require environmental sustainability, waste management and energy conservation in developments within their jurisdiction.110

Zoning By-Laws

a) Boston’s New Zoning Provision

Boston’s recent zoning change makes it the first major American city to use its regulatory powers to compel the private sector to commit to green building. Since December 2006, Boston’s Zoning Code has required projects of over 50,000 square feet to meet a basic level of certification. Boston does not require LEED® certification per se, given the costly and time consuming procedures involved, but nonetheless generally follows the LEED® rating system, mixed in with a dose of its own standards. To that end, it developed the Boston Green Building Credits which includes the following categories in its certification: distributed power generation, historic preservation, groundwater recharge and public-transit support. LEED® expertise is secured by requiring that at least one person involved in the project be a LEED® accredited professional.

Boston’s approach is likely to become common practice in the near future. For example, Portland is currently developing a comprehensive green building policy that will require green components in all developments therein.111

b) Vancouver’s Amendment to its Building By-law

Vancouver’s approach is towards applying green standards to all developments across the city, and as such has not applied any incentive based policies.112 Rather, Vancouver regularly updates its Green Building Strategy (GBS) with more stringent standards. In addition to major rezonings and projects such as the Southeast False Creek, EcoDensity and EcoStructure, Vancouver’s GBS makes amendments to bylaws and zoning guidelines that ensure that all buildings will be erected using green building practices.

More specifically, 15 specific amendments are underway. For example, the Vancouver Building by-law will soon require that all buildings over three stories high or with an area of more than 600 m2 have energy consumption levels that are 12 to 15% below the requirements of ASHRAE 90.1, an energy standard for building codes. Other amendments will aim to improve the durability of building envelopes, reduce water consumption, improve stormwater quality, facilitate the reduction of waste generation, support alternative travel modes and improve indoor air quality. The proposed amendments will even set forth measures to promote passive design solutions.113

The overall objective of Vancouver’s proposed amendments is to ensure that buildings achieve the equivalent of a LEED® certification, although it will not require that buildings be certified by the CaGBC, given financial and time considerations.114 Vancouver also wants to ensure that the GBS addresses those concerns that are specific to Vancouver.115

c) Toronto’s New Green Roof By-Law

The City of Toronto Act gives Toronto the ability to enact regulatory measures to incite private developers to build green. Rather than requiring LEED® certification, Toronto has focused on the requirement of a specific green strategy: green roofs. The city now has the ability to adopt by-laws requiring that developers construct green roofs.116

Concluding remarks

Building green requires a multi-disciplinary approach involving all players in the construction and real estate industries. From the policy-maker to the citizen; from the owner of residential property to the developer of commercial land; from the architect and engineer to the contractors and subcontractors; from the investor to the lawyer: all must contribute. While there might be a long road ahead before all buildings conform to green building practices, there is a general level of optimism and enthusiasm which can only suggest that change is well under way.

Sooner rather than later, it is hoped that green buildings will enter the mainstream of real estate development and become the standard for both construction and renovation projects. To that end, it is crucial to build on past experience while remaining alert to emerging projects and expertise. The aim of this article was to help secure the link between these previous efforts and the developments to come by providing an overview of green building practices and pointing to significant achievements in both the public and private spheres.