With buildings accounting for 42 per cent of Canada’s CO2 emissions, the construction industry presents a massive carbon reduction opportunity. Green building, also known as sustainable or high performance building, is a resource-efficient, environmentally responsible approach to construction that accounts for a building’s entire life cycle, from siting to deconstruction. Increasing at a rate of 70 per cent per year, a rapidly growing green building industry has emerged to satisfy consumers’ increasing wish to build responsibly.
The benefits of green building are many. Building owners profit from lower operating costs due to energy and water conservation measures, access to incentives such as tax rebates, and an increased asset value. Occupants enjoy healthier indoor air quality, better aesthetics, and a higher quality of life. The environment benefits from reduced greenhouse gas emissions and waste, minimized use of resources, and the protection of environmentally sensitive ecosystems.
To ensure standardization of the green building process, the U.S. Green Building Council developed the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) standard in 2000. This internationally recognized certification system is being used by builders in 41 countries across the world. Developed by volunteers representing a cross-section of the building and construction industry, a range of rating systems have been created to guide building professionals through their construction projects. LEED is flexible, accommodating all building projects, from commercial to residential, new construction to renovation. The LEED Canada certification process is administered by the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC), providing rigorous, third-party verification to assure building purchasers that they get what they paid for.
LEED measures sustainability using a 100-point scale based on a whole-building approach to minimizing a building’s impact on the environment. By satisfying the minimum requirements and scoring enough points, buildings can achieve a rating of certified, silver, gold or platinum. The certification system has five main categories (with additional smaller categories for different evaluation targets):
Sustainable sites: To reduce a building’s impact on surrounding ecosystems and waterways, LEED encourages building on previously developed land close to existing infrastructure to ensure residents have adequate access to transportation, parks, and other community resources. Points are awarded for sustainable landscaping and transportation choices as well as for controlling stormwater runoff, erosion, light pollution, and the heat island effect. (21 POINTS)
Water efficiency: LEED encourages builders to employ water reduction strategies, such as installing water efficient appliances and utilizing landscaping techniques that use minimal water. (11 POINTS)
Energy and atmosphere: To promote energy savings, LEED awards points for energy efficient design and construction, the use of renewable, clean energy sources as well as the installation of energy efficient appliances and lighting. (37 POINTS)
Materials and resources: As much as one-third of all waste produced in Canada is building related. To minimize that waste, points are given to builders who use sustainably produced materials that require minimal transportation. LEED also advocates for the creation of waste reduction, reuse and recycling strategies. (14 POINTS)
Indoor environmental quality: Since up to 90 per cent of the average Canadian’s life is spent indoors (according to Health Canada), air quality is important to good health. The intent of this category is to improve indoor air quality through the use of low-emitting materials such as zero-VOC paints, as well as to improve the livability of a home through greater access to natural daylight and better acoustics. (17 POINTS)
With the many benefits that LEED certification delivers, it’s no wonder the industry is growing as quickly as it is. Yet the green building industry still comprises only a small fraction of the entire construction industry due in large part to a lack of awareness and the proliferation of myths and misconceptions. Many incorrectly believe that green building means expensive building. At one time that was the case, but now, it’s estimated that green building adds a mere 0 to 1 percent to upfront building costs. A shrewd contractor can even save you money.
If hiring a contractor to build according to LEED standards, look for LEED professional credentials, which ensure a high level of knowledge. You can get further informed on the topics of green building and LEED by visiting CaGBC.
image: Ale_Paiva (sxc.hu)