August 1, 2008

Going Green

Contractors catch the sustainable construction wave
Western Construction News

Like surfboarders getting ready to catch the big wave at the right time, many of Alberta’s construction-industry players are paying attention to the massive wave of “sustainable construction” hitting the province’s construction market.

“I think the construction industry is slowly embracing the idea that sustainable construction is becoming ‘table stakes’ in Alberta,” said Bill Chomik, a director with Calgary Economic Development.

“The train has left the station; sustainable design and construction are an essential part of environmental stewardship. The design and construction sectors are moving from a context of compliance to a context of commitment. In our view, such commitment is now absolutely fundamental, on the part of developers, designers and builders,” said Chomik, also a principal with the Calgary office of Kasian Architecture Interior Design and Planning Ltd.

A leading example — in Alberta and Canada — of commitment to sustainable construction is the University of Calgary’s Child Development Centre, opened in October 2007. “I gave a presentation on this (Kasian) project at a conference recently, and it is truly serving as a major inspiration for builders and developers across Canada,” claims Chomik. “This is the largest LEED Platinum-certified project in Canada and features numerous sustainable elements; many elements occurred during the construction phase and many others are part of daily life and operations in the building.”

Among the building’s many green features are photovoltaic arrays, zinc exterior cladding, moveable interior walls, and extensive use of natural light. Some 11 per cent of the building’s energy consumed will be renewable. The net result will be energy cost reductions of more than 70 per cent per year and a 55-per cent reduction in water usage, compared to a conventional building. The recycling of construction waste is a major emphasis for building contractors, and some 83 per cent of waste for this project was diverted from landfills.

Chomik suggested that owners, institutions and all levels of government are increasingly focused on showing their commitment to the environment, and building sustainable buildings is a good way to lead by example. There is already a significant impact on contractors in this market.

Within Alberta, the City of Calgary was the first Canadian municipality to catch the sustainable construction wave in 2002 when it piloted a Sustainable Building policy. The policy was adopted formally in 2004, with the City committing to achieve LEED Silver certification for all new buildings and major renovations. In 2008, the policy was updated and upgraded to target LEED Gold.

In 2006, the Alberta provincial government set LEED Silver as its required target for new capital projects, in line with other sustainable-construction initiatives. In mid-2007, the City of Edmonton joined in by setting LEED Silver as the target for new buildings and major renovations to existing buildings,
with the policy taking effect on January 1, 2008.

Other municipalities around Alberta have followed suit. For example, the Town of Canmore has established a green-building policy for all new construction.

As of mid-2008, there were 19 LEED certifi ed buildings in Alberta, within the four certification categories. In addition, there were more than 100 buildings targeting LEED certification.

Notably, there are more than 350 LEED-accredited professionals in Alberta, which contributes to the overall capacity for projects to attain LEED certifi cation and generally promotes sustainable construction practices.

“Based on the number of LEED-accredited professionals working in Alberta and the overall number of projects that are targeting LEED or are LEED-certified, Alberta is currently ranked third in terms of LEED activity, not far behind B.C. and Ontario,” stated Klaas Rodenburg, chair of the Alberta chapter of the Canadian Green Building Council.

“But LEED statistics are only one gauge of sustainable construction activity. I would say that Alberta’s design and construction sectors are at least on par with the rest of the country in terms of catching or leading the sustainable construction wave,” added Rodenburg, also a design coordinator with Stantec in Edmonton.

Chomik noted that the construction industry itself is increasingly focused on behaviours or actions that are making a direct impact on sustainable construction trends.

“The construction industry is no longer just reacting to a set of contract documents; the construction team is responsible for all kinds of key environmental decisions within the purview of a standard contract, such as sustainable practices relating to material selection for all aspects of a project, and handling of waste materials during construction or demolition.”

“For example, the builder can ensure all waste drywall is recycled during new construction or retrofi tting of an existing building. For indoor materials used during construction, builders can make sure the materials do not off-gas and are chosen based on environmental sustainability criteria.”

Construction contractors can directly impact or manage over 50 percent of the points needed for the basic LEED Certified rating, and 30 percent of the points for the highest Platinum rating.

Construction companies with a working knowledge of LEED and experience with sustainable construction practices are in demand. Among the capabilities sought by customers are:

• Assembling and maintaining records necessary to docu ment a building’s compliance with LEED requirements. (For many contractors, incorporating this level of documentation into their work practices is a major adaptation in starting to work with LEED).

• Execute new, environmentally friendly construction methods, per specifi cations, at a reasonable cost. Innovation is the order of the day in LEED projects.

• Achieve high recycling rates (LEED credits are available for achieving 50 per cent and 75 per cent recycling/salvage rates on a project).

• Demonstrate knowledge of the numerous materials that are rapidly renewable, contain recycled content and emit low levels of vOCs (volatile organic compounds).

• Assist project teams in identifying ways to reach a project’s LEED goals. Working closely with the design team has been part of the industry for some time in design/build and IDP (Integrated Design Planning) projects, but the level of collabo- ration required by LEED may be new for many contractors.

Ian Macleod, Development Manager for Qualico Developments in Edmonton, offered that most of the reasoning behind the drive for more sustainable construction practices is sound. “Because the reasons are practical and evident, meeting LEED or similar criteria is pretty much how all of our projects will now proceed. For example, we are the developer for the newly-launched EPCOR Tower project in downtown Edmonton, which will target LEED Silver and be completed in 2011.”

Macleod noted that sustainable construction is a concern for owners and developers. “Like EPCOR, our project-owner clients in both the private sector and government are very clear in stating that they want LEED or similar criteria to be met. The trend towards sustainable construction is not a flash in the pan. Everyone will be going this way in the future.”

Macleod also stated that developers and construction industry players now understand and foresee that many aspects of environmentally sustainable design and construction can have a positive impact on the bottom line. “For example, by using special glazing on the outside windows, the up-front costs of the glazing can be offset over time by reducing energy consumption and other demands on mechanical operations.”

Rodenburg suggested that most of the positive benefits relating to sustainable construction objectives can be pre-identified within a project owner’s sustainability master plan. “There are all kinds of strategies available for new or old buildings, as related to reducing emissions, meeting LEED criteria or generally meeting high standards of sustainability through all phases of a project’s life cycle.”

“In an ideal world, each and every building would be built with sustainable construction and long-term sustainability front-of-mind. This is not yet entirely the case today, but clearly the wave is going in that direction.”

The green wave is rolling over Alberta, and building contractors should be waxing their boards.

by Don Buchanan