April 19, 2008

Workplaces that Protect the Planet

Calgary building wins top rating amid trend for eco-friendly designs
The Calgary Herald

The next generation of environmentally-friendly workplaces will not only have a carbon-neutral footprint and improve the health of workers, but could actually produce enough power of their own to add energy to the regional power grid, according to architects and designers leading the charge in green building design.

Green buildings reduce an office’s en ergy consumption and improve the health of workers by incorporating more environmentallyfriendly materials and features. They’re being embraced by businesses around the world looking to lower operating costs while boosting employee health and productivity, says Bill Chomik, an architect and principal with Kasian Architecture Interior Design and Planning Ltd. in Calgary.

“Sustainability and environmental stewardship as you design is table stakes in today’s design world,” says Chomik. “It’s no longer something that you add on. It’s now mainstream.”

He points to many studies which have concluded that in addition to energy and operating cost savings, employee health and productivity improve in green workplaces. It has also led to a trend where office layouts are more fluid and modular, allowing employees to move around different work spaces easily.

“We’re actually seeing this nomadic office worker where . . . the whole culture of the way the office works switches so people aren’t assigned an office or work station (and) can move around with their laptops from station to station,” he says.

Kasian has worked on several green buildings, certified under the universal standard rating system called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), through the Canada Green Building Council.

The new Child Development Centre (CDC) that opened last October at the University of Calgary achieved the highest possible rating — LEED Platinum — and is the highest-scoring building of its kind in the world.

It has one of the largest photovoltaic arrays ever to be integrated into a building in Canada and is capable of producing 65,000-kilowatt-hours of electricity annually, or enough to run six single-family homes for a year.

It also features high-performance boilers, water heaters no larger than a television set, in-floor ventilation systems, sun-sensing light systems that “harvest” natural sunlight to reduce artificial lighting, re-captured rainwater for irrigation, low-flow toilets and various other environmentallyfriendly materials and features.

“Sustainability has to be about the health of buildings and the health of people and the environment,” says Lois Wellwood, an interior designer and principal in Kasian’s Calgary office.

The firm, which has offices around the world, has also worked on green buildings such as the new Calgary Court Centre, the Coutts-Sweetgrass border crossing and a building at UBC’s Okanagan campus.

Projects such as the 125,000-squarefoot CDC at the University of Calgary help “raise the bar for everyone” and will be “good for the environment, for its occupants and good for the bottom line,” according to Thomas Mueller, president of the Canada Green Building Council.

At Kasian’s Dubai office, all projects designed in the region must adhere to at least the LEED Silver rating, which Kasian’s Toronto office also recently applied for.

Surprisingly, China is also at the forefront of the green building trend. Two buildings constructed there are so tall they have wind turbines on the top which produce enough power for the building with additional power generated going back into the region’s grid.

“We’re protecting Mother Earth . . . but we’re creating work environments which are far more comfortable, which will keep people healthier (and) improve productivity,” says Chomik, adding the firm has 48 LEED-accredited architects, designers and technicians on staff globally.

Executives who build new offices now are generally much more aware of the environmental options and may know as much as the architects heading into the project, says Wellwood.

“It creates an interesting dynamic where . . . it’s not about a decision anymore as much as a core value,” she says.

Organizations across Canada are now scrutinizing new projects for LEED standard compatibility, while employees in a range of industries are benefiting through natural light, the ability to control fresh air through localized floor ventilation systems and an environment with fewer or no toxic chemicals in the materials that surround them.

“Clever design, coupled with the right attitude by the users and owners of the building can create a very green workplace,” says Chomik. And, of course, the payback through enhanced energy efficiency can have an almost immediate impact. “The payback can be as little as two years.”

DEREK SANKEY FOR THE CALGARY HERALD