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CURRENTS:
Going Beyond Expectations

The Canada Green Building Council expands its focus beyond LEED to broader program and service agendas.

September 2011

By Katharine Logan

As LEED and green building practices shift from margin to mainstream, the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC), which started out with the dawn of LEED in the early 2000s, is coming of age and claiming new ground.

Illustration by Dushan Milic
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According to CaGBC’s own strategic plan, four main factors are driving the organization to explore new directions between now and 2013: the mainstreaming of green, changes in LEED delivery and certification internationally, CaGBC’s growing influence and responsibility, and the evolution of the green marketplace.

One of the most interesting new directions CaGBC has identified for itself, and one which we can expect will distinguish its path from that of the United States Green Building Council, is a shift from centering on LEED to the development of new programs and services.

“We recognize that we must address a number of different market segments, from single-family homes to buildings and entire communities,” says Mark Hutchinson, the director of green building programs at CaGBC. “We also reach out to as broad an audience as possible, from those at the leading edge of sustainability to those who perhaps are not sure what their first steps should be.” Recognizing this varied market, CaGBC has developed programs in addition to LEED, and also supports other organizations’ programs in instances where CaGBC believes it can add value.

For example, amid rising awareness that the relationship of green buildings to each other and to the larger environment offers more profound potential for change than green buildings alone, CaGBC has not only launched LEED for Neighborhood Development, it has brought the brand and programs of Canada’s leading Smart Growth organization, Smart Growth BC, under its wing. Kaid Benfield, the director of sustainable communities and smart growth with the National Resources Defense Council, calls this union “heartening.” CaGBC intends to use its outreach to translate Smart Growth BC’s regional success into a coast-to-coast program of tools for green building and community development combined. “This will be interesting to follow,” says Benfield. “My hope is that both causes become stronger as a result.”

In 2009, CaGBC adopted the Living Building Challenge as one of its official programs, putting CaGBC’s education and outreach capabilities in the service of the next generation of green. CaGBC now provides workshops across the country, enabling Canadian building professionals to gain a basic understanding of the Living Building Challenge and the issues it raises, such as development patterns and density, as well as regulatory, financial, behavioral, and technological barriers and incentives. “Interest in the Living Building Challenge in Canada has been quite strong, with registered projects in several Canadian provinces,” says Jason McLennan of the International Living Future Institute, originators of the Challenge. “Our partnership with the CaGBC is important to us.”

CaGBC has also developed in-house programs, such as GREEN UP, a building-performance program that helps building owners tally their building’s performance and benchmark it against others. Owners can take advantage of a structured, standardized approach to recording and monitoring energy and water use and greenhouse-gas emissions; assessing resource-use efficiency; setting targets with the guidance of top performers; highlighting retrofit opportunities and system improvements; and exchanging information with sector colleagues about the opportunities and challenges of resource conservation. “Through GREEN UP,” says Hutchinson, “participants may find their buildings performing well enough to pursue LEED Canada for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance, which considers not only energy and water use, but a number of other factors that reduce the environmental footprint of a building and provide a healthier environment.” CaGBC is expanding GREEN UP to develop a database of energy and emissions, conservation potential and trends, and performance and design standards that will provide a dynamic portrait of entire building sectors.

Notwithstanding its goals for diversification, CaGBC remains committed to the LEED flagship. Goals include renewed quality and timeliness in the delivery of project certification and better dialogue with project owners. CaGBC also intends to develop an intergovernmental forum to support LEED implementation.

CaGBC’s strategic planning occurs in the context of what the organization perceives as a “rapidly changing and increasingly competitive marketplace” for green culture as product. This perception likely arises from the combination of two factors: the increase in government and industry-mandated certification of green buildings, and the availability of alternative rating systems and programs, such as Green Globes, an interactive web-based rating system with status as an ANSI standard.

The fact that green building codification has been left to mature with private sector advocates testifies to a failure of public leadership. If governments now simply nod toward one of the existing rating systems in toto and say, “Me too,” they will create some shiny golden apples for the chosen system. Governments will better serve the cause of green building if they develop a set of prescriptive standards that act impartially toward existing private rating systems, freeing private-sector advocates to complement one another’s efforts in pushing the green frontier.

 

This article appeared in the September 2011 print issue of GreenSource Magazine.

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