By Susanne Martin, Managing Editor
As the world’s population is approaching nine billion people, with more than half living in cities, measures for increasing environmental sustainability gain critical importance for our quality of life, says Toby A. A. Heaps, CEO of Corporate Knights. And green buildings are part of the solution
While a range of innovative technology and expertise is readily available in Canada, up-front costs are often high. Yet, as illustrated by the new TELUS Garden project in downtown Vancouver, making sustainability a common denominator can send a strong signal to tenants, stakeholders, employees and the community at large – it also makes good business sense.
TELUS Garden is more than a green building – it’s a statement attesting to the brand’s commitment to “create a healthier, more sustainable future,” says Andrea Goertz, chief sustainability officer at TELUS. “We feel we have a responsibility to current and future generations to build sustainability into our decision-making and embed it into our business practices,” she says, adding that new buildings present opportunities for “using innovation to push sustainability goals.”
“TELUS Garden is certainly pushing boundaries in regard to technological and environmental advances,” says Gregory Henriquez of Henriquez Partners Architects, whose firm was responsible for designing the million-square-foot project that includes a 22-storey office tower and a 47-storey residential tower.
Mr. Henriquez says it’s been an extremely rewarding project where all partners shared the vision of achieving exemplary levels of sustainability – the office building targets the 2009 Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum standard.
“In Vancouver, there is a mandatory LEED Gold requirement for conventional [office buildings] zoning, which is already very high. Taking it to the next level required much more rigour and care,” he says, adding that the residential tower meets the LEED Gold standard.
Vancouver-based developer and TELUS Garden project partner Ian Gillespie of Westbank says the combination of office and residential uses already lent itself to energy savings. He explains that a district energy system was installed. It captures heat from an existing adjacent TELUS network facility and redistributes it to the new development. Given the higher heat demand for the residential tower, additional heat is harnessed from the new office tower and even the elevators. This allows TELUS Garden to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by one million kilograms annually. Other features include triple-paned windows, solar panels, 100 per cent fresh air and operable windows.
“Add all that together and you have a building that is not just one of the first LEED Platinum office buildings in North America, but also uses 80 per cent less grid energy than buildings of comparable size in Vancouver,” says Mr. Gillespie.
The focus on sustainability makes the project more expensive – the price tag is $750-million – and requires “a lot more effort,” says Mr. Gillespie. Most buildings offering space to tenants in Vancouver were built 20 or 30 years ago, he says. “Think about how far technology has come since then. Think about how your cell phone has changed, for example, but buildings haven’t. Yet the technology is out there. Putting this effort into every aspect of the project, that’s what TELUS Garden is about.”
While the project partners believed this market was under-serviced, the question was how tenants would respond, says Mr. Gillespie. “Would tenants share those values? We found that yes, that’s exactly what happened.” He explains that the building offers half a million square feet of new office space, the majority of which was leased well ahead of its competitors.
The building’s performance on environmental aspects was a key topic for engaging tenants, Ms. Goertz confirms. “It’s been an important attractor for like-minded companies.”
This commitment to sustainable development is not limited to TELUS Garden tenants but extends to stakeholders and customers, says Ms. Goertz. It’s also a subject employees, especially millennials, are passionate about. In TELUS offices across the country, employees have suggested measures like installing solar panels, retrofitting lighting, diverting waste and shifting to a hybrid fleet, she explains. The organization’s Work Styles program, where team members have the flexibility of working from home, also contributes environmental benefits.
“Increasingly, we see that people are making their decisions based on whether they want to participate with companies on a variety of aspects, including sustainability,” says Ms. Goertz.
Mr. Henriquez agrees, “It’s part of the zeitgeist that everyone is focused on global warming and sustainability.”
Mr. Heaps has seen a trend where a growing number of Canadian businesses, as well as shareholders and investors, take sustainability performance seriously. “It’s amazing to see TELUS leading the way on green real estate, which is a huge – and profitable – part of the solution,” he says, explaining that the higher up-front cost of green buildings can be recovered through lower energy cost in the following years.
For Ms. Goertz, TELUS Garden’s appeal goes beyond energy savings. “Not only is it beautiful from an aesthetic point of view, but with its air quality and the amount of green space, it’s going to be an incredible place to work.
“It is a demonstration of how seriously we take not only financial prosperity but also social well-being and environmental leadership,” says Ms. Goertz, who believes that government and businesses should join ranks when it comes to tackling climate change. “We all have a responsibility to do what we can to drive environmental accountability.”
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