Building green just makes economic sense, developers say

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Minto, TELUS buildings illustrate practical advantages of meeting high environmental standards

TELUS's new digs at 215 Slater St. (Image supplied)

It pays to go green, according to Minto Developments, Ottawa's largest builder. Telecom company TELUS agrees, and has packed many energy-saving devices into its handsome new building at the corner of Bank and Slater streets.

Sure, it costs more to construct office buildings that are friendly to the environment, use less energy, and give workers a healthier place to work.

But this increased cost more than pays for itself, proponents say, by lowering energy bills and making workers more content and productive.

A new Minto office tower, now under construction at 180 Kent St., and the recently-opened TELUS building, will be among the first in Ottawa to carry a LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, designation from the Canada Green Building Council.

The council also claims that buildings constructed to LEED standards use from 30 to 70 per cent less energy than standard buildings. The council claims carbon savings of 35 per cent, and reduction in water use in toilets and washrooms of 30 to 50 per cent.

The bottom line - besides being kind to the environment - is more money in the pockets of builders who meet LEED standards, and lower overall costs of rental space for tenants.

That's the idea, at least, and there seems no reason to doubt it's true.

In any event, at least somebody is doing something to save the planet.

Greg Rogers, Minto executive vice-president, says many people he meets in the industry are surprised that the company has opted to go green in its new office tower at 180 Kent St., an expansion of Minto Place.

"They say that it costs more to build, and they ask, 'What are you doing it for?' My reply is that, first, Minto is committed to the environment, and, second, it's good for business, " says Mr. Rogers.

It costs more to build an environmentally-friendly building, but the increased construction costs are more than offset by lower operating costs, he says.

In a typical downtown office tower, rent represents only about half of a tenant's costs of occupying the space. The other half, says Mr. Rogers, goes in heating, cooling, lighting, water bills, property taxes and insurance.

Because of decreased energy costs, "tenants will get better value, and our property will stay leased longer, " Mr. Rogers says.

He estimates that construction costs of 180 Kent will be about 10 per cent higher than a new office tower not built to the same environmental standards.

But, he says, for every dollar a tenant pays in extra rent to cover these increased construction costs, the tenant can expect to save twice as much on utilities.

Minto has gone ahead with construction of 180 Kent without an anchor tenant, such as the federal government, and with no firm deals yet with smaller tenants. But Mr. Rogers is confident it will be mostly leased by the time it's completed in spring 2009.

There is demand for 150,000 to 200,000 square feet of new office space downtown annually, and 180 Kent is the only large new office building under construction, he says.

"The biggest element of green design is in operating cost savings, " says Arthur Pride, vice-president of the Minto Green Team. "For example, lights are only on in a green building when people are there. That's a fairly significant cost saving. Then we have an improved cooling and heating system that saves over 35 per cent in energy. "

The health factor is also very important, says Mr. Pride. The building at 180 Kent, which is aiming for the gold on the LEED scale, will have 100 per cent fresh air. Typically, only 10 or 15 per cent of the air in a building is fresh, he says. This should help productivity, he adds.

There are no tax incentives for going green in commercial construction, Mr. Pride laments. "There has been a lack of leadership in this by all levels of government. "

Ottawa architect Richard Chmiel is in the running for architectural awards for his stunning new regional headquarters for TELUS, at the corner of Bank and Slater streets. But the building is creating interest as well for its energy-saving and health features.

The TELUS building is expected to be awarded silver status under the LEED system.

Mr. Chmiel says in his written introduction to the building that it "incorporates several innovative strategies to conserve energy and resources. "

And he continues: "Throughout the building, heating, ventilating and air-conditioning distribution is provided under an 18-inch raised floor system. Conditioned air is supplied closer to where occupants sit and stand, rather than the traditional method of pushing the air from the ceiling down. "

He estimates energy costs are 40 per cent lower in the TELUS building than in a standard office building. That translates into energy savings of more than $600,000 a year for a building this size, based on his estimate of a cost saving of $4 per square foot.

By Michael Prentice

Special to the Ottawa Business Journal

Organizations: TELUS, Environmental Design, Canada Green Building Council Minto Green Team

Geographic location: Ottawa, Minto Place

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