Why Some Cities are Sick of LEED
Label Maker: Why some cities and developers are sick of LEED.
Construction of one of the greenest and most technologically advanced health care buildings in North America was announced this past February in Stouffville, Ontario. Canadian developer DCL Equity Partners is looking at incorporating geothermal and solar energy, rainwater harvesting, and LED lighting into the building. They’re even going so far as to use a hempcrete exterior.
The project team is largely Canadian, from the developer to the architect, but it won’t be certified as “sustainable” through a Canadian system. Stouffville’s new medical centre will be the first BREEAM-rated health care centre in Canada.
BREEAM is an environmental assessment method and rating system for buildings, popular in Europe and Asia Pacific. It has yet to make an impact in North America, where LEED is the predominant standard for green buildings. There are about 200,000 buildings with certified BREEAM assessment ratings and over a million registered for assessment since it was first launched in 1990.
“I’ve been aware of BREEAM since my Green Building Council days,” says Andrew Bowerbank, former executive director of the World Green Building Council. Bowerbank is advising DCL on the assessment model for the project. He says Stouffville chose to go this route because it had had enough of LEED and wanted to see what else has out there. According to Bowerbank, Stouffville’s Mayor Wayne Emmerson had heard others say LEED is too expensive and arduous. “Too many people are claiming they’re doing LEED. It’s just at the point where, verbally, LEED is saturated even though, market-wise, it’s not,” says Bowerbank.
Senior manager of sustainable business for RBC, Chris Ouellette, says he doesn’t see the relatively small percentage of LEED-certified buildings in Canada as a failure. Ouellette, who currently sits on the board for his local CaGBC chapter, says, “LEED has always positioned itself to represent the top 25 per cent of the building market in whatever sector that is—commercial, residential, or industrial. It was never looking for 100 per cent market acceptance; it was a way of differentiating the top performers from the rest of the market.”
Ouellette says both systems have merit; it depends on what you want. “BREEAM is very European and LEED is very American. LEED credits are intent driven; BREEAM tends to be more prescriptive in that they specify what strategy they want you to use to satisfy their requirements, which may limit your freedom in design.”Ouellette doesn’t see LEED’s overexposure as a negative. “I would step back and think about why you’re choosing to certify a building. If broader market acceptance is the driver and you want to demonstrate to the world that you do have a high-performing environmental building, then I’m not sure why you’d choose BREEAM in North America, where it has a low visibility.”
LEED credits give designers the desired outcome and leave them free to use any number of strategies to achieve it. This allows for greater flexibility, letting them tailor solutions to the specifics of a project, factoring in geography, type of building, building use, and so on. But it also means there may be more documentation required to prove that a design meets the credit’s objective.
From Bowerbank’s perspective, BREEAM has more services available to support project developers. “What’s different about BREEAM is it’s far more than a checklist with elements that need to be third-party verified—it can be more hands on,” he says. “It can adapt to regional needs.”
BRE Global (the agency that manages BREEAM) can monitor and test a new technology or material and recommend certification approvals in Europe. “Their innovation parks are set up to do this work. LEED, on the other hand is set up to get certifications from outside groups, then you get a credit for that accomplishment,” says Bowerbank.
BREEAM also verifies products for reliability on behalf of the industry so that they can be used in the construction process. For example, the hempcrete this medical centre will be built with was tested through BRE Global and classified as carbon negative.
While both systems have strengths and weaknesses, Stouffville also wants this facility to be unique, a Canadian first. BREEAM isn’t the only first associated with the project. It’s the first green sustainable medical office building in Ontario, as well as the first medical office building at this level to use advance technology BIM (Building Information Modeling). Bowerbank led a design charrette for the project this winter, funded by Enbridge’s new Savings by Design program. The energy company will cover the cost of a project’s charrette and energy modelling (usually around $20,000), then provide funding based on the building’s energy savings. The medical centre will be the first project to go through this program.
This will also be the first healthcare project in Canada that’s private-public sector built—built, owned, and operated by a private developer, but with public healthcare doctors and medical specialties as a tenant.
Despite Ouellette’s belief that LEED lends to a project’s profile, Bowerbank says, “There has also been a lot of pushback on mandatory green requirements.” Waterfront Toronto, for instance, requires that all developers on its land aim for at minimum LEED-Gold certification. “It automatically gets some people’s backs up, whether that’s legitimate or not.”