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Architects must encourage real progress on green building, not ‘greenwash’

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Buildings are the biggest source of emissions and energy consumption in Canada. They play a major role in the environmentally unfriendly trends that project that energy consumption will increase by 37 per cent and greenhouses gases by 36 per cent over the next 20 years in North America alone.
Kiyoshi Matsuzaki, FRAIC
Kiyoshi Matsuzaki, FRAIC

Kiyoshi Matsuzaki, FRAIC

Buildings are the biggest source of emissions and energy consumption in Canada.

They play a major role in the environmentally unfriendly trends projecting energy consumption to increase by 37 per cent and greenhouses gases by 36 per cent over the next 20 years in North America alone. Add to that that these buildings are interconnected by a series of roads and highways and you begin to see the magnitude of the issue.

There was an estimated $30-billion worth of building-construction plans in architects’ offices in cities across Canada as 2007 began. Once completed, these more than three million new buildings will have a lifespan of between 50 to 100 years – during which time they will consume energy in the form of electricity, and generate greenhouse gases by burning fuel oil, natural gas or liquid propane. Enter the role of the architect.

With almost three-quarters of Canada’s buildings set to be new or renovated by 2035, Canada’s architects and their collaborators in design and construction have the opportunity – now – to ensure energy-efficient and sustainable design buildings become the norm.

The 2030 Challenge – a global initiative which RAIC is a part of – calls for an immediate 50 per cent reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption in all new buildings and major renovations. The goal is that by 2030 all new buildings be carbon-neutral – generating as much energy as they consume. These reductions can only be achieved by incorporating building-performance standards in building codes and other standards for private-sector buildings and structures.

Architects are working to encourage all levels of governments as well as building owners and clients to require a minimum level of a green building-rating system, such as the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Canada gold standard in new designs.

RAIC has consistently led the charge, incubating the establishment of the Canada Green Building Council and developing the first course almost five years ago for architects about “green building tools and techniques,” emphasizing the importance of life-cycle costing and ways to educate clients about the importance of long-term operating and maintenance costs in all decisions.

Steps toward greater energy efficiency and sustainability are being taken, but many are now jumping on the bandwagon and only experience can tell what is really green and what is simply “greenwash.”

We must keep the Lululemon experience close to our collective consciousness and ensure real progress is made in today’s buildings. Years down the road we don’t want to be “surprised” with the results of our efforts.

An experienced architect can ensure the products are sustainable and will really perform as advertised. Architects can design buildings to operate with far less energy at little or no additional cost. This can be accomplished by designing buildings with proper siting, form and building materials with high performance and significantly lower embodied energy.

But the building is only part of the picture. Is it really a step forward to build a green building you have to drive to? Along with the building we have to think transit and density – a rethink of the greening strategy for a lot of cities and municipalities. And architects must be at the forefront to lead the way. It is essential that greening be approached in a more holistic way – reusing materials, planning the community from the substructure up.

Only then will we truly be having an impact on the environment.

Design and technology – both tools and products – are available to create more sustainable buildings. Working together with city planners, landscape architects and designers we can make cities that are walkable, workable, beautiful, joyful and sociable for its inhabitants.

In the end, we can – and must – do it right. We simply haven’t got the time to experiment. We must use the experience and expertise available right now to set the future on the right path.

Kiyoshi Matsuzaki, FRAIC, is president of the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada.

by Architects’ Corner last update:Apr 15, 2008

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