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Existing ICI buildings slowly becoming more energy efficient, finds BOMA

Tracy Hanes
Existing ICI buildings slowly becoming more energy efficient, finds BOMA

While most new buildings are being constructed to higher standards of sustainability, more of Canada’s existing commercial, light industrial, retail and institutional buildings are also becoming more efficient.

According to the BOMA (Building Managers and Operators Association) 2019 National Green Building Report, there have been 7,331 certifications and re-certifications of buildings since the BOMA BEST Sustainable Buildings certification program was launched in 2008.

The program recognizes excellence in energy and environmental management and performance in commercial real estate and is delivered through 11 BOMA offices throughout Canada.

The program is voluntary and sets realistic targets for energy and environmental performance of existing buildings, with third-party verification.

There are five levels of certification, ranging from Certified to Platinum, and buildings are assessed in 10 different categories, such as custodial, air, comfort, water, health, etc.

In the past decade, 23 per cent less energy has been used in certified office buildings. Gold certified building operations have saved more than one million kilograms of CO2 emissions a years — the equivalent of taking 218 passenger cars off the road.

BOMA office buildings also saved significantly on water usage. Universal buildings such as courthouses, police stations, performing arts institutions and mixed-use facilities had a significantly higher carbon intensity than office buildings.

Office buildings have the highest number of certifications, followed by light industrial and open-air retail. Office buildings also have the most Platinum certifications.

“We have seen a growing trend of more and more companies looking to put in entire portfolios of buildings,” says Hazel Sutton, director of environmental standards for BOMA.

“They’ll put through their office buildings, shopping centres, open-air retail complexes…there seems to be a push that exists among them to have the greenest portfolio and that’s really great.”

BOMA certifications are good for three years before re-certification is required.

BOMA offers five-year certification for companies that put in their entire portfolio; that allows for annual invoicing and an ongoing predictable expense.

Twenty per cent of a portfolio can be verified in any given year.

“Once companies are in the portfolio stream, they tend to stay. There is very good retention,” says Sutton.

There are multiple drivers for companies seeking certification, with financial benefits the main reason. By looking at how they can make energy and water use more efficient at a reasonable cost, building operators and managers have been receptive to make their buildings as high-performance as possible to save money.


The first 30 per cent comes easily, but then you have to work with the building tenants

— Hazel Sutton

Building Managers and Operators Association


The second biggest driver for BOMA BEST certification is tenants, particularly in office buildings, where employees expect environmental leadership in their workplace.

BOMA BEST provides a framework for building operations that’s shared between managers and operators so they can see where the opportunities are. The focus is on building management and practical day-to-day operations.

Many of the practices to help achieve certification are quick and easy to adopt, says Sutton, such as adjusting start times for heating, ventilation and air conditioning equipment.

Lighting retrofits, such as replacing old inefficient lighting with LED lights and installing motion or daylight sensors are also “low hanging fruit.”

“The first 30 per cent comes easily, but then you have to work with the building tenants on modifying their behaviour,” says Sutton.

For instance, a lot of office equipment and computers are left on 24 hours a day, seven days a week and it may mean educating users to shut off the equipment when they aren’t in the office. One of the most effective means to encourage companies to reduce, reuse or recycle is for each tenant company to have an internal champion to motivate his or her co-workers, says Sutton.

Thirty-six per cent of BOMA BEST office buildings achieved high capture rates of 80 to 100 per cent for waste diversion.

The rates are assessed via waste audit, calculating how much material was diverted from landfill through measures such as recycling or composting. In Ontario, 22 buildings achieved capture rates above 80 per cent, with seven in British Columbia, five in Alberta and one in Quebec.

With Canada experiencing more severe weather events, BOMA BEST has started to incorporate building resilience and has recently added a resilience brief to help operators and managers incorporate risk assessment and planning, says Sutton.

The brief looks at different risks depending on area — such as how buildings can withstand floods, making sure equipment isn’t housed on the main floor, whether elevators have sensors so they don’t go to the bottom floor and an area to shelter in place.

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