We are facing two existential crises at once: a pandemic stacked upon a global, human-caused climate emergency. But as Canada’s largest third-party commercial property management group, we see these challenges as stimulators for bold changes in how we design, upgrade and operate our buildings.
While under pressure from the COVID-19 virus, we didn’t halt our efforts, but accelerated our strategies to factor wellness into our building operations, while finding ways to cultivate purpose and excitement around returning to our workplaces.
At the same time, we are reducing waste, increasing efficiency, and converting and building spaces that help fight against climate change.
The risk of doing nothing carries costs that are too great. Inaction will result in higher operating costs, leave occupants unsatisfied, risk non-compliance with green regulations, and expose owners and tenants to dramatic energy price fluctuations. Doing nothing will also worsen climate extremes that are already taking place in our communities.
The building sector is one of the worst polluters, accounting for about 40 per cent of total Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions worldwide. Buildings are also one of our main consumers of electricity and natural gas, so finding ways to green our existing buildings while designing sustainable new buildings is clearly a crucial step in combating the climate crisis, and we are already seeing strong examples of progress.
We’re well-positioned to make a difference. In Canada, Colliers Real Estate Management Services (REMS) manages more than 63 million square feet of space, for a total of $17 billion in property value. Of that space, more than 20 million square feet is now green building-certified. And last year alone, our clients saved $3.6 million in energy costs.
But we’re not done yet.
Setting goals and tracking targets is crucial
At Colliers, we have set five goals to increase the sustainability of our portfolio under management by 2022, and we are tracking our results.
Firstly, we aim to increase the green building certifications in our portfolio to 50% by 2022. Secondly, we aim to reduce energy consumption in our buildings by 8%.
The third goal pertains to water usage, and we aim to reduce consumption by 5% by the end of next year. Our fourth goal aims to reduce track waste in 60% of our managed properties, while our fifth goal is to track utility data in at least 75% of our office buildings. These are realistic goals that are measurable and impactful.
Mississauga Executive Centre is a trailblazer
At Colliers, we see the Mississauga Executive Centre (MEC) as a trailblazer for our greening program. MEC is an industry-leading 1.2-million-square-foot Class A office complex, comprising two LEED® Gold-certified buildings and two Platinum-certified buildings owned by Desjardins Financial Security Life Assurance Company and Starlight Investments.
Working with the property management team, Colliers REMS helped to convert MEC into one of the most sustainable and functional green office complexes in the country. This earned valuable green certifications that boosted MEC’s reputation, while reducing operating costs and fighting climate change.
We implemented energy efficiency measures such as installing LED lighting and occupancy sensors and high-efficiency mechanical equipment. These efforts have made MEC cleaner and more cost-efficient to operate.
We also helped to make the complex smarter. MEC was the first in North America to implement the BUENO HIVE Data Analytics platform in 2017, which uses smart tech to manage operations. The complex’s HVAC and mechanical systems are now all data directed to ensure peak efficiency.
We installed high-efficiency boilers at all four buildings and improved boiler control sequences, resulting in substantial natural gas use reduction, and a measured 17% reduction in overall GHG emissions in 2020.
Meanwhile, we introduced a series of honeybee hives and invited tenants to educational workshops on the importance of pollinators. The honey that is harvested is sold with all proceeds going to Mississauga Food Bank.
In 2020, these efforts led to certifications and recertifications including: BOMA BEST® Platinum, Energy Star for Commercial Buildings, and Fitwel. MEC also earned the Certificate of Excellence 2020.
Important retrofits by REMS have also taken place at marquee buildings such as Arthur Erickson Place in Vancouver. The iconic building has operated as a LEED® Platinum-certified building since 2019. Colliers proposed a successful project executed by Pacific Mechanical Services to decarbonize the tower's main boilers by installing an all-electric heat pump system.
The outcome has been a significant reduction in GHG emissions and we are now working with the client to develop a zero carbon retrofit plan for the whole building.
Tenant engagement is key
With many people stuck at home over the last 19 months, it has become crucial to create spaces and buildings that people want to return to. To us, sustainability also means developing a sense of community, introducing and supporting greenery or micro-ecosystems and providing comfortable, healthy spaces with good air quality and wellness programs.
More sustainable buildings have more engaged workforces, more foot traffic, reduced tenant turnover, and are in alignment with tenants’ values, while playing a meaningful role in reducing GHG pollution.
If the tenants want to use the spaces and are excited to come to work, then that creates a win-win-win situation for the workers, the owners and the community.
Sustainable is good for business
Sustainability initiatives are good for the bottom line and we’re making progress on this front as well. By introducing assorted benefits at buildings that promote health and wellness, while unlocking measurable strategies to reduce operation and maintenance costs, we’re helping to make buildings like MEC more valuable and resilient.
Moreover, as government sustainability and carbon regulations around the country become more stringent, it’s crucial for us to be taking proactive steps to ensure our buildings are future-proofed for what requirements likely lie ahead. Extreme weather across the world should be reminder enough: devastating fires in Western North America, severe droughts, intensified hurricane seasons and flash floods in New York City and Europe prove why inaction is too costly.
Throughout the business world, many commercial tenants are improving their own environmental and sustainability initiatives. This means that tenants will be increasingly requiring workspaces in buildings that protect the environment and reduce GHG emissions.
Taking action to make our buildings greener, healthier and more sustainable doesn't really feel like an option anymore — and that’s a good thing.