The introduction of green building standards is a step in the right direction to promote sustainability in new building design and construction, while aligning with and meeting emissions-reduction targets. That being said, when it comes to existing buildings with legacy systems and equipment, these standards aren’t as simple to achieve, something that BentallGreenOak (BGO) knows all too well.
As a future-forward provider of integrated real estate services, BGO has built its success upon the ability to establish clear business imperatives that grow value for its clients long term. This is how the company builds lasting relationships based upon trust: clients know their best interests and their corporate objectives are being prioritized and fulfilled.
The professionals at BGO are driven to discover new and innovative ways to reduce costs, improve building performance and elevate the attractiveness of the real estate assets they manage for clients and their tenants. Part of that attractiveness is a focus on sustainability.
“In Canada, we invest on behalf of institutional investors with a longer-term outlook,” explains Brandon Malleck, Director, Operations and Projects. “Environmental stewardship and the sustainability of our assets perfectly aligns with the mandates we have been given where the climate resilience of the buildings we manage and the well-being of the surrounding community are equally important measures of success.”
With US$62 billion in assets under management as of March 31, 2021 for over 750 clients and partners around the world, BGO looks beyond conventional systems and business strategies to generate greater value for its clients. “The asset management group is heavily engaged in how the buildings operate from a carbon perspective and of course from a financial perspective,” notes Malleck. “They’re pushing us on the site side because they see that we have these targets, and we are educating and engaging in a conversation about how we’re going to get there.”
A new way to measure performance and value
BGO is shifting the conversation from energy to carbon in the real estate market, redefining the metrics used to measure performance and value. By doing so, its operations teams can better gauge the environmental impact of buildings and articulate those findings.
“We are very thoughtful and careful approaching things – everything from our EDI initiatives to environmental initiatives,” explains Malleck. “Many of our competitors are talking about net zero – and have net zero targets, but we spend a lot of time thinking about what that means.”
For instance, targets are becoming increasingly challenging, which means greater effort is required to identify viable solutions that will contribute to improved overall building performance, both from a financial and environmental standpoint.
‘’The targets are slowly moving toward net zero, challenging us to up our game and get creative. The greatest challenge is found in finding the right metric,” explains Malleck. “We’re not reporting on the data that matters; the data that matters is what the environment sees.”
Carbon accounting is calculated based on an annual average (total emissions annually divided by the amount of electricity produced). As emissions vary at different times (of the year, season, day, hour), carbon accounting in this way is an insufficient measure of emissions.
As Malleck notes, “If we’re looking at the average carbon emissions over the course of a year, we’re not going to think about things like solar panels or batteries that store electricity in generators at night and use during the day because those technologies are largely beneficial when they allow us to use electricity based on the times when the grid is the cleanest.”
He adds, “Where data is available, we should be using real-time emissions factors for determining electricity-generated carbon emissions. These emissions vary significantly over the course of the day as Ontario uses a variety of generating sources (hydro, nuclear, natural gas). It’s about measuring what matters.”
To ensure decisions are informed and data-driven at BGO, utility tracking is available to employees at each of its sites, which enables the team to access real-time performance data from which to optimize operations to ensure targets like net zero are not only measurable, but achievable. Likewise, this tracking goes a long way toward improving air quality and temperatures for tenant comfort and health.
For instance, the use of advanced control systems that track carbon emissions based on occupancy and use, adjusted at fifteen-minute intervals, enables maximum efficiency by bringing in the appropriate amount of outside air, thus reducing the need for energy to heat or cool excess amounts of air. This is a key component of BGO’s strategy to reduce energy use on site.
The path to net zero
When it comes to meeting emissions reductions targets and commitments to accords like the Paris Agreement, the greatest environmental impact will not come from new construction, but rather the existing buildings that represent the majority of emissions. Advanced control systems are a start but are only one aspect to the path to net zero.
“From an environmental perspective we have to get to net zero, and we can’t do it with conventional energy,” says Malleck. This conviction informed the approach he has taken at 100 Murray Street, a six-storey building in Ottawa’s ByWard Market.
The building was purchased by Sun Life Financial Inc. in 2011. Already top Energy Star rated at the time, BGO helped it to become the first CaGBC zero carbon performance (ZCB) certified commercial building in Canada.
The project was built upon a two-pronged strategy: an aggressive approach to energy reduction via building hardware and energy management operations and the ability to purchase enough renewable energy offsets to achieve net zero status, which were necessary without the capacity to generate energy on site.
The building featured triple pane windows designed to allow maximum natural light and passive solar warming to occur, and additional elements were incorporated to manage energy consumption, water use and waste on site.
When considering energy generation on site, conventional solar was not practical, as space is limited on buildings that are taller than two- to three-storeys, which is why purchasing carbon offsets was necessary. As such, BGO is working with CoGenerate, a local company that has pioneered new solar technology, an efficient solar cell with a heat sink that allows the panel to cool, transferring the heat to the building for practical use (i.e., hot water). Together with the building’s ownership and CoGenerate, BGO is implementing a pilot project using an eight-kilowatt array to test the impact of displacing emissions otherwise produced by natural gas systems. In doing so, BGO is further demonstrating the art of what is possible.
Another project that demonstrates the company’s approach to sustainability is Scotia Plaza located at 40 King Street West in Toronto, Ontario. Designed in 1988, the Plaza comprises 68-storeys of above-grade AAA Class commercial office space and also features one level of below-grade retail and four levels of parking. Scotia Plaza was one of the first major office towers in Canada to achieve LEED Platinum certification.
BGO took it a step further. In June of 2020, the commercial high-rise located in the heart of the city’s financial district became the first and the largest CaGBC Zero Carbon Building – Performance v2 certified building in Canada, a feat that was achieved using highly robust and efficient metering and energy monitoring systems, just as at 100 Murray.
New tools, innovative approaches, and a culture of empowerment
At BGO, the calibre of talent and the degree of innovation that is taking place is possible only because efforts have been made to promote a culture of success, ensuring that the resources and support necessary are available to make good on great ideas.
“We have a strong focus on tool development and programs which enable the property teams to create meaningful change,” says Malleck. These include the Innovation Lab, a funding program that is accessible to anyone at BGO who has an idea that is worth piloting to improve operations in some way.
Malleck has enjoyed the support of the Innovation Lab for a number of projects he has devised, including the solar pilot taking place at 100 Murray, in addition to a unique pilot program aimed at reducing costs associated with the transportation of compost at another property under his stewardship.
“It’s a piece of equipment that takes our compost – we generate about 1,000 pounds every day – and converts it into a soil amendment,” Malleck explains. This can then be used by community gardens, residents, local farms, or others who have a need while eliminating carbon emissions associated with compost transportation.
The Innovation Lab is where the great ideas that are born at BGO are vetted and become reality, and where value and environmental stewardship go hand in hand. Empowering change can be part of a culture of success and when great care is taken, both the built and natural environments can thrive.
“We are all on the same team working together toward a common goal,” says Malleck. “One of the reasons I joined the organization was BGO’s tangible commitment to the environment. It’s not just a greenwashing, but a deep cultural commitment from the CEO to building operators,” that is taking what it means to be sustainable to new levels.