The green building industry is relatively new in North America yet there is no shortage of labels, rating systems and standards. LEED, BOMA Best, Energy Star and Built Green have all become available in Canada in the past 15 years and this is the tip of the iceberg globally.
Speaking at the inaugural Green Building Ottawa Conference held on May 13th, Wayne Trusty, President of Athena Sustainable Materials Institute whose Canadian head office is in Merrickville near the capital said ‘there are over 500 green building labels in the World.’
In the rapidly evolving world of green standards, and in spite of the what may seem like an abundance of rating systems, there are industry experts who make a case for Canada to consider new green labels that are gaining market acceptance in other countries and being overlooked here.
The Athena Sustainable Materials Institute (ATHENA) is a non-profit organization that seeks to improve the sustainability of the built environment by helping industry professionals evaluate the environmental impacts of new and existing buildings through Life Cycle Assessment (LCA). It offers the only two software tools in North America for the life cycle assessment of whole buildings and assemblies.
Life Cycle Assessment, like that offered by the ATHENA Institute, is critical to the growth of environmental product standards such as those created by the International Standards Organization (ISO).
ISO 14040 is a series of standards for conducting life cycle analysis and ISO 14025 is for environmental declarations and programs. With reference to these two standards ISO has prepared a methodology for preparing quantified
environmental product data. An Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) based on this data is international, verifiable and accurate information about a good or product that can be used as a green label that is not misleading.
In 2007 ISO released ISO 21930 that describes the principles and framework for environmental declarations of building products, taking into consideration the complete life cycle of a building.
Climate related data can be taken as an excerpt from an EPD where the information is expressed in CO2 equivalents for the life of a product. This information can be used to generate a ‘climate declaration’.
Following the commercial success of green labels like LEED in North America there has been an epidemic of companies that have undertaken to create their own ‘green brands’. These ‘self declared’ labels have garnered well-deserved skepticism from procurement professionals and the public alike.
What EPD’s offer, that self declared private green brands lack, is a verifiable and accurate process developed through the use of international, scientifically accepted and proven methods for life cycle assessment (LCA) of products and services. They provide a credible way to compare potential purchases so that professionals can optimize environmental choices, avoid green washing and deliver higher value to their organizations and customers.
Organizations and businesses have emerged that support and help to prepare EPD’s based on the ISO standard and create an international market for products with the declaration. A non-profit called the EPD®system based in Europe is one. In the original version of this article we incorrectly assumed that it was somehow representative of all EPD’s globally. Nevertheless called the EPD®system website has current information about the tremendous growth in the demand for EPD’s around the World.
An October 2008 news report on the EPD®system website describes 89 EPD’s developed in 6 different European countries as well as Japan. Since the article was published EPDs evolved significantly and are now being used by transit services such as the Swedish rail service The Botnia Line which has issued EPD’s covering railway infrastructure and rail cars.
A recent article in Greener Buildings reports that the U.S. Government, which has mandated a substantial green house gas reduction initiative, is expected to give preference to EPD rated products as part of greening its procurement process. In addition a U.S. based organization The Green Standard is offering a Green Purchasing Accredited Professionals training program or GPAP. Its inaugural course offered in March 2010 was attended by people from CB Richard Ellis.
Asked “What is the most effective step Canada could take toward a greener future?” Wayne Trusty said ‘more data’. Data is a vital ingredient for LCA’s, the building block of EPD’s and similar labeling systems. ‘The EPD process has been ignored here in Canada’ he said.
Ian Theaker, Senior Sustainability Specialist, Halsall Associates, another speaker at the Ottawa conference, said that mandatory ‘energy efficiency labels’ for buildings would be the most powerful mechanism for accelerating the implementation of green building practices in Canada.
Theaker said that a building label that itemized a buildings energy footprint, green house gas emissions and the cost of energy would not be expensive to implement and would provide a market incentive for improving building energy performance. He said that the National Research Council is looking into it.
Since greening a building is entirely voluntary in Canada, Theaker said, there is no incentive for people who own poorly performing buildings to do anything.
The Real Property Association of Canada has declared a voluntary National Energy Consumption target for commercial buildings called 20 x 15. The goal is for buildings to achieve 20 equivalent kilowatt-hours of total energy use per square foot of rentable area per year in office buildings by the year 2015. Although this program is not enforceable, Theaker’s point, it does establish a target for reduced energy consumption for the real estate industry.
While energy labeling for homes has been mandated by the European Union, in Canada the Federal Government recently shut down the home based energy conservation program associated with recent Government stimulus money. Furthermore, Theaker said, in the housing sector in Toronto only a quarter of the homes that are sold have a property inspection.
“Canada is falling further, and further behind other countries” in implementing measures that will move the country toward a greener economy according the Theaker “and it will have a difficult time catching up.”