Green Building with Jerry Yudelson

This month saw Jerry Yudelson, “the Godfather of Green” present to a local crowd on lessons for green building. Yudelson began by explaining the context for green building. Cities are fast becoming the engines of the global economy, with the 600 largest cities contributing to 64% of global GDP despite having only 22% of the population. However, cities through infrastructure like buildings have an environmental cost not just in terms of pollution, but through their use of resources. This is where green building design has a role – to ensure that our cities remain hubs of the economy in a sustainable manner. Sustainability means that a city through management of crucial resources  like land, water, and energy, is able to function and thrive well into the future.

In the last ten years we have seen increased recognition that buildings can be better designed to achieve this goal. Materials and designs are more commonly chosen to enhance energy efficiency, and some building even become “net zero” by creating renewable energy on site to offset their energy use. But where Yudelson was most emphatic was in his explanation that only performance counts. A building can be made with the most sustainable materials out there, if it doesn’t reduce total emissions it doesn’t count for much. A prime example is the Bank of America Tower, which despite features like “waterless urinals, daylight dimming controls, and rainwater harvesting… produces more greenhouse gases and uses more energy per square foot than any comparably sized office building in Manhattan. It uses more than twice as much energy per square foot as the 80-year-old Empire State Building.” The Europeans address this with energy efficiency and environmental impact rating to help tenants make more informed choices based on actual building performance, and we can do a better job of this in North America.

With this in mind Yudelson outlined 5 Action Steps for Smart Cities:

1) Start with Smart Living Buildings – and keep score of performance!

2) Add in Green Infrastructure – specifically for municipal infrastructure like water treatment. Singapore’s NEWater system was used as an example.

3) Keep Score with Cloud-based Solutions – this allows managers and operator to keep track of building performance in real-time, providing the opportunity to make continual improvements.

4) Discard 20th Century Rule Book – Existing land-use and regulatory regimes are not always flexible enough for the type of green buildings that will shape the future. Developers and government officials need to revisit old rules to better reflect the future.

5) Communicate Success – sharing successes and best practices from around the world can help overcome the inertia of some jurisdictions, and improve outcomes around the world.

As Calgary’s downtown landscape evolves with new and renovated buildings, these are valuable lessons to keep in mind. We have seen a commitment to smart, living buildings, but we must continue to measure through cloud-based systems, and verify this performance through programs like BOMA BESt. Here at BOMA we are also constantly working to improve the regulatory environment for green building. We do this by emphasizing flexible land-use and regulatory policies that enable the type of innovation Yudelson spoke about. Finally, we must continue to ensure success stories get shared widely. These successes can not only serve as a model for others, but can help encourage even more, and better green building designs.