Business developers across Canada say they’re determined to tackle the challenges of climate change through thick and thin, but going green isn’t always easy.
âDevelopers have more inherent responsibility than ever to build in a climate-friendly way. It also extends to the operation of buildings, using renewable resources to manage the property, âsaid Jonathan Gitlin, president of RioCan Real Estate Investment Trust, a $ 14 billion company that owns 289 properties, mostly retail businesses.
According to Richard Joy, executive director of the nonprofit Urban Land Institute, which provides advice and information to some 2,000 members of the GTA’s public and private sectors, the entire sector is frustrated and the “mishmash”. A mix of regulations and policies make it difficult for builders and property managers to know which climate measures to deploy and which will be effective.
âIt’s a confusing roadmap, with policies that range from good intentions to low intentions, and policy misalignments at different levels of government,â Joy said.
“There is nothing that comes close to standardization [of carbon measures], and so there is still nothing that comes close to accountability in our industry, âhe said.
Everything from storing bikes in an office parking lot to a commitment to use less carbon-producing cement can be considered a climate measure, but it can be difficult to know what will make a difference and should become common practice.
In an attempt to make sense of this confusion, in early November, ULI is hosting an industry-wide local symposium on greenhouse gases and sustainability measures, just ahead of a United Nations summit meeting. in Glasgow, where world leaders aim to develop enforceable, climate action.
Buildings and construction contribute nearly 40% of energy-related greenhouse gas emissions, and Canada’s buildings, which require both heating and cooling, are particularly dependent on energy use, which in most cases produces carbon.
Earlier this month, the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported that: âThere is no question that human influence has warmed the climate system, increasing the global surface temperature. â¦ Many extreme weather and climate events such as heat waves, heavy precipitation, droughts and cyclones have become more frequent and violent.
As if to confirm the report’s findings, more than 270 fires have burned across British Columbia this summer, destroying homes and towns. Also this summer, severe flooding in Henan, China killed more than 300 people after 201.9 millimeters of rain fell in an hour, as farmers in Western Canada are hit with what could be worst drought in history.
Meanwhile, giant companies like RioCan are looking for ways to reduce the carbon footprint of their properties and protect them from potential climate-related havoc. While not all weather-related disasters are directly attributable to climate change, there is plenty of circumstantial evidence.
In June 2021, for example, the Champlain Towers South building in Surfside, Florida, suddenly collapsed, killing 98 people, including four Canadians. Investigators have already said that the sea level in this region has risen at three times the world average, which can affect the structural foundations of a building.
Companies investing and building real estate are noticing that the cost of ignoring climate change can lead to higher insurance premiums and maintenance costs, as highlighted in a Study 2019 by investment firm BlackRock.
âExtreme weather and other climate-related events present a risk to commercial real estateâ which could also mean âreduced or even denied coverage if insurers are reluctant to underwrite risks that have become too great or uncertain. Investors should anticipate these risks, âsaid BlackRock to study noted.
Investment firm Brookfield Asset Management Inc. has appointed former Bank of Canada and Bank of England Governor Mark Carney to lead the post-carbon transition investments.
âClimate change is an existential threat,â Mr. Carney said, in a interview 2019 led by the United Nations as part of his other role as UN Special Envoy for Climate Action and Finance. Companies that invest in solutions âwill be rewarded,â he said.
âThose who are lagging behind and who are still part of the problem will be punished. “
It’s a message small businesses across Canada are also taking to heart.
âWe are a real estate company, but we are more. Real estate is a tool we use to create better neighborhoods and a better planet, âsaid Leslie Najgebauer, vice president of impact and engagement for Tas, a developer with projects in the GTA.
âWe have developed anâ impact framework âto integrate environmental, social and governance aspects [ESG] factors across our business, âshe said.
The company’s commitments include becoming carbon neutral by 2045 and adopting benchmarks for operations that correspond to United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, agreed by the global body as the actions needed to ensure an even earlier future, by 2030.
In western Canada, developers such as Cape Group claim to train their site personnel in the passive house, a voluntary standard developed in Europe to reduce a building’s energy footprint.
âWe also use cross-laminated timber [instead of steel girders]Says company president Reisa Schwartzman. âWe have several buildings under construction and we are striving to be a leader in this construction method, which significantly reduces the carbon footprint,â she says.
Developers need to take a holistic approach to building and managing properties, says Zeina Elali, partner and senior sustainability advisor in the Toronto office of Perkins & Will, a global design studio.
âWe see a building as a living design,â she says. âWe look at its sustainability – its impact – then its resilience, how to adapt and predict climate change and build that into the design.
âWe’re also looking at what the building will look like to the people inside, and we’re looking at regeneration – using renewable resources, whether that’s heat from the sun or reuse of stormwater. We also look at a building’s embedded carbon – how much carbon comes out of our design, what materials we can reuse, and what materials are produced with less carbon, âadds Ms. Elali.
âThe development industry is not only trying to keep up with sustainability, but also to raise the bar,â said Jonathan Westende, CEO of Windmill Developments, which has sustainability-focused projects in Toronto, Guelph, in Ontario, and in Ottawa. He says he has watched politicians procrastinate on climate change for years – he started the company in 2003 – but is optimistic that even if politicians hesitate, companies will get away with it.
âWhat drives sustainability today are capital markets,â says Westende. “They are afraid of the risk profile of climate sensitive developments and that changes the types of investments they are willing to make.”
âThat’s what will make the difference,â he adds. As planet Earth continues on its precarious journey towards sustainability, “will we do enough to steer the boat?”