Lots of people talk about it but few people can walk the talk. Especially in discussions of sustainability and real estate, talk is cheap and buildings aren’t. Students in one of our classes recently met some people who are walking the talk in a big way; touring some operating office buildings and buildings under construction in Toronto and Mississauga enabled students to learn about the greening of commercial real estate from industry leaders.
Dermot Sweeney is often asked to speak on what can be done, if you are willing to use a bit of imagination. On this tour, he offered the example of how to deal with a wide-spread problem of heating and cooling. Some people want it warmer. Other people want it cooler. Historically, the solution was to pick the same temperature for everybody and encourage the people who find it cold wear a sweater. He noted that a better solution is to let each person choose what is best for them by letting each person control their own vents and he showed how it could be done.
Allied is well-known for taking old industrial buildings and turning them into places where leading edge companies are willing to pay a premium to occupy. Their development at QRC West is a bit of a departure from their past (in terms of the techniques being used) but is consistent with their vision while displaying imagination.
The greenest building is one which already exists. Therefore, logic dictates that, to use the existing space in downtown Toronto more intensely, building higher would be the best solution. But, rather than tear down something which is functional, it would be better to use what exists and build on top of it. The tour showed how this could be done.
Sometimes, the best learning occurs outside of a classroom. Some ideas and techniques are too new to be included in the textbooks. Yet, many people with lots of experience display a mostly-beneficial inertia when thinking of new ideas (because so much money is at stake). These trips, and the discussions with practitioners, show what the formulas taught in our classes look like when you walk around in steel-toed work boots. Since innovation rarely fits into the same template used to judge an old idea, these trips also show why the old formulas should be tweaked if you really want to understand how a truly innovative project would perform.