UBC Graduate Research

Drivers of environmental performance among green buildings Jensen, Thor


The building sector has an enormous environmental impact. In Canada, the operation of buildings draws 50% of energy produced, and buildings emit 35% of total CO2 emissions (CanmetENERGY, 2011; Lucuik et al., 2005). The large environmental impact of the building sector makes it a critical area for mitigating climate change, preserving scarce resources, and reducing the environmental impact of cities (Lucuik et al., 2005). Innovations to reduce the environmental impact of the building sector have led to the development of certification programs for green buildings. In Canada, the two largest organizations that evaluate and certify green buildings are the Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) and the Canadian Green Building Council (CaGBC). BOMA awards the Building Environment Standards (BOMA BESt) certification, and the CaGBC awards the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification (BOMA BESt, 2011; CaGBC, 2011). BOMA BESt and LEED certifications signal the environment performance of a building, and a building with superior environmental performance may earn higher levels of certification to reflect this. Since BOMA BESt and LEED certification programs were introduced to Canadian markets, there has been a steady increase in the average level of certification for both certification programs (See Figure 3 on page 8). If the observed increase in certification levels means an overall improvement in environmental performance within the building sector, then this may be good news for the environment. This then raises the question: what is driving the improvement in environmental performance of buildings. One possible driver for improved environmental performance is a building’s operating expense, such as the costs to maintain a comfortable working environment including heating and lighting expenses. By improving the environmental performance of a building the amount of resources required to operate a building may be reduced. Using fewer resources may amount to lower operating costs, and it is possible this incentive is strong enough for building owners and managers to make the extra effort and investment necessary to attain higher levels of environmental performance within the building sector. All things held equal, a building in a region with lower operating costs may require more incentive to reach the same level of environmental performance as a building in a region with higher operating costs. The purpose of this report is to examine the relationship between operating costs, incentives, and environmental performance. Drivers of operating costs - such as climate or the price of electricity and natural gas - are compared to the level of certification attained by non-residential green buildings across Canada. The results reveal that the environmental performance of non-residential green buildings is related to drivers of operating costs; however not always in the way anticipated. The main findings of the report are: • Building owners and managers may be responding to higher energy costs by increasing the energy efficiency of their building. Regions with higher electricity prices had higher average levels for BOMA BESt certified buildings, but not for LEED certified buildings. The weighting of energy within the BOMA BESt certification may explain its strong relationship with electricity prices. • Buildings in regions where electricity prices had increased the most prior to certification had lower levels of BOMA BESt certified buildings. • Buildings in colder climates, with greater heating requirements, are less likely to exhibit higher levels of ecocertification. • There was no relationship between the price of natural gas and the level of certification for BOMA BESt or LEED certified buildings. • Despite an almost six year head start, there are over three times as many BOMA BESt certifications in Canada than LEED certifications. Differences in certification processes and costs may explain the faster adoption of BOMA BESt buildings in Canada. • Despite strong relationships found between the level of environmental performance and certain variables, the drivers of operational costs tested here explain only a small fraction of the total variation in certification level of environmental performance.

Item Citations and Data


Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 Canada