CEO Blog: Green Building Leaders in BC

East Clayton neighbourhood, Surrey BC (Photo: Celina Owen)

Surrey's East Clayton neighbourhood was designed using "complete community" principles. For more on how this came about, visit UBC's Design Centre for Sustainability online. (Photo: Celina Owen, REFBC)

The built environment includes the buildings and infrastructure that support human settlement. How we plan, build, operate and integrate our communities' buildings, roads, pipes, power systems and other connectors – in all their complexity – has significant environmental, social and economic impacts.

"Built Environment" is one of three focus areas of the Real Estate Foundation's grant program. Our specific interest is in land use and real estate practices that help advance land use policy, planning and design in the context of current challenges.

Greenhouse gas reduction is one such challenge. In BC, energy consumption from homes and other buildings contributes 35 per cent of communities' CO2 emissions – which is why strategies to reduce carbon emissions in the built environment are so important. Pembina Institute is at the forefront of changes to improve performance in new and existing buildings in British Columbia.

Since 2009, our grants for Pembina's Green Building Leaders Project have helped bring together government bodies, non-profit organizations, utilities, real estate industry representatives and others to design and implement policies and programs that advance green building in BC.

One initiative currently in the works is home energy labeling. Building labeling provides a standardized rating system for home energy efficiency, both for new homes and existing homes at point of sale. Ratings help owners and buyers understand the need for, and value of, doing energy upgrades.

Early on, a Pembina-commissioned legal analysis found that revising the BC Building Code is the most logical long-term strategy to improve building energy use. However, since the Code covers new construction only, other strategies (such as energy labeling) are needed to improve energy use in existing buildings.

While leadership at the local level is encouraging progress at the provincial level, local governments have limited jurisdiction. As in any industry or discipline, when it comes to innovation, advances can be made only as quickly as the regulatory environment allows.

Even so, collaborative pilot projects are enabling some municipalities to pursue innovative solutions. By educating municipal staff and elected officials, testing new policy options and facilitating peer networks, Pembina is generating evidence and experience that has the potential to benefit communities throughout BC.

Given the Real Estate Foundation's law reform mandate, we are excited to support initiatives – such as the Green Building Leaders Project – that help establish policies and regulations rooted in strong science, technical research and beneficial practices, setting new standards for sustainable building in BC.

- Jack Wong