Eco-Efficiency in commercial buildings - the business case



This Sustainable Development Business Case produced by Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) is an assessment of the market potential of eco-efficiency technologies related to the design, construction and operation of commercial buildings. It sets out a picture of how the commercial building sector will evolve over the next two decades with particular reference to technologies that reduce energy and water consumption and lower volumes of wastes ending up in landfills.

There is growing pressure in the commercial building sector to reduce costs in all aspects of building operations. Although energy and water traditionally account for a small portion of overall building operating costs, they are rising as low-priced supply options diminish. Continued political volatility in energy supply regions of the world and potential threats to North American energy infrastructure are fuelling the drive towards more secure energy supply systems. Rising energy prices are also adding to the urgency of reducing energy consumption in commercial buildings.

There is also a growing need for building owners to increase tenant value, whether in the form of more attractive workspaces in office buildings, or improved conditions such as air quality in public institutional buildings. This is being influenced, in part, by an increased public awareness of the environment, and more stringent environmental regulations.

The Business Case examines market characteristics such as building size, construction and type; establishes a set of vision statements for the industry; and identifies technologies that can help create more sustainable buildings both now and in the future. The SD Business Case also serves as a guide to SDTC for future technology invesent priorities as well as a means of collecting non-technology input that may be useful in addressing public policy issues.

The Business Case covers all types of commercial buildings including offices, institutional and public service facilities such as health care and educational buildings, hospitality and entertainment establishments, and retail and wholesale trade structures. Together, they are simply referred to as 'commercial'. Multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs) are not included in most of the analysis as they are classified as residential buildings.

The focus of the analysis is on building operations. Although embodied energy (i.e. the quantity of energy required to manufacture and supply to the point of use a product, material or service), material selection, construction, and demolition are important elements in a life cycle analysis of buildings, the Business Case confirms that the largest environmental impacts result from building operations.

SDTC understands the critical importance of a full lifecycle approach, and where appropriate incorporates entire building lifecycle considerations into its invesent decision-making.

Trends in Energy, Water and Wastes

According to the Business Case, in 2004 there were about 591 million square meters (m2) of commercial floor space in Canada, up from 466 million m2 1990. In 2007 there was a reported 395,000 commercial buildings in Canada, a 4% increase from the approximately 380,000 reported in 2004.

In 2004, the commercial building sector accounted for about 14% (1,171 petajoules) of secondary energy use in Canada. Electricity and natural gas together made up about 85% of energy consumed, with about one half of the energy going to space heating.

Between 1990 and 2004, energy-related GHG emissions in the commercial building sector increased 42% - from about 48 to 68 metric tonnes (Mt) of carbon dioxide equivalents (MtCO2e). Similarly, energy related GHG emissions intensity rose from 0.10 to 0.12 tonnes of CO2 equivalents per square meter (tCO2e/m2) and is projected to reach 0.14 tCO2e/m2 by 2030.

Water consumption in the commercial building sector rose from 2.3 to about 2.8 billion litres (BL/day) per day between 1983 and 1999. The sector currently consumes about 1.2 trillion litres per year of municipally-treated water. All of this water is treated and purified to potable water standards, regardless of how it is used. For example purified water is used to run mechanical equipment, flush toilets and for landscaping purposes. Only a small portion is used for human consumption. Very little is recycled or supplied from other sources such as rainwater.

In 2004, commercial buildings generated about 14.26 million tonnes of solid waste. Approximately 78% of that is sent to landfills and 22% was diverted or recycled. Paper products and organic material make up about two thirds of the solid waste stream. The types of technologies used to minimize waste disposal are quite different for the different components of solid waste. The thermo-chemical processes often used to treat metal wastes differ from biological processes used to treat organic wastes.

Future of the Sector

Based on the above noted trends and incorporating input from key stakeholders, Sustainable Development Technology Canada derived the following Vision Statements for the commercial building sector in Canada. These statements, which represent the desired change from 'business as usual' projections, are based on a 23 year time horizon to account for the time required to realize a major shift in practices, attitudes and technologies within the industry.

By the year 2030, commercial buildings in Canada will:

  • Consume 0.98 GJ/m2 of energy and create 0.05 tCO2e/m2 of GHG emissions per year, a 50% reduction in energy intensity from 2007 levels of 1.97 GJ/m2. This will result in an overall reduction of 1,093 PJ of energy and 74 MtCO2e of GHG emissions per year from projected levels.
  • Consume 712 L/m2 of municipal water per year, a 65% reduction from 2007 levels of 2,033 L/m2, resulting in an overall reduction of 1,409 BL of water per year from projected levels.
  • Produce 1.71 kg/m2 of solid waste per year, an 85% reduction from 2007 levels of 11.4 kg/m2. This will result in an overall reduction of 14.8 Mt of solid waste per year from projected levels.

Needs Assessment

There are a number of barriers impeding rapid and sustained improvement in the sustainability of buildings. In order to achieve the above noted vision, these barriers must be identified and overcome. The needs are split into the two categories (non-technology and technology) to distinguish the relevant technologies that are to be analyzed.

Non-Technology Needs

Industry stakeholders agree that the commercial building value chain needs to become more integrated if Canada is to foster sustainable buildings. Existing system inefficiencies and biases will need to be replaced with a more integrated and comprehensive approach based on a common set of mutually beneficial goals and expectations.

These needs include:

  • Carbon pricing
  • Integrated supply chains
  • Integrated practices
  • Continuous reporting
  • Ongoing learning process
  • Effective codes and standards

Technology Needs

In order to improve building performance, the industry has identified a need to:

  • Develop tools and techniques to support an integrated approach to design, construction and operation.
  • Improve the technologies that influence resource consumption such as building envelope, and make substantial improvements in the technologies that consume resources directly such as HVAC.
  • Develop technologies that will help building occupants and operators use resources more efficiently.
  • Optimize the use of available natural resources.

Technology Invesent Priorities

The SD Business Case includes the use of the Sustainable Technology Assessment Roadmap (STAR) tool, an iterative analytical process that combines data, reports, stakeholder input, and industry intelligence in a common information platform. STAR uses a series of criteria selection screens to assess and sort relevant information from a variety of sources. The output is a series of Invesent Reports that highlight key technology invesent opportunities for each sector under study.

The Business Case provides the following conclusions of short and long-term invesent opportunities required to achieve technology-based needs and industry vision.

Short Term Invesent Priorities - These are invesents that could be made within the next 2-6 years that could have a direct and positive impact on the market over the following 4-8 years.

Long-Term Invesent Priorities - These are early stage invesents that could be made within the next 2-6 years but where the environmental impacts are realized over the longer term (more than 8 years).

Case Studies

The following are SDTC funded projects that have achieved savings using some of the technologies identified in this SD Business Case.

Fifth Light Technologies Ltd.

Fifth Light, Oakville, has achieved over 60 per cent energy savings with its fluorescent light dimming system which is intended to enable the building owner or occupant to control their energy costs, reduce their environmental footprint, and participate in demand response programs.

Bystronic Solution Centre

Bystronic, Ottawa is demonstrating a new technique of window fabrication that reduces the energy used in manufacturing, saves material and labour costs, and allows for designs that reduce heat loss by as much as half.

Science Applications International Corporation

SAIC, Ottawa is using thermal underground energy storage utilizing underground thermal energy storage technology integrated with a solar thermal energy application which will offset the economic and environmental impacts associated with heating and cooling homes and commercial buildings.

About the business case

The SD Business Case is founded on the concept of creating a common vision of market potential, as described by those in the industry. It incorporates their ideas, expectations and knowledge into a single statement of purpose, so that the outcomes are relevant, pragmatic, and realizable.

The STAR process provides a common benchmark for all participants, as well as a consistent and reliable means of comparing technologies in a number of diverse and expanding areas.

The SD Business Case serves as a guide to SDTC for future invesent priorities as well as a means of collecting non-technology input that may be useful in policy development. It evaluates short term invesent priorities, long term investment priorities, and natural strategy impacts.

All SDTC Business Cases, including 'Commercial Buildings - Eco-Efficiency', can be downloaded from the SDTC website.

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