Since its inception in 2011, CivicAction's Race to Reduce has encouraged office building landlords and tenants in Toronto to work together to cut energy use. Just over three years into the program, participants have reduced their energy consumption by 9 per cent, nearing the 10-per-cent target two years ahead of schedule.
The 175 buildings taking part represent 67 million square feet of commercial space – about one third of all the commercial office buildings in the Greater Toronto-Hamilton area.
Only 100 of those buildings, accounting for 54 million square feet, were included in final 2012 findings. But those 100 buildings have made significant progress, organizers say.
"[It's] the equivalent of taking 3,598 cars off the road," said Brad Henderson, senior managing regional director for CBRE Global Corporate Services.
"The total potential for the Toronto market, which is 165 million square feet, if all of them were able to reduce by 10 per cent, that total is 11,500 cars."
Reducing energy usage can present a hurdle for some of the older, less efficient buildings, particularly in Toronto, where the real estate is amongst the oldest in the country. Many of the buildings in the Ontario capital are approaching the end of their 25- to 30-year life cycles, according to Greg Moore, senior managing director for CBRE Project Management Canada.
"We're now in an era where we have knowledge workers and they're demanding a higher level of quality of their work environment," he said. "And if landlords and building owners don't adapt they will become the dinosaurs of the real estate industry and their buildings will become vacant."
Many of Toronto's prominent firms are doing their bit to help achieve these goals, using methods ranging from simple to cutting edge.
Here's a look at three.
Striving to be as green as its logo, TD has renovated half of its corporate headquarters, located at the intersection of King and Bay streets in a cluster of iconic black towers, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, the first of which was completed in 1967.
The company's 1.97 million square feet of office space were "overlit," says Roger Johnson, senior vice-president of enterprise real estate for the TD Bank Group. With artificial lighting accounting for 38 per cent of all energy use in the average office building – by far the highest drain on energy – a lighting retrofit of the Toronto-Dominion Centre using energy-efficient bulbs has reduced energy use by 3.5 megawatts, the equivalent of 35,000 tonnes of carbon-dioxide emissions a year.
Motion sensors turn off lights in empty rooms and passages, timers put computers to sleep if they sit unused for a period of time, and cleaning staff now work during the day throughout nearly the entire 90 floors that TD occupies predominantly in five of the six towers, which are owned by Cadillac Fairview.
"We have reduced our energy consumption in the towers by doing what we've done by 40 per cent," Mr. Johnson said of the company's efforts since 2008. "That's staggering. We're saving more than $1-million per year."
The company's future at Bay and King isn't necessarily set in stone, however. Despite achieving high-level LEED certifications for existing buildings on four of the six towers, the TD Centre will never have the capability of some of the newer, more modern buildings currently going up around Toronto. In January, the bank put an RFP into the market to explore options when its lease comes up for renewal in 2018, Mr. Johnson said.
"We're going to explore that because there is clearly attractiveness from an operating standpoint, from an environment positioning, of our brand being in one of these newer LEED-certified buildings."
In the branch network, the use of solar panels in 94 of its branches helps generate 1.6 megawatts of capacity across North America. In addition, the advent of TD's new Sustainable Energy Efficient Design branch in Mississauga, which opened last October, has harnessed geothermal heating and cooling as well as photo voltaics to offer a more sustainable take on the branch experience, while TD also has two net-zero-energy branches, one in London and one in Florida, that produce as much energy as they consume via the use of solar panels.
Royal Bank of Canada
Royal Bank of Canada has taken a different direction from TD, leading the corporate shift from older building stock to Toronto's brand-new south core and to LEED-certified modern buildings.
The company has vacated much of the Front Street corridor it occupied between Blue Jay Way and Simcoe Street to move into new, purpose-built buildings. Most prominent among those is the RBC Centre at Simcoe and Wellington, which has been certified LEED gold, and the new Waterpark Place III on Queen's Quay, which opens later this year and will be Toronto's first new office tower certified LEED platinum.
In addition, RBC completely stripped down and rebuilt its aging office at 180 Wellington St., replacing the building's facade, energy systems, generators and electro-mechanical systems to build what Nadeem Shabbar, vice-president of corporate real estate for RBC, calls a "state of the art, Class A building."
Within its properties, as both an owner and a tenant, RBC has developed a four-pronged plan to reduce its energy consumption. The first initiative is daylight harvesting, which involves using as much natural light as possible, and incorporating RBC's Digital Addressable Lighting Interface, or DALI system, to synchronize with the building's automated lighting systems to make up for any deficit.
RBC has also incorporated daytime cleaning where possible to reduce its energy usage, and at RBC Centre, this move has allowed the company to save almost 250,000 kilowatt-hours annually.
The third prong to RBC's plan is to raise employee awareness and education through devices such as TV monitors at Royal Bank Plaza, which offer real-time updates on the building's energy consumption and tips for employees to bring that total down.
Finally, RBC has promoted alternative work environments, such as hot-desking or hoteling, to embrace the fact that employees on the go don't necessarily need a designated desk and the energy drain that goes with it.
"It's early days so I couldn't put a figure on it," Mr. Shabbar said, "but I would say we'll hit double digits in energy savings in the office buildings within the next 15 to 18 months."
Within its branches – of which it has 1,300-1,400 nationwide – RBC began a program two years ago to retrofit the lighting throughout, and has so far completed 945 of them, yielding a 30-per-cent reduction in energy use in those buildings. Its ATMs and signage are powered by Bullfrog Power, a Canadian company that sources all of its electricity from regional wind and low-impact hydro facilities.
As one of the world's largest hotel and leisure companies, Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide Inc. has a prominent footprint in downtown Toronto. It owns the Sheraton Centre opposite City Hall and manages the Westin Harbour Castle on the waterfront.
While both facilities opened in the early to mid-1970s, both are still big players on the Toronto tourism and hospitality scene, with the pair welcoming more than one million guests in 2013.
Starwood has set itself a "30, 20 by 20," goal, in which it is attempting to reduce its consumption of energy by 30 per cent and water by 20 per cent by the year 2020.
Starwood examined all of its practices to find savings.
"Everything from the basics, such as what kind of light bulbs are we using, what kind of water, faucet aerators and all these sort of things that we use around the properties, the simple, easy fixes come first," said Jennifer Bauchner, director of rooms and sustainability for Starwood's North America operations.
Starwood also engaged its guests to become part of its sustainability programs, inviting them to "Make a Green Choice," offering vouchers or loyalty points for those declining housekeeping during their stay.
At the Westin Harbour Castle, Starwood uses Bullfrog Power to power its lobby and restaurants with green electricity, while Sheraton is currently retrofitting all exterior windows in all guest rooms to drive down heat loss.
Both hotels also use ORCA machines for disposing of organic waste. The ORCA system eliminates the need to haul away massive amounts of food waste to a landfill by accelerating the breakdown of organic food matter, and can turn more than one ton of organic food waste into environmentally safe water within 24 hours.
"A lot of this work does take upfront investment, but it does lead to a saving, and that saving is usually in energy or water, and energy is really one of the largest expenses that any property has, so it's actually a very easy business case when you look at it that way," says Ms. Bauchner.