Pioneer Mueller sees demand, savings driving green building

Thomas Mueller, CEO of the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC)

In 1987, as Thomas Mueller was doing his Masters in Planning at the University of Waterloo, the term "sustainable development" was popularized with the release of the Bruntland Report. For Mueller, it heightened an already keen interest in environmental issues.

"The report gave a whole new perspective to environmental planning," says Mueller. "The economy and people were there, alongside the environment."

After graduation, Mueller joined Metro Vancouver, working in everything from business recycling to waste management to water conservation, and contributing to the Sustainable Region Initiative first published in 2002. This led him to an interest in green building.

Buildings account for 35% of all greenhouse gases and 80% of water consumption. And of all the waste that goes to landfill, the construction and demolition industry produces 35%.

Now CEO of the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC), Mueller has been an advocate of green building since his time at Metro Vancouver, because of its potential for reducing our environmental impact.

"The green building industry is our most organized response to climate change and environmental degradation," he says.

Bringing LEED to Canada, and green building to the world

While at Metro Vancouver, Mueller created a partnership between the City of Vancouver, BC Hydro and the provincial government to bring Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) to B.C.

LEED® is a third-party certification program and an internationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings.

B.C. was the first region outside of the United States to adapt the US Green Building Council's version of LEED for local use. The non-profit CaGBC, which Mueller helped found, has certified more than 1,000 buildings to the LEED Canada standard and trained thousands of industry professionals through its green building courses and programs.

Home builders can use the LEED Canada for Homes standard, which applies to single family homes and multi-family buildings up to three storeys. In B.C., about 350 homes have been certified, with another 675 in the LEED For Homes Midrise (4+ stories residential) category.

Says Mueller, "The first large LEED for Homes project was a stacked townhouse project of 66 homes. It sold great, and the developer has registered two more projects. The LEED for Homes standard allows builders to differentiate the better homes they are selling, reduce call backs, and represent their better homes as the market-leading developments they are."

There are now two service providers working with builders across the province on LEED Canada for Homes projects. Contact a provider through the CaGBC website.

Private sector and consumer demand fuel green building growth

In addition to overseeing the CaGBC, Mueller has served on its Vancouver and Cascadia chapters, and is currently on the board of the World Green Building Council, roles which have had him intimately involved in the expansion of green building over the last decade.

"We're at the point where we can now talk about green building as a complete industry," he says. "We have practitioners, products, technologies, industry organizations. More developers are building green and pension funds are invested in green buildings, generating positive returns.

"Initially it was government leading the way, but now the private sector is embracing green building and green development, too."

The green building industry also generates spinoff economic activity, including export opportunities for products, technology and services. Mueller predicts the healthy growth trend will continue, despite a slower economy.

"It's driven by the growth of cities at home and across the globe, the need to accommodate the flow of people into cities and to do it sustainably," he says.

Consumer demand is also helping shift the market. "People want greener, healthier homes," says Mueller. "They are very aware of toxins and pollution and are concerned with how building products and finishes might affect their health. Consumers are also becoming more aware of LEED."

Finally, building code and rating systems are working hand in hand to move to higher performance buildings and more sustainable development. The B.C. Building Code is currently under review, and Mueller is hopeful that higher standards for energy and water will be implemented.

Business value plus environmental benefits

Mueller agrees that many builders and developers still don't see the value in building green, or when they do, still treat sustainability as an add-on feature. He believes that thinking does not contribute to innovation and does little to reduce environmental impacts.

"The business case for green buildings is very strong," he says. "There is a clear return on investment."