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Green matters: our health is affected by the buildings we occupy

Image of the visitor centre at Vandusen Garden, Vancouver
Green building techniques at VanDusen Botanical Garden's Visitor Centre include use of wood to create a welcoming space.

Green buildings a key theme of upcoming building council conference  

As much as Thomas Mueller thinks about buildings, he thinks about people even more.

Mueller is the president and CEO of Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC), an association leading the "transformation to high-performing, healthy green buildings, homes, and communities". In a phone conversation, he explained that it's important to recognize that buildings can contribute to the health and well-being of occupants.

"Where you live and where you work is a big deal," he said from his office in Vancouver.

A good example of these ideas at work is the certified LEED Platinum  VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitor Centre in Vancouver, where solid walls protect visitors from busy Oak Street, and transparent walls open the building toward the garden. The Visitor Centre also uses wood products extensively, from the panelized roof structure to the cladding, furnishings, millwork and wall finishes, to help create a beautiful, warm environment.

The interconnection between buildings and people

Just as buildings impact the people who live and work in them, so do occupants change buildings.

"People modify buildings when they use them," said Mueller. "Green buildings are not just designing and building to high standards. It's also about getting operators and tenants who can help ensure that the building is operating at the standards it was designed to."

In partnership with the University of British Columbia, at this year's CaGBC annual conference, the association is looking at the performance gap in buildings and how they may be able to exceed the performance they were designed for. The conference features leaders speaking about efficiency and sustainability technologies as well as the human element.

Annual conference and exposition taking place in Vancouver

The human impact on green buildings is also a theme of the CaGBC annual conference and expo, taking place at the Vancouver Convention Centre from June 2 to June 4.

Sponsored in part by BC Hydro, Building Lasting Change includes "an extensive advanced educational program," according to Mueller, which incorporates the entire breadth of green building, from best practices to technological innovations.

Mueller said that more than 1,000 people — from architects, engineers, and contractors to designers, manufacturers, and renewable energy experts — are expected to attend and there will be about 100 exhibitors demonstrating various products and services aimed at energy efficiency and sustainability.

Register to attend the CaGBC annual conference

Resilience and health key themes at Building Lasting Change conference

The impact of buildings on human health is a growing international trend, said Mueller, which is why it's a theme of the conference. It's led to the addition of a one-day Health & Materials Summit that is taking place the day before the Building Lasting Change conference begins.

Another topic is how green buildings can contribute to resilience in the face of climate change. They can, says Mueller, actually help mitigate impacts while regenerating the natural environment.

"Buildings can already be designed to be 50 to 60 per cent better in terms of energy and water use," he said, "and generate 90 per cent less waste." But they can do more, he added, even making positive contributions.

Some net-positive projects can, for example, generate more water than they use because water is recycled in the building. Others are so efficient that they don't emit carbon emissions, and can be equipped with systems that remove carbon from the atmosphere.

The Visitor Centre at VanDusen Botanical Garden is also an example of a structure that doesn't simply consume fewer resources, but has a positive contribution to the environment. All water used at the visitor centre comes from captured or reused water, and all energy required is generated by renewable sources.

Building Lasting Change
June 2 through June 4, Vancouver Convention Centre
Register to attend