Ottawa Rejects CGBC, Earns LEED Gold Convention Centre

Just days after city officials in Ottawa, Canada, supported the removal of a requirement that all new city buildings must comply with the LEED certification criteria set by the Canada Green Building Council (CGBC), the city’s new convention center officially (and ironically) earned LEED Gold status for its ecologically friendly design.

The Ottawa City Council’s Environment Committee recommended that the LEED guidelines, which have been tied to the building codes in Canada’s capital city since 2005, were too cumbersome and expensive and should be scrapped. While the committee said they supported the adoption of many of the energy-saving systems and use of environmentally sensitive materials whenever possible, they wanted to avoid the extensive paperwork required involved with following CGBC’s time-consuming process.

Ottawa's new convention center earned LEED Gold just as the city voted to reject the standard as a requirement. Image via Ottawa Convention Centre.

Ottawa’s new convention center earned LEED Gold just as the city voted to reject the standard as a requirement. Image via Ottawa Convention Centre.

While the full City Council mulls the latest committee recommendations, the report from Ottawa is yet another blow to the embattled LEED standards in both Canada and the United States. While they are seen as a recognized and respected environmental standard in many nations, they have been criticized frequently in the last few years—many environmentalists say they aren’t strict enough and allow too many exceptions for wasteful building materials, while some developers and governments say the requirement are too expensive and cause unnecessary delays.

During the debate in mid-January, Ottawa City Councillor David Chernushenko, who is on the city’s Environment Committee, noted that added cost of LEED certification was only about $2,000 per building and not prohibitive for most project, but added that the more onerous costs come from the amount of time city staff had to spend doing paperwork. According to an article from Design Build Source, Chernushenko said the city would continue to pursue the design goals of the LEED guidelines in new projects but not waste their time “getting that check mark” from the CGBC.

While the debate continued, a new LEED jewel was recently crowned on the city’s riverfront. To earn a Gold rating, the Ottawa Convention Centre (OCC), completed in 2011, incorporated many green features into its earliest designs, include a “cool roof” that is made of light-colored materials to reflect excess solar heat and reduce demand on HVAC costs in the summer. The cool roof also helps lessen the overall “heat island” effect found in cities.

View from the glassed-in common areas outside the main ballroom. Image via Ottawa Convention Centre.

View from the glassed-in common areas outside the main ballroom. Image via Ottawa Convention Centre.

A rainwater harvesting system at the OCC also collects runoff in an underground cistern for various non-potable uses, such as toilets and irrigation. So far, the system has reduced indoor water use by 67 percent and landscaping use by more than 70 percent, compared to a similarly-sized conventional building.  This amounts to a savings of more than 950,000 gallons of water annually.

During construction more than 94 percent of waste was diverted from landfills for reuse and recycling. In fact, some structural steel left behind from the previous building on the site was reused to build the roof of the building’s 55,000-square-foot Canada Hall multipurpose event space. The wooden wall that extends through all four floors of the OCC is also made from logs that were recovered from the bottom of local rivers, which had been sunk in the 1800s by logging crews.

According to a city council staff report, eight completed municipal buildings in Ottawa, so far, have been officially LEED-certified, while another 14 are awaiting certification.

Following Ottawa’s decision, CGBC CEO Thomas Mueller was quoted in Design Build Source as saying that a third-party organization such as his is still needed to enforce green building standards. An unrecognized self-monitoring system for green building standards, he said, implies that the nation’s capital is reverting to a lower standard than the rest of the Canada.

Randy Woods is a Seattle-based writer and editor with 20+ years of experience in the business publishing world. A former managing editor of Seattle Business, iSixSigma, Claims and Waste Age magazines, he has covered topics that include newspaper publishing, entrepreneurism, green businesses, insurance, environmental protection and garbage hauling (yes, really). He also contributes to the Career Center Blog for The Seattle Times and edits a photography magazine called PhotoMedia. When not working, he likes to hide out in Seattle movie theaters and attend film festivals—even on sunny days.