Basic Building and Environment

Technology Doesn’t Make Buildings Green

Updated January 2021

Articles related to green building are forwarded to me often. One such article had opening remarks along the lines of achieving LEED® certification is just table-stakes these days. I completely agree – we’ve believed that for a long time. LEED provides excellent principles for designers, builders and property managers to follow, and we love helping clients use them to inspire measures above and beyond. But it doesn’t cover everything that could make a building truly green.

Intrigued, I kept reading, but the article did not provide any more insight. It was just promoting technology that allows users to extract data from unrelated systems to provide insight and control of the energy and carbon impact of the building. The opening made it sound like what followed would be the answer. While technology can be very useful as part of a holistic approach, it cannot make a building truly sustainable if it’s is not designed and built/renovated that way in the first place.

You can pack all the technology you want into a bad building and it won’t make it green.

What will actually help our buildings reach standards being promoted by governments and contained in new standards like the CaGBC’s Zero Carbon Building standard or the City of Toronto’s Zero Emissions Building Framework, is to simplify our buildings, to get back to basics.

Low-carbon buildings start with better building envelopes (including both improved thermal performance, reduced thermal bridging and improved air-tightness), maximizing passive solar strategies (balance solar heat gain to use it to your advantage) and proper ventilation. Execution is key and there are many reasonable options that can be optimized with the guidance of an expert.

The only means of achieving the energy and carbon reduction levels being looked at by governments today, and necessary to reach our carbon reduction goals to impact climate change is by achieving Passive House levels of energy efficiency in the building or retrofit phase. These buildings do not require complicated systems to monitor, measure and optimize.

There is a place for technology and it should be leveraged but it does not replace good building design.