Greener pastures for technology

Green technology is capturing corporate imaginations.

From building headquarters using environmentally-friendly techniques to serious investments in green technologies, corporations are increasingly concerned about saving money by reducing consumption and waste.

When software giant SAS inaugurated its Canadian headquarters on King Street, Toronto urban planner Joe Berridge exclaimed, “This building is green, it’s beautiful.” Designed with an array of environmentally-friendly features, the gray and blue building is nevertheless referred to as the green building on the block.

Toronto mayor David Miller was on hand to inaugurate the building, and congratulated SAS for its leadership in the environmental arena. The building is the first Toronto commercial building to be certified by LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environment Design). LEED is a not-for-profit organization that provides a rating system, standard benchmarks and certification for the construction and design of green buildings. About 400 buildings have been certified by LEED in the U.S.

SAS’ new eight-story building was built using a high percentage of recycled material, and it has several environmentally-friendly features. “It uses 30 to 50 per cent less energy than any other building,” said Carl Ferrell, president of SAS Canada.

He explained this is made possible by the “white membrane” that covers the roof of the building. This protects it from heat and reduces air-conditioning costs. In addition, the floor-to-ceiling glass walls of the building are tinted blue with a glaze that allows for sunlight transmission with reduced heat.

Elevator systems are designed with energy-saving features. “This makes it possible for elevators to consume up to 50 per cent less energy than traditional systems,” said Ferrell.

The building also has water-conserving features. It has a rainwater recovery and storage system in the basement that reduces water usage. Rainwater is collected in the storage unit, treated and re-used to provide flushing in washrooms. Plumbing fixtures are also designed with a ‘low flow’ feature, which only releases as much water as the user requires.

These features were included to show that SAS cares about the well-being of its employees, society and the environment, said Ferrell. Companies that adopt green technology are recognized as responsible eco-friendly employers, according to Charles Jia, head of the University of Toronto’s green technology research group department.

“Companies like to adopt green technology as it not only benefits the environment and society, but also improves the quality of life of their employees,” he says.

According to Ferrell, including environmentally-friendly features in the building increased its construction costs beyond its initial budget of $30 million – but the costs of the energy- and water-saving features will be recouped in two to three years.

This is the reason more and more companies are eyeing green technology in general and environmentally-friendly building design in particular. They realize that investments in this area serve the dual purpose of reducing costs while also enhancing their standing in society. Everyone benefits when corporations invest in green technology.

With increasing concerns about global warming, green technology is being touted as the technology of the future. As local and regional mandates on emissions are put in place, industry and government are focusing on research and development of green technologies.

These promise to perform better than existing technologies by using raw materials more effectively and reducing consumption and waste.

As a consequence, venture capitalists are making huge investments in green technology. Last year, more than $1.6 billion was invested in companies that promote green technologies, which represents a 35 per cent increase over 2004, according to Cleantech Venture Network, an environmental research and advisory organization based in Ann Arbor, Mich.

In the future, green technology will be as popular as IT and biotechnology, said Jia. “In Canada, companies in Alberta that sell crude oil and nickel have been investing heavily in green technology,” he said. A case in point is Syncrude Canada Ltd, an energy company based in Fort McMurray, which has promised to invest $8 billion in technologies that will minimize environmental damage.

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