LEED-ing the way for green building

LEED-ing the way for green building

The BC Cancer Agency Research Centre leads the surge of green construction with a gold rating for building sustainability
July 16, 2008
It’s no secret that buildings are colossal devourers of energy, water, and resources. According to the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, buildings represent a whopping 40 percent of global energy demand and raw material usage. The main culprits are heating, air conditioning, water heating, and lighting, but related services like construction waste and water usage also play a role.

That means to really get serious about conserving energy and materials, not to mention reducing greenhouse gas emissions, we must fundamentally change how we design, construct, and use our buildings. Thankfully, such change is already happening across Canada. Just look to the $88-million BC Cancer Agency Research Centre in Vancouver—one of Canada’s largest cancer research facilities. Officially opened in March 2005, the centre demonstrates what’s possible with real green construction and was the first LEED gold-certified health building in Canada.

Created by the U.S. Green Building Council in 1998, LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the recognized standard in North America and several other countries for measuring building sustainability. In other words, the best way to prove a building is genuinely green is to achieve LEED certification. For a building to qualify for one of LEED’s four performance levels—certified, silver, gold, and platinum—there must be significant reduction or elimination of negative impacts in five areas: water efficiency, energy efficiency and renewable energy, conservation of materials and resources, sustainable site planning, and indoor environmental quality.


The BC Cancer Agency Research Centre scores top points in all five categories, hence its gold rating. Sustainable features include natural ventilation in all the labs and offices, a heat recovery system that captures heat from exhaust air and condensing units, dual flush toilets, waterless urinals, and sunshades to capture solar energy. As well, the research facility houses interstitial service floors—a floor system involving a secondary floor that is raised above the structural floor. Such a floor system adds little initial cost but allows for faster and cheaper reconfiguration of the labs with less material cost and waste—an important consideration for labs that typically get reconfigured every nine months.

The building’s innovations resulted in 50 percent less energy consumption than a building of comparable size, and a 43 percent saving of potable water demands. Plus, a remarkable 98.5 percent of the construction waste for the project was diverted from landfill.


The architects met gold LEED standards without compromising visual appeal or user comfort. For example, the laboratory block features 15-foot diametre, Petri-dish-inspired windows. Not only do these windows act as an expression of scientists at work, they flood the lab space with natural daylight. On the office side, 15 floors look out to ocean and mountain views through multi-coloured strips. These vertical, strip-like windows form an abstraction of a sequence of chromosome six, a subject of study in cancer research. These windows can also be opened for natural airflow without wasting energy because the building’s heating and cooling system has been built to factor this in. “From a user’s point of view, there isn’t a single green feature that could be regarded as an impairment,” explains Dr. Ralph Durand, VP Discovery (interim) for the BC Cancer Agency.

The centre has proven to be green, architecturally interesting, and above all, functional. “Within the first week of moving in, we were doing experiments, and there hasn’t been a hitch since,” says Durand. Equally important, the building is quickly paying back the initial added investment required to build green, and the paybacks have been more substantial than originally estimated. “We projected our electricity bill to be in the $1.2 million range. It’s coming in at about 50 percent of that,” says Durand.

And, with this particular building, the significantly reduced operating costs come with a critical added bonus: every dollar saved goes back into cancer research.


As the official LEED certifier in Canada, the Canada Green Building Council has witnessed a phenomenal growth in green buildings in both the public and private sector. By November 2007, there were 88 LEED-certified buildings in Canada and over 600 candidates vying for certification. “Every year, the number doubles,” says Nancy Grenier, manager of communications and marketing with the council. “Our membership grows about 10 percent every month.”

The green building sector is part of a larger sustainability movement that emphasizes a “triple-bottom-line” approach that places equal importance on environmental, social, and economic performance. “We have to shift our perception of buildings as mere bricks and mortar, and start appreciating the value of buildings that conserve energy, use water efficiently, and make a positive contribution to our communities and quality of life,” says Grenier.

The BC Cancer Agency Research Centre demonstrates this triple win, acting as a showpiece in environmental, research and economic leadership for the BC Cancer Foundation, the fundraising arm of the BC Cancer Agency, that raised funds to construct and equip the new centre, and continues to raise the funds needed for research within the centre. “The building came in ahead of schedule and $7 million under budget,” affirms foundation interim president Nick Locke. “And, the donors love the fact that it is green.”