Canadian Real Estate Leaders Call for Benchmarking & Data Transparency

The Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) and five leading commercial real estate firms are calling on federal and provincial governments to implement consistent building data disclosure regulations and requirements.

It may seem like an unusual move to have the commercial real estate industry advocate for government regulation—but for QuadReal, Triovest Realty Advisors Inc., Concert Properties Ltd., Colliers International, and the Minto Group, the benefits of sharing and accessing building energy, water, and emissions data are clear.

Improvements made to buildings based on accurate and available data will be critical if Canada is to reach its emissions reduction targets. Given buildings account for 17 per cent of the country’s greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, they are an important part of the efforts to reach a low-carbon economy. When collected and shared among owners, occupants and legislators, building performance can drive significant emissions reductions, energy efficiencies, and cost savings.

It was this urgent need for publicly available data that prompted CaGBC to launch the Disclosure Challenge in March 2019. Since then, its volunteer participants have demonstrated their leadership by disclosing building information including energy, water, and emissions data from over 700 buildings and 11 million square meters of space.  Collectively, the five portfolio-owners and managers oversee upwards of $50 billion in managed real estate assets which is approximately 10 per cent of the estimated value of the real estate that is held by private and public entities in in major urban centres in Canada.

Understanding benchmarks and building performance relative to the industry is a first step to identifying under-performing properties according to the Minto Group, which joined the Challenge earlier this year.

Benchmarking is the first step in improving building performance,” said George Van Noten, senior vice president, Property Operations, Minto Properties Inc. “Our participation helped highlight changes we could make at the building level to improve performance and indicates to us the value of sharing our information, experiences and lessons learned with the industry as a whole.”

Participants like Minto agreed that the lack of publicly available data on commercial building performance in Canada had become a barrier to identifying and improving on low-performing buildings. By contributing their portfolio-wide data to the CaGBC’s online data visualization tool, participants were better able to identify what constituted a “good” building in a region and identify the buildings they needed to focus on improving performance through retrofits.

“The Disclosure Challenge proves that industry collaboration can stimulate the types of retrofits required to promote significant emissions reductions,” said Van Noten.

For Colliers International, the most significant benchmarking barrier is central data collection. Dealing with a wide range of utilities and collating whole-building data can be difficult, especially in deregulated energy markets or where tenants pay their utilities directly and aren’t obligated to share with the property manager. For the data that can be collected, input can sometimes be cumbersome, with different invoices that often require manual input. Guidance from the industry and support from regulating bodies has the potential to streamline data collection.

“The establishment of a national property benchmarking program will standardize data disclosure and ultimately help achieve enhanced building performance and improved outcomes for all stakeholders, including our communities, clients, and occupants,” said Nicky Arthur, Energy & Sustainability Manager, Colliers International, Real Estate Management Services.

Energy benchmarking and data transparency programs are already being successfully implemented in cities across the United States along with jurisdictions in Europe and Australia. These governments and building owners use this data to set performance baselines, identify efficiency opportunities, reduce GHG emissions, and meet environmental targets. However, in Canada, only Ontario mandates energy benchmarking.

“Canada clearly needs to catch up quickly when it comes to benchmarking, reporting, and disclosing data,” said Thomas Mueller, CEO and President of CaGBC. “Canadian markets require data transparency to drive investment in efficiency programs and create demand for higher performing buildings.”

Recently, the CaGBC released its findings from the Challenge in a report entitled Full Disclosure: Industry Leadership on Transparency. The topline results reinforce the importance of requirements for reporting and standardization. Less than half (46%) of the buildings disclosed had complete data available, with gaps largely in the retail, warehouse, and industrial sectors. Without government mandates to drive the disclosure of data across the country from buildings of all types, it is unlikely owners will be able to see the full picture required to achieve the best outcomes for their portfolios.

Among the report’s recommendations was a call to develop national building disclosure and benchmarking requirement guidelines informed by industry best practices and to support the expansion of direct uploading capacity of energy use data between energy utility providers and the Energy Star Portfolio Manager, to align data collection across the country.

The full Disclosure Challenge report is available at cagbc.org/disclosurechallenge.

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