Ask the Expert: Conference Master Speaker Michael Brooks on the business case for greening commercial real estate

We spoke to Michael Brooks, one of Canada's senior national industry experts on investment real estate, about his Master Speaker session at this year's National Conference.

In the green building industry, sustainability and long-term cost reductions go hand in hand, but when appealing to a wider audience there is no question that more education needs to be done to demonstrate building green also makes financial sense. There are not many experts who are better placed to prove these ideas than Michael Brooks, current Partner and Practice Group Leader of Real Estate at Aird & Berlis LLP and former CEO of REALpac, Canada's senior national industry association for owners and managers of investment real estate.

As a Master Speaker at this year’s CaGBC National Conference, Michael will be drawing from his extensive experience to speak about Greening Commercial Real Estate: The Business Case, the Political Case, and the Moral Case to battle it out against Apathy and the Forces of Evil. We spoke to him about his session, including why he says a battle is underway when it comes to the environment and how it ties into economies and businesses.

1) How did you get involved in green building initially?

My undergraduate degree is in urban planning and the environment so I've long had an interest in built form. When I was the CEO of REALpac, it was my responsibility to keep up to date on trends in building management. It was not until Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth (2006) that I realized I was missing the big picture, the context piece. I took a trip to Australia (2007) to see some of the leading buildings and speak to leading thinkers, and that is when I accelerated the industry's work in green building transformation.

2) You are doing a Master Speaker session at this year’s Conference. Can you elaborate a bit on what it will cover?

There is a battle underway although you may not notice it. It is a battle for the hearts and minds and wallets of the consumer, the voter, business and government. At the micro level, it is a battle in each of our own minds between our personal economic self-interest, our desire for the pleasure of and the trappings of success, and our own personal moral compass.

At the national level, it's a battle between competing visions of the future. Are we an energy superpower with all of the environmental degradation that comes with it, or are we a Garden of Eden on an otherwise degrading planet? Or somewhere in the middle? Should we turn the economy away from fossil fuel dependence and towards the energy sources of the future, or are we too worried about today's jobs to do that? Who is on which team, and how are they controlling media, product advertising, and political influence and messaging to get their way?

3) What do you think is the single greatest case for going green in a business sense? 

They make money! Green buildings are built better, consume fewer resources, and will have a longer economic life than non-green buildings. Income producing green buildings lease up faster for more net rent. As a result, green buildings are worth more than non-green buildings.

4) Do you think Canadian businesses are responding to this message, or is there a need for more engagement?

There is a need for more engagement with Canadian businesses around green buildings. Market penetration is mostly in the downtown Class A office category, and public sector buildings. Most of the leaders in the private sector are Canadian pension fund subsidiaries. Many private sector owners/developers don't care about green buildings on the basis that their particular asset class market or geographic market is not demanding it. This is why we need much stronger energy-enabled building code legislation throughout Canada.

5) Politically, sustainability is sometimes a tough sell. Given this climate, how do you begin to make the political case of greening real estate?

Governments around the world are under pressure to do more with less. Conservation saves everybody money and it is the cheapest source of energy. I see energy conservation as apolitical – every party should be in favor of it. Otherwise I think you have to differentiate levels of government in Canada regarding the political case. Some of our cities and provinces get the sustainability agenda and are leaders. Others don't. Some are stuck in the past. We need new federal leadership. We need to remind the voter what this country is about, and have the voter remind the politicians that our collective vision is for a clean and sustainable country – a Canada 2.0.

6) Where do you see the future of green building headed in the long term (next decade or so)?

Assuming a continued economic recovery, I see continued pressure on developers and landlords to further green their portfolios and products; in all asset classes, and in more cities. I see energy costs continuing to rise. I think Energy Star Canada could be transformational, as it gives a ubiquitous tool for municipalities and provinces to insist on disclosure of performance. I see continued tightening of building codes as more and more jurisdictions realize we have to do a better job of building what we are building. I see more and more users wanting sustainable buildings for their families, employees and customers. I see green buildings going hand-in-hand with densification of Canadian cities. In the next five years I hope to see a political party with a deeper green agenda looking to the future rather than the past, and that also will be transformational.


Interested in hearing more of what Michael Brooks has to say? His Master Speaker session at the CaGBC National Conference and Expo in Vancouver will be taking place on Wednesday, June 5 from 3:15 p.m. - 4:30 p.m. To register for the conference now, click here or visit cagbc.org/2013conference for more information.