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Canadians like to have their cake and eat it, too. Increasing numbers want to ensure the environment is protected and they want to enjoy the residential and commercial real estate they own and use -- a combination that creates business opportunities for eco-friendly businesses and companies.

Canadian consumers are demonstrating their wish to reduce environmental impacts when they actively select "green” golf courses, hotels, marinas and other eco-certified commercial properties. They show their intentions when they substitute eco-certified products, investments and services for traditional purchases.

The flourishing Canadian eco-consciousness is giving rise to new businesses as well. TerraChoice Environmental Services Inc is an example of eco-companies building on opportunities related to promoting eco-friendly use of real estate.

This Ottawa-based company offers "a range of environmental evaluation and market recognition programs and services designed to help turn environmental investment into market advantage for hotels, marinas, golf courses, and commercial and residential buildings.”

TerraChoice has shown that owners of commercial properties can win on many levels if they seek out eco-certification:

  • Improved environmental performance can mean cost savings and an improved bottom line. For example, at the landmark Fairmont Royal York Hotel in downtown Toronto, energy savings realized through the installation of energy-efficient replacement equipment brought in savings of over C$150,000 annually, and by overhauling plumbing lowered costs by C$25,000 and generated additional savings estimated at C$200,000 per year.
  • Public relations and promotions benefits with new and existing clientele arise from a credible third-part eco-audit of a facility and can lead to gains in market share.
  • Improved air quality and workplace conditions may lead to greater staff retention.
  • Strengthened community relations linked to eco-ratings can help raise the local profile and therefore support for eco-friendly commercial properties.
  • Voluntary environmental initiatives make the facility or property stand out to give top of mind recognition with consumers.

    One way to begin the transformation to an ecologically-positive site, is by using ecolabelled products for construction and maintenance of residential and commercial buildings.

    "People say that they want someone else to do the research [for environmental products and services] and that they want the search simplified,” said Carolyn Miyazaki, Communications Manager for TerraChoice, explaining that the feedback they get from consumers verifies the need for the data base TerraChoice manages. "They say they need something to make the purchase easier and to help them make the choice. The Environmental Choice Program is like the environment’s stamp of approval for the consumer. And it’s not just about environmental standards. If something says it’s a cleaner, it really has to clean.”

    The Environmental Choice Program (ECP), established by Environment Canada in 1988, introduces consumers to an extensive data base of products and services that have received an environmental stamp of approval and that also meet relevant government performance standards. ECP identifies products that are less harmful to the environment. Certification entitles a company to incorporate the EcoLogo in their advertising and promotional efforts. In 1995, TerraChoice was licensed to manage, market and promote the Program, and also to oversee the development of certification criteria, to certify products and to license the providers of those products.

    Visit the ECP site to investigate environmental ratings for construction and maintenance products for residential and commercial buildings. For instance, click on "Low VOC Paints and Surface Coatings", and learn how your selection of indoor and outdoor paints can affect the environment. Most paints, sealants and caulking compounds contain varying amounts of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) which contribute to the formation of ground level ozone and photochemical smog. Low VOC products work just as well and do not impact as severely on indoor air quality.

    We’re still new at "ecolabelling,” so read labels and literature carefully before you buy. As well as legitimate certifying bodies, you’ll find self-proclaimed "green” products that may only be elaborate and non-substantive marketing pitches. To complicate matters further, individual countries have their own ecolabelling programs, each with different overall goals and specific criteria.

    To nurture Canada’s growing eco-conscience, governments, businesses, nonprofits and community-based groups must band together to make it easy and uncomplicated for information-overloaded individuals to consistently make eco-smart decisions.

    The more Canadians ask for, the more we’ll get. We can have our environment and consumerism, too.

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