Cora Group’s office projects show environmental LEED-ership

Officer workers appreciate the award-winning environmental features Cora Group includes in its office buildings, says Adrian Conrad.

When rain soaks the roof at 375 Hagey Blvd. in Waterloo, Ont., it doesn’t simply disappear down a gutter to flow into storm drain. It takes a side trip, filling a 40,000-litre cistern that supplies water for the toilets in the building and the drought-tolerant beds outside. These and other good-for-the-environment features earned Cora Group Inc., which owns the building, a LEED Gold For New Construction certification.

It wasn’t a one-off achievement. Environmental sustainability is part of the Cora Group’s culture. In 2011, Cora Group’s building at 300 Hagey – with a cistern and energy-conserving features of its own – became the first commercial building in Waterloo Region to achieve LEED gold in the new-construction category. The standards are set by the Canada Green Building Council.

“There are very few instances where our industry really stops and thinks about the impact on the environment, says Adrian Conrad, chief operating officer of The Cora Group. “I guess that’s my point -we should, and we do. Anything we’re looking at building new, we certainly have a view toward sustainability.

To demonstrate how well architecture and green-thinking in commercial construction work together, Cora Group couldn’t be in a better setting. Hagey Boulevard cuts through the David Johnston Research and Technology Park, where restless companies prefer to disrupt and innovate rather than settle for the status quo. Cora Group built 295, 300 and 375 Hagey. While Cora no longer owns 295 Hagey, the Conrad family still has a namesake connection to the building through the philanthropy of Adrian and his father Manfred Conrad. The Conrad Business, Entrepreneurship and Technology Centre on the second floor helps University of Waterloo students turn ideas into enterprises. The other two buildings are Cora Group properties. Agfa HealthCare occupies most of 375 Hagey. Stantec, a broad-scope consultancy, occupies the first and second floors, and part of the third, of 300 Hagey.

Cora has been building in the technology park for 10 years. The real drivers of change in the design of office buildings, Adrian Conrad says, are the men and women who spend long days in them. “Employees want to work in clean, healthy buildings, and they want to work for companies that are doing the right thing, Conrad says. All things being equal, people would rather be in a sustainable building than not. Besides the cistern, gold-winning features at 375 Hagey include:

  • Roofing material that reflects more light than it absorbs to reduce heat;
  • heavily insulated, pre-cast walls;
  • sunshades over the windows; and a building orientation that makes the best use of daylight;
  • Water-conserving plumbing fixtures;
  • Bicycle racks and shower facilities to encourage people to leave cars at home;
  • Construction and mechanical efficiencies that bring utility costs down to $2 per square foot from a typical range of $3 to $4 per square foot.

Even under construction, the building earned points in the LEED program. Cora used products containing recycled content, and it separated recyclable material from construction waste. When Manfred Conrad formed Cora in 1978, sustainable construction wasn’t on the mainstream radar. The emphasis was on architecture, Adrian Conrad says. They needn’t be in opposition, he adds. The inspiration to bring the two together comes from Frieberg, Germany, a world leader in sustainable construction practices. We started thinking about it and it got to the point where we said we can do it, and that it’s not that much more expensive to do it, Conrad says. “Besides, we end up with a better product when we’re done. Cora has worked Stantec and with Robertson Simmons Architects Inc. of Kitchener and to design its tech-park projects. Interior building features at 300 and 375 Hagey include heating that comes up through the floor instead of down from the ceiling. Workers can adjust diffusers on the floor to regulate airflow. Motion-activated lighting cuts down on wasted electricity.

In construction, Cora used materials with low volatile organic compound (VOC) levels. It conducts random tests of indoor air quality. It also expects tenants to use the same care with VOCs in furnishing and decorating their offices. “Our expectation is that they will participate in the LEED benefits of the building,” Conrad says. It’s an education, but for the most part, it hasn’t been an issue. We generally find that most people want to embrace it. Climate change, uncertainty about energy resources, the environment interests of office workers all throw weight behind the shift to smarter, environmentally conscious commercial construction, Conrad says. “It’s simply the right direction to go, he says. More people are paying attention, and we like to think we had some part in that.”