SustainabilityX®’s #SustainableCities2030 Campaign
As part of SustainabilityX®’s new #SustainableCities2030 campaign, we’re interviewing companies and individuals developing sustainable and resilient cities to fight the dual crises of climate change and social inequity centralized around the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal #11: Sustainable Cities & Communities.
We had the pleasure of speaking with Belnor Engineering Inc., a global construction firm based in Toronto, ON, Canada, focusing on sustainable, architectural products, services, and solutions for the green building industry, specializing in IAQ, HVAC, critical airflow management, healthcare design, and renewable energy building technologies. This particular piece was developed in partnership with Leading Change Canada's Technology Solutions Hub.
Here's what the iconic construction and engineering firm had to say:
Q: Tell us about your company?
Belnor Engineering is a global construction firm focusing on sustainable, architectural products, services, and solutions for the green building industry, specializing in IAQ, HVAC, critical airflow management, healthcare design, and renewable energy building technologies. The company’s mission is to build green, healthy, and sustainable cities – one green building at a time. Sustainability and corporate social responsibility are core to our values and is what drives us to make change through our work every day.
Q: How would you define a sustainable city?
At Belnor, we consider sustainable cities to be urban centers that allow both the environment and society to thrive without causing any losses to either. Buildings and their surroundings have a huge role to play because places matter – whether it’s inside an office room in a building or outside in neighbouring green space. Specifically, a sustainable city should be designed to improve its positive environmental impact through sound and futuristic urban planning and management – serving as a part of the solution instead of the problems associated with the looming climate crisis. Some examples include an increased presence of parks and green spaces, solar-powered buildings, rooftop gardens, sustainable building materials, inclusive design, and more pedestrians and cyclists than pollution-emitting cars. For a city to be truly sustainable, it must create social, environmental, and economic impact through its design, and consequentially, its function. This includes building both climate mitigation and climate adaptation and resilience plans for the city’s existing populations without compromising the needs of future generations.
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Q: What role does your company play in making cities more sustainable? Why do you believe this is important?
According to the International Energy Agency, the global buildings and construction industries consume 40% of the world’s energy and contribute 40% of the world’s carbon emissions as well. Running a building itself is extremely energy-intensive. If not properly maintained, buildings develop conditions such as the “Sick Building Syndrome”, which produces dire consequences for the occupants of the building, the organizations to whom the occupants belong, and of course, the building itself. Canada is also experiencing warming at twice the rate of the rest of the world, with Northern Canada heating up at almost three times the global average, according to Canada’s Changing Climate Report (CCCR), commissioned by Environment and Climate Change Canada. At Belnor, we believe this is more than enough to push companies to play their part and fight the climate crisis through business actions, helping reduce Canada’s carbon emissions to combat the effects of global warming and climate change worldwide.
For decades, Belnor has already been in the green and sustainable building industry, continuously and determinedly working by our motto and towards our mission of building green cities, one green building at a time. Through our work to create and maintain energy-efficient conditions for improving building occupant health and safety and indoor air quality through innovative building & laboratory controls systems, and HVAC & automation systems through procuring and supplying exclusively green, and sustainable building materials with a dual focus on both structure and function, we’ve been able to help develop North America’s built environment into a greener landscape. This includes applications in regular tall commercial office towers to niche, critical airflow spaces, such as high-tech hospitals, research institutions, and large-scale laboratories, spanning industry, academia, and government.
In 2016, we established our novel renewable energy arm, providing access to revolutionary transparent building-integrated photovoltaic glass technology that generates solar energy from the sun without compromising on aesthetic design. In other words, this is solar energy-generating glass that you can see right through! Also called “transparent solar glass”, this is standard architectural glass that generates clean, free energy from the sun thanks to invisible photovoltaic modules intelligently incorporated inside. The element of transparency allows it to be used by architects the same way any standard building glass would be used, but with the added benefit of solar energy generation that would dramatically help the building offset its energy costs.
The flexibility in customization allows for the glass to be installed in various applications (photovoltaic canopies, skylights, carports, walkable roofs, walkable floors, windows, facades, curtain walls — you name it) in various colours, shapes, textures, effects, transparencies, and sizes, thereby, allowing the architects to design even more creative and beautiful spaces without having to compromise on any aesthetic elements for any form of infrastructure ranging from city skyscrapers to international research centers to national transit systems. Given that the material also eventually pays for itself within 1–2 years, and its hallmark benefits of solar energy generation, UV and IR filtration, thermal and acoustic insulation, natural illumination, innovative design, and a significant reduction in carbon emissions, thereby significant shrinking of the structure’s carbon footprint, we made a major breakthrough by exclusively procuring this technology to North America with the potential to change how buildings are eventually built globally.
In 2020, in response to the pandemic and giving the increased level of concern surrounding air quality, particularly that of indoor air, we introduced the Belnor IAQ Warden™: The World's Smartest HVAC Companion, an IAQ monitoring sensor device that can be customized to detect over 60 pollutants as well as particulates PM1, 2.5 and PM10 based on the facilities’ needs. The Belnor IAQ Warden™ helps facility owners achieve the WELL Building Standard Certification by allowing users to monitor and effectively remediate indoor air quality issues and inform building managers and occupants of the quality of the indoor environment. Users can even download air quality and performance data, which is an added bonus to achieving WELL Certification. The Belnor IAQ Warden™ helps facility owners achieve the LEED Building Standard Certification by monitoring pollutants and allergens from the outdoors, minimizing indoor VOCs and air toxins, and creating access to fresh airflow. These strategies improve occupants' respiratory health and comfort as they go about their day.
Building performance, such as ventilation and infiltration rates, is highly variable and has a direct effect on indoor air quality. To maintain ideal performance metrics, projects must continuously gather data on building performance. Collecting this data allows individuals to be aware of and promptly fix any deviations in indoor quality metrics. This is of even more importance now that the United Nations' has released more data on the number of people that die every year because of air pollution and deteriorating air quality around the world.
Q: How does your organization/services serve youth and improve the quality of life for future generations?
In addition to our priority to make green, sustainable building materials available for North America to accelerate the progress towards 100% green buildings, and therefore, 100% sustainable cities, our green and healthy building consulting arm, our corporate sustainability, CSR, EDI, and philanthropic initiatives, Belnor was the first in the industry to develop a unique Sustainability Manifesto: Decade of 2020, inspired by the Decade of Action leading up to the achievement of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and the UNFCCC’s Race to Zero Campaign with various sustainable action points, ranging from going local to engaging in sustainable shipping options to aggressive global tree-planting campaigns, and many more.
In terms of our renewable energy arm, today, we have transformed buildings, both old and new, into green buildings, preventing the consumption of thousands of barrels of oil per year, naturally powering thousands of lights year-round, and reducing total operational and HVAC energy demands by significant percentages (50% and upwards, depending on the facility’s application), annually. Thanks to our work, we’ve led all these buildings to achieve internationally recognized LEED and WELL building standards, essentially recognizing the buildings as “green” and “healthy”, respectively. And the journey continues. We currently have several projects underway ranging from high-profile commercial and residential towers, and large-scale urban development public spaces across North America, to high-level Federal buildings.
At Belnor, we believe our work helps to foster sustainable cities and make them not only greener but healthier places to live, work, and play, and for communities within those cities to not just survive, but thrive. This has a major impact on youth by increasing employment opportunities in the green buildings and renewables sectors, and their safe future, by not just focusing on climate mitigation, but rather also putting emphasis on climate adaptation by developing resilient habitats, buildings, cities, and infrastructure through structurally and functionally green, sustainable building materials.
Belnor Engineering’s renewable energy arm has significantly helped enhance the North American infrastructure landscape so far, particularly that of Canada, effectively preparing buildings for the climate change and sustainability challenges to come. For decades, Belnor Engineering has been making buildings green through exclusive, sustainable technologies. Together, we see a more sustainable future for our youth, our cities, and our world through green buildings.
Q: Sustainable cities also mean equitable communities. What is your company doing to make cities more equitable?
Cities must recognize and address the stark realities of urban inequality in order to prosper.
This is in addition to the fact that by 2050, major influxes of climate migrants will flock to the world’s largest cities. In essence, creating equitable cities boils down to the resilience of the built environment. How? Through equitable design. Good design forms the solid foundation of any city, but when that design is equitable, it makes the city and its communities more resilient. Therefore, we need an equal emphasis on both climate mitigation and climate adaptation instead of focusing on the former, which is, unfortunately, the current trend.
Strengthening infrastructure, involving BIPOC architects, designers &urban planners, effective land use, equal access to green space, and tree cover in all communities within a city, are the essence of social inclusions and environmental stewardship in the context of the ideal sustainable city. That is where our work in green buildings comes in. Through our work in green building (#BelnorBuildsGreen) and our work in healthy building (#BelnorBuildsWELL) aligned with various globally-recognized building standards, such as IWBI’s WELL Building Standard, Belnor takes a two-pronged approach to building green, healthy, inclusive spaces that collectively form the basis of a sustainable city – because places matter. As a part of our Sustainability Manifesto: Decade of 2020, we have also prioritized working with suppliers on the basis of a “values-fit” and vying for diversity in our supply chains in the local economy, thereby contributing to enhancing equality within ours’ and neighbouring cities operationally. Our work in both sustainable building materials and healthy building consulting, including advocacy for incorporating inclusive in the world of architecture, design, and construction, is helping to make cities more equitable, tying it all together holistically for real impact.
Q: In your opinion, what industry has the largest role to play in developing sustainable cities and advancing towards the achievement of SDG#11: Sustainable Cities & Communities?
At Belnor, since the greatest tool to develop sustainable, resilient cities is green and inclusive design, we believe the industries that will be most responsible for achieving SDG#11 are the architectural, design, construction, and infrastructure development industries. Through our groundbreaking, multi-pronged approach to tackling the climate crisis via the development of sustainable and resilient cities through green building, sustainable building materials, healthy building consultations, and industry advocacy, Belnor Engineering has been able to further propel its mission to build green, sustainable cities, fighting climate change one green building at a time, driving positive social and environmental change every step of the way.
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