Stacked Sustainability

It’s getting so you can’t swing a piece of Danish Modern in any of Canada’s major cities without hitting a condominium project. In the past, developers got buyers in the door with amenities, but with so many different projects all vying for a piece of the market, it’s not enough to offer a pool and a weight room: buyers want sophisticated designs to match their lifestyle. And savvy developers know that green design it where it’s at.

When it comes to green in this country, Vancouver is way ahead of the game. But the nation’s largest city is also showing eco promise. Condo development heavyweight Tridel decided back in 2005 that it would be designing to LEED certification standards from then on. This year it’s making a big splash with Eco-Suite. The 1,900-squarefoot ode to environmentally friendly living, on the 21st floor of the Element high-rise in downtown Toronto, introduces one of Tridel’s first green communities. Andrea Kantelberg, principal of the Toronto-based Kantelberg, and her team designed Eco-Suite “to show the general public that you can have sustainability without compromising aesthetics,” she said.

Eco-Suite has the streamlined, minimal look beloved by the condo set, deftly mixing natural neutrals and darker and lighter tones without looking boring. It’s the perfect environment for sophisticated city-slickers with An Inconvenient Truth downloaded onto their iPhones.

The impressive, rich brown doors in the foyer are handcrafted from FSC-certified wood, as are the panelling, shelving and baseboards. In the living room, the dramatic, textured fireplace is formed of slag, a by-product from a steel mill. The sofa is the epitome of eco chic, custom designed with an FSC-certified wood frame, and the upholstery is pesticide-free linen, treated with non-toxic dye. Taking recycling to heart, the black walnut dining table is made of reclaimed wood from a previous Tridel project. The engineered hardwood floating floors use one-fifth the amount of hardwood as traditional floors and have the benefit of not needing toxic adhesives.

In the kitchen, the countertops are made from scratch-and stain-resistant quartz, which doesn’t off-gas any noxious fumes like a synthetic product might. The stainless steel appliances are Energy Star certified, and the dishwasher’s double-drawer design lets you wash half a load of dishes (with half the water) at a time. Naturally, faucets in both the kitchen and baths are low-flow. The showerheads use 36 per cent less water, and the toilets are dual flush.

True synergy between green and style doesn’t come along by accident – or easily. According to Kantelberg, the biggest hurdle they had to overcome in bringing Eco-Suite to life was the mountain of research required to source truly green products. “I didn’t have an understanding of how much research into the products would be involved,” she says. “We must have spent thousands of hours in research. But I had a great team.”

Part of the problem was figuring out whether or not products were truly green, or just “greenwashed” – where, for example, an item may contain some recycled material, but doesn’t have a sustainable manufacturing process, or cannot be recycled itself.

At the end of the day, Kantelberg doesn’t see green design as a trend, but rather the future of building. And smart builders are setting themselves up now, giving themselves an edge in the market. “In five years it’ll be mandated,” she predicts. “The innovative developers are already doing this.” cI