The drive to be green

The car frequently serves as the negative poster child for climate change. Yet, when it comes to spewing greenhouse gases into the atmosphere, buildings top the culprit’s list, accounting for nearly 40 per cent in North America compared to only 28 per cent for all transportation. As a result, Honda, in tandem with its 2009 strategic goal of providing cars “with low C02 emissions,” is committed to occupying energy-efficient buildings. Its new LEED Gold–certified office building – located at the Honda Canada Campus, in Markham, Ont. – is the company’s 11th LEED-certified building on the continent but its first in Canada.   

The four-storey office building is one of three campus structures designed in joint venture by HOK/ZAS Architects (the other two are devoted to engineering and parts distribution). Honda’s corporate culture, says HOK’s principal-in-charge Gordon Stratford, operates on inter-connectivity reaching across specialties. The three sleek volumes, therefore, are linked by a central Welcome Centre that also houses displays of Honda’s ecologically advanced automotive products as well as highlighting the campus’s sustainability. This includes such green attributes as careful site orientation, window placement, a reflective white roof membrane and shading devices, all designed to maximize or minimize heat gain depending on the season. This produces a 33 per cent energy saving while green plumbing fixtures reduce water consumption by 44 per cent. 

Like Honda’s cars, Stratford tells me, the client wanted an interior that was “well designed, comfortable, efficient and with everything in its right place.” Corporate practice demanded a totally open layout as even the CEO forgoes a closed office to ensure optimum communication and collaboration with staff – or “associates” as Honda prefers. And the comfort of these associates is carefully nurtured. No workstation, for example, is more than eight metres from natural light. Under-floor air distribution with MERV 13 filters to remove particulate such as pollen, fibres, dust, fumes, and Legionella bacteria ensures excellent air quality and just the right temperature to the all-important feet. For added measure, employees can control airflow and temperature with individual cubical air vents. This sense of control, says HOK interior designer Sharon Turner, is central to employee satisfaction. Generous amenity spaces add to a sense of attachment. Aesthetically, Turner says, the frequent use of natural materials “adds warmth but without unnecessary embellishment to ensure durable, timeless design.” At the same time, going green means all paints, coatings, and sealants are low-VOC, with 87 per cent of wood-based materials FSC-certified. 

Honda’s staff has proven very curious about how the buildings work, Stratford concludes: “They like very much the idea and the reality of sustainability.”  cI