Raising Awareness and Keeping it Afloat, Tenant Engagement is Not a One-time Fix

As published in the Canadian Property Management Magazine - Vol 30 No.2 April/May 2015.

Tenants now almost reflexively expect certifications like LEED and BOMA BESt, which are becoming the norm in the commercial office sector. In turn, property and asset managers are increasingly asking how they move beyond a static certification.

LEED Dynamic Plaque is one response. Currently being tested as a pilot in Canada, its visual dynamic display helps engage tenants.

Certifications such as the WELL Building Standard that focus specifically on human wellness within the built environment are also drawing attention. This adds the dimension of human health and wellness in the same widespread manner that LEED did for sustainable building design. 

Improving building performance has propelled this shift of focus to tenants. Engaging tenants in energy reduction strategies allows for further savings in buildings where many of the feasible retrofit or commissioning projects have already been undertaken - particularly when considering that approximately 40-60% of a building's energy use is driven by tenant lighting and plug loads, plus other disproportionate loads. 

In the last few years, many large property management firms have rolled out tenant engagement programs with the goals of improving building performance. Notably: Oxford's Sustainable Intelligence, Bentall Kennedy's Forever Green; or Cadillac Fairview's Green at Work.

Similarly, the Building Beyond Green program, implemented across a Toronto portfolio, targets a number of key performance indicators (KPIs) tied to sustainability. These KPIs range from electricity and energy use to fostering low carbon modes of transportation, such as public transit or cycling. 

Yet, despite tenants' growing interest in and commitment to sustainability, it remains a challenge to tie it to KPIs and tangible results within a building. Tenant engagement, unlike retrofit projects, requires on-going behavioural change and is not a one-time fix with a calculated expected reduction. 


Earth Hour provides a good rallying point. Occurring on the last Saturday of March from 8:30 to 9:30pm, Earth Hour presents an opportunity to engage with tenants and help them reduce plug and lighting loads. It helps to emphasize the importance of sub-metering in understanding their electricity consumption and to identify opportunities for reduction.

The Building Owners and Managers Association (BOMA) of Greater Toronto lends strategic support through its Earth Hour Challenge for both buildings and tenants. For sub-metered tenants, it creates a specific KPI that can be measured - electricity consumption reduction during the hour compared to the previous week. 

The process of comparing against a baseline identifies opportunities for reduction by raising questions such as: what do the profiles look like? and what should it look like? If a reduction is possible during Earth Hour, it then encourages tenant to replicate those conditions not only during Earth Hour, but every time the space is unoccupied. 

This year, several major tenants in Toronto's emerging South Core district worked together with property managers to create Earth Hour strategies and were able to see substantial results. They are currently in the process of determining how to replicate some of the Earth Hour results at times when there is no/low occupancy in their buildings.

Ultimately, Earth Hour's impact lies in the process itself. As a single hour out of 8,764 each year, it's not designed to save the planet, but rather it's meant to create awareness and to spark a conversation. That's what Earth Hour is about and that's what tenant engagement is about. International initiatives like Earth Hour are also valuable because they provide a platform for landlords and tenants to have a conversation and come together for a common goal. 


Many tenants now expect action to go beyond this hour as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) mandates. A look through CSR reports - many now produced by Fortune 500 companies - typically reveals the amount of energy consumed through operations and emissions of equivalent greenhouse gases (GHGs) per year. Sophisticated organizations often have in-house CSR teams and environmental or sustainability managers to coordinate and drive the effort. 

Landlords and employers alike are realizing that their tenants and staff increasingly look for a workplace culture that aligns with their own values. This translates into comfortable, collaborative and truly green workspaces. 

This entry was posted on May 29, 2015 by Kyle Pinto. Kyle is our Sustainability Manager and heads our sustainability service offerings.