It’s not easy being green but occupants of Manitoba’s big buildings are racing to do it.

Owners and tenants of commercial office buildings with total footage of over six million square feet have joined forces to reduce their energy use by 10 per cent but they’ll also be competing with each other.

They’ve signed up for the Manitoba Race to Reduce initiative in which they will compete to see which grows to be the greenest and be the leader in reducing energy consumption and waste within their buildings.

The initiative launched Wednesday at the Artis Reit tower at the corner of Portage Avenue and Main Street with executives participating in a fun race to grab Manitoba Hydro bags and hand out energy-efficient light bulbs.

The four-year challenge is being touted as “an unprecedented collaboration” between people owning, operating and occupying office spaces of greater than 30,000 square feet to achieve measurable energy savings.

Some of the participants include the Winnipeg and Manitoba Chambers of Commerce, the City of Winnipeg, Manitoba Hydro, Investors Group, Great West Life, Artis Reit, and a number of property ownership companies.

“It’s going to be challenging and it’s going to be tough, for us,” said Frank Sherlock, the Artis Reit executive vice-president of property management and the Race to Reduce co-chair.

Sherlock said the Artis Reit building is already a LEED Gold building, the highest rating by the Canada Green Building Council for energy efficiency and environmental sustainability, so it will be challenging to find new ways to be reduce energy consumption and waste.

“We’re a little bit ahead on this. We’ve been doing best practices and sustainability for years so getting incremental savings for us is going to be tough but we’re going to try very hard,” Sherlock said. “In a commercial office space, it’s more about reducing waste than it is consumption. You want people to be comfortable (in their workplace) so you need to find areas where you’re being wasteful and reduce or eliminate those.”

Johanna Hurme, the incoming chairwoman of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, said using space smarter is one simple way businesses can reduce energy wasted, such as sharing a boardroom with another business so the room doesn’t sit empty much of the time.

“If all landlords, tenants and employees in Manitoba worked together to save 10 per cent, it would be the equivalent of taking 1,000 cars off the road,” said Hurme. “Putting spaces together that aren’t used 90 per cent of the time, share that with others and the space becomes multifunctional and reduces the overall footprint that is made by those businesses.”

While the big prize will be helping the planet, officials with the Manitoba Race to Reduce will be tracking results and giving awards to owners, tenants and staff who lead the race.

Ersilia Serafini, the CEO of the Summerhill Group that is organizing the competition, said Natural Resources Canada measures the energy data and savings of large buildings.

“It’s not just improvements to the building envelope that count. We know that there’s a huge amount of savings that can come from behavioural changes. That’s why the tenant engagement is such a big part of this race,” she said. “The opportunity for behavioural savings is a really big part of the energy that comes from this.”

Tenants and employees are encouraged to turn off lights, power down computers when they’re not in use, unplug electrical devices when the offices are closed and have motion sensors in washrooms and common areas.

The Manitoba competitors may be further motivated by the fact that there were 12 per cent overall reductions in energy consumption and waste in Toronto recently in a similar competition.

ashley.prest@freepress.mb.ca

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