Brownfield Redemption, Green Accommodation - Pacific Standard

Brownfield Redemption, Green Accommodation

A proposed green hotel in Toronto is meant to show that environmentalism needn't be a money loser.
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There are many people for whom green building is primarily a feel-good enterprise, but Tom Rand is not one of them.

A former software entrepreneur and the founder of VCi Green Funds, Rand is the mind behind Planet Traveller, a “green” hotel that will rise from the remains of a dilapidated building erected around the turn of the last century in downtown Toronto. When completed, the 21-room hostel-type accommodation will use 80 percent less carbon than an ordinary hotel and — most importantly — save money doing it.

Despite its green credentials, all construction decisions have been made for purely economic reasons, and Rand’s goal is not just to build a hotel with a dramatically reduced carbon footprint but to prove that doing so is not only good environmental stewardship but also good business.

“Oil being $130 is the best thing that’s happened for green technology,” Rand told Miller-McCune.com, arguing that many eco-friendly technologies that have previously gone unnoticed are now beginning to appeal to entrepreneurs as the most cost-effective ways to run a business.

For Planet Traveller, Rand and general contractor Anthony Aarts plan to use geothermal and solar thermal systems for heating and cooling, with LED bulbs for lighting and power pipe technology for shower drains.

Geothermal will be the primary carbon-reduction mechanism, comprising somewhere between 60 and 70 percent of the 80 percent goal. Also known as a “ground source heat pump,” a geothermal system takes advantage of the natural heat below the Earth’s surface, warming liquid in a series of underground pipes and converting it above ground into heating for the entire building. The technology is not just for large-scale projects; it can also reap economic benefits in an ordinary home, paying for itself completely in seven to eight years.

Yet geothermal has also been the greatest challenge in the construction of Planet Traveller, since it was necessary to obtain permission from the City of Toronto to install several 300-foot holes for piping in a public laneway. The application is set to go before the city on June 23 and 24, and if it is approved, many will be glad to see the last of the barriers to building go down.

Indeed, aside from the environmental and economic aspects of the hotel, one of the most interesting parts of its construction is the support the hotel has garnered due to Rand’s dedication to making public the decisions he makes every step of the way. With a blog on Canada’s ReportonBusiness.com, he spreads updates weekly, and Planet Traveller is currently the most viewed project on the eco-networking site Celsias.com.

The anticipation surrounding the project extends to the neighborhood itself, as people have watched construction begin on the previously crumbling and roofless building. “People are excited about it,” Rand noted. “They’re looking forward to seeing the building restored to its former glory.”

As for Rand himself, Planet Traveller is just one part of a very full schedule. Apart from the hotel, he is working as an Action Canada Fellow to convince the government to adopt the Canadian Green Bond and has just completed a Ph.D. in philosophy. He admits that working on four or five different projects at once can be challenging, but when asked how he manages the demands of so many pursuits, he didn’t seem too fazed.

“It’s how I keep myself busy,” he said.

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