TD Bank's London branch does not face south – the preferred orientation for solar panels – so they had to be mounted to follow the sun to generate enough electricity. (Martin Galloway/Martin Galloway)

RETAIL

The latest shade of green - zero energy use

Special to Globe and Mail Update (Includes Correction)

Since 1990, the Friends of the Environment Foundation at Toronto-Dominion Bank has helped fund more than 19,000 environmental projects with the aim of helping Canadian communities to reduce, reuse and recycle. Recently, TD added another “r” to this list: renovation.

In October, the bank unveiled a newly renovated branch in London, Ont., that is designed to produce as much energy as it uses. The solar panels at the retrofitted building will generate more than 100,000 kilowatt-hours of green electricity, the bank says.

The renovation follows TD’s construction of a new branch in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which it says is the first ever “net-zero energy” building of its size in the retail world. Developing this branch, which has been open for five months, was an easy decision, says Roger Johnson, TD’s senior vice-president of enterprise real estate, since the bank had sufficient land to put the solar array on, and the state gets plenty of sunshine.

Deciding whether to go green with the London branch proved slightly more complicated. It would require 4,360 square feet of solar panels. The building does not face south – the preferred orientation – so the panels would need to follow the sun to generate enough electricity.

TD also installed LED lighting and upgraded its control systems for heating and cooling. In addition, it will renovate the land surrounding the property into a “green energy park” that will include an amphitheater for community use and a solar electric car charging station for its customers.

The zero-energy principle is becoming more practical as traditional fossil fuels become more expensive, says architect Paul Dowsett, a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) accredited principal at Sustainable.TO, a Toronto firm dedicated to green design. The renovation should protect the building from the future rising costs of energy, he says.

TD is vying for transparency, aiming to show its customers – and non-customers – that this building is indeed as advertised. It placed meters in the London branch and in the school across the street so students could monitor the system as well. They “keep a running log of energy production and consumption that will be submitted when we formally seek the net-zero designation,” Mr. Johnson adds. “Once it is submitted, it is public information.”

The public-relations value of this kind of project should not be underestimated, says Mike Valente, assistant professor of business strategy and sustainability at the University of Western Ontario’s Richard Ivey School of Business.

“With the big banks pulling in the profits they are, there is greater pressure to create and preserve a positive brand, without succumbing to the criticism of ‘greenwashing,’” he says. Branding itself as a green bank “attracts loyal customers and employees because they are going a step further than the conventional green initiatives.”

Not all of TD’s branches can be made net-zero, Mr. Johnson says, since “the size of the site may not be right, or it may be a leased location in, say, a mall, where we couldn’t introduce the necessary solar panels.”

Mr. Johnson declined to specify the cost of the London retrofit. “You can’t really focus on what it costs because it is the first of its kind,” he says. Its value instead lies in serving as a test for ways to make other branches more efficient. He says he is confident the venture will pay for itself over time.

And though Mr. Dowsett says that “deep retrofits for energy efficiency is likely the most effective way for businesses to reduce their operational imprint on the environment,” Dr. Valente isn’t completely convinced that this will make a substantial dent in TD’s environmental mark.

“While I think it’s great that TD is doing this, the direct impact of daily banking operations represents a small slice of their environmental impact. TD’s biggest impact is in the decisions they make on who their clients are and what sort of environmental impact they have.”

To this end, businesses wanting to be more eco-sensitive should begin by reflecting on all aspects of their operation in an effort to determine which of their old practices are wasting time, energy and money, says Tiffany Roschkow, founder and executive director of EcoLiving London, a non-profit community group that helps Londoners learn how to be more environmentally sensitive.

And, as Mr. Dowsett adds, they should remember that “the first part of any energy strategy must be conservation. In the case of net-zero energy design, the less energy required, through conservation, the less energy needs to be harnessed from [other]sources.”

An earlier online version of this story and the original newspaper version incorrectly stated the number of solar panels required in the London TD branch. This online version has been corrected.