Helping Grow Greener Communities: Sustainable Real Estate at the University of Guelph

Thursday Mar 03rd, 2016


Green business is alive at The University of Guelph’s College of Business and Economics. The college’s mission – to develop and be ‘leaders for a sustainable world’ – runs through its students, researchers, and alumni. In 1993, the College introduced a unique undergraduate program focusing on the real estate and housing market. Currently one of the only few programs of its kind in Canada, the College has focused its research and curriculum to explore the growing trend of ‘green’ or sustainable housing. This isn’t just lip service either. Guelph’s business school is focused on making communities more livable.


Specifically, Professor Avis Devine’s research on sustainable real estate is generating quite the buzz. In the past year, she has conducted research analyzing the economic viability of sustainable real estate both for commercial and residential properties. One report concluded that environmentally-friendly office buildings have higher rents, occupancy rates, and more satisfied tenants. Bottom line: ‘green’ buildings bring in more ‘green’ for landlords. One report concluded that environmentally-friendly office buildings enjoy an average of 3.7% higher rents; 18.7% higher occupancy rates; and 7% higher tenant satisfaction scores.

Devine’s research has afforded her the opportunity to sit on the Canadian Home Builder’s Association (CHBA) Net Zero Council – an association committed to building homes that produce as much energy as they consume. Along with fellow faculty member Lianne Foti, Devine is currently researching the role of real estate agents in the adoption of green homes.


The College has created a new undergraduate course which explores how topics in sustainability and climate change affect real estate and urban economics. The Sustainable Real Estate course, developed by Devine, sees business students visit real estate developments in Toronto and Guelph – including the groundbreaking ceremony for the Reid’s Heritage Homes Net Zero Energy model home.

‘This type of industry exposure is what engages the students in sustainable real estate,’ remarks Devine. ‘We are graduating students with a keen interest in corporate social responsibility, who regularly interact with business leaders and study compelling and relevant industry challenges.’

This fourth-year course has now become a requirement for all students enrolled in the Real Estate and Housing major. ‘The key behind sustainability is that it is a contemporary issue,’ adds Devine. ‘I take the responsibility of keeping it topical and up to date very seriously.’

Guelph alumni are also noticing the positive trend of sustainable real estate. Guelph property developers Skyline REIT, co-founded by Guelph  Commerce graduate Martin Castellan, has created a scholarship for students enrolled in the Sustainable Real Estate course. The scholarship of $1,500 supports students who achieved high marks in the course and demonstrate leadership in extracurricular activities related to real estate and housing. Skyline also supports Guelph real estate students by bringing them on tours of their commercial developments.

Daniel Foch, a recent graduate of the College’s real estate program, has taken his class project to the next level. Along with his brother Kyle, Foch has started Cargotech. Their business plan is simple – to create sustainable, affordable and well-built housing solutions using recycled shipping containers. By using these containers, Cargotech is able to quickly and efficiently build affordable housing in markets that desperately need it.

‘We’ve identified a way to simultaneously implement sustainable practices without increasing the construction cost,’ noes Foch.

The company’s key demographics consist of first-time homebuyers and empty nesters, all of whom seek affordable housing without sacrificing quality of life. Cargotech is currently part of the Hub Incubator Program with the University’s Centre for Business and Student Enterprise (CBASE). Foch says CBASE has helped Cargotech develop their business plan and to ‘discover exactly what our targer market is looking for in a home.’ Professor Devine’s focus on sustainability has not been lost on this entrepreneur either. Indeed, Foch served as a research assistant for Devine, and helped her develop the Sustainable Real Estate course.

‘There are real, tangible benefits to be realized from sustainable real estate,’ says Foch. ‘Quicker returns on investments, fast construction and better quality of life for the end-user and the greater community.’ <<


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