Canadian Consulting Engineer

Canadian approaches to sustainability shine at Greenbuild

October 11, 2011
By Canadian Consulting Engineer

There can be no doubt that green building has entered the mainstream now. About 23,000 people attended Greenbuild in Toronto last week, October 4-7, filling the expansive halls and rooms in both the North and South Buildings of the Metro...

There can be no doubt that green building has entered the mainstream now. About 23,000 people attended Greenbuild in Toronto last week, October 4-7, filling the expansive halls and rooms in both the North and South Buildings of the Metro Toronto Convention Centre, as well as expanding out to hotels nearby. This was  one of the largest construction events ever seen in Canada. (Construct Canada also counted 23,000 participants at its convention in Toronto last year.) In the warm and bright sunny days of fall, this whole downtown area of the city was buzzing with activity, as groups from over 108 countries walked around carrying pale green signature tote bags.

Greenbuild is organized by the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council, father of the LEED building rating system and cousin of the Canada Green Building Council. This was the first time the USGBC has held the conference outside the U.S. Last year’s event was in Chicago, and it attracted 27,000. Clearly, the business of making buildings more sustainable is generating a lot of excitement, activity and investment, no matter how constrained the economy south of the border might be.

With hundreds of sessions available in a variety of streams, the education program was hard to navigate. However, there was a small stream of Canadian content that one could use to find one’s way.

On Thursday, for example, representatives of two of Canada’s universities described how their climate action plans are fundamentally driving the development of their campus buildings and facilities. Joanne Perdue, Director of Sustainability at the University of Calgary, and Dr. Nancy Knight, Associate Vice-President of Campus and Community Planning at the University of British Columbia hared the podium for the session called “A Roadmap for Climate Action: Strategies, Tools and Results.”


Dr. Knight, for example, listed a slew of sustainability strategies at UBC, everything from the conversion of the campus steam system for hot water for laboratories, to a small biomass R & D plant they are developing with a private partner, to the energy optimization of as many as 72 buildings, representing half the academic floor space.

Dr. Knight raved about the groundbreaking Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) building, which is due to officially open on campus on November 3 (designers include Busby Perkins + Will – architects; Stantec – program and project management, mechanical-electrical and IT; Fast + Epp – structural; LMDG – code; Morrison Hershfield – building envelope; and exp, geotechnical engineering). The building captures heat from the top of an older building nearby, explained Dr. Knight, and the CIRS building is so energy efficient, there’s a surplus of heat that can be sent back to the original source building.

Another valuable Canadian session centred on the presentation of a new software tool that engineers at Arup in Toronto have developed to help planners and engineers develop sites more sustainably. The session given at the end of Thursday, was called: “Know Before You Build: Predicting Carbon Profiles of Large-Scale, Mixed Use Development.”

Adam Friedberg of Arup explained how they had applied the Integrated Resource Management tool for the first time on the West Don Lands development, which will be the site of the athletes’ village for the Pan Am Games.

The program uses the carbon footprint as a common measure of different aspects of a site development, everything from the land use and development types, the water and waste systems, thermal energy, and even the transportation that the inhabitants would likely use.

“Carbon is a great measure,” said Friedberg, “because everything is interrelated.” 

The results are put in “understandable terms” for planners, said Friedberg, and the different development options can be compared by using a measure of carbon footprint per person per square metre per year.

The University of Toronto’s transportation engineering expert Professor Eric Miller then explained how they integrated their research data to come up with the transportation predictions. They used information such as census data about what types of people might live in that downtown location, where they might work, and what kinds of transportation mode they might typically use. While the result could not be absolutely validated, it was fairly reliable, Miller suggested.

Planners and architects in the audience seemed impressed by the engineering approach and saw it as something that they could use to take to city planners and decision-makers to steer developments to be more sustainable. The model employs over 16,000 calculations and is currently being refined to a 2.0 level.


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