On November 20th 2015, Sustainable Waterloo Region held one of its many speaking events titled “Building on Innovation.” Held at the Tannery Event Centre in the evening hours, the events team created a space where socialising and networking would be encouraged over some drinks and snacks before a bursting agenda of speakers. Our Executive Director, Tova, started the evening off with gracious thanks to the attendees and sponsors –  this always highlights how important each player is in the successful pulling off of an event – so for taking part in whatever way you do – we say thank you! Tova then unveiled the reason for this particular topic for the speaker session; Sustainable Waterloo Region is working on a project called the Centre for Sustainability Excellence (CSE), a multi-tenant building that is being designed to be net positive (make more energy than it uses) and a holistic approach to combining the work and natural environment. The idea is to create a space that works in sync with the environment, and to do so by incorporating a variety of technologies to improve the functionality and efficiency of the building, while reducing the cost and energy usage. The meaning of “green” The first speaker to talk was John Straube of RDH Building Science. The word “green” has been utilised so often, the meaning has sadly eroded, Straube explains, and that at the rate we are utilising our building space it is not sustainable. Buildings are responsible for a significant chunk of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions in Canada, so why isn’t more effort being put into improving the efficiency? Straube gives the harsh truth – it is because those who make the decision to save money aren’t the ones receiving the benefits. Perhaps the concepts of savings in the future or investments that will pay off are not motivating for decision makers.
The energy is not the issue; it is the will to do it.
Sustainability doesn’t happen instantly and it is perhaps this fact that creates the most hesitation. So how do we go about changing this? One of the key messages was to think holistically – look beyond the physical building – how does it interact with public transportation, the community, the water supply, mother nature, and with the urban ecology around it? Water conservation The second speaker was Phil James from Credit Valley Conservation who spoke about the importance of water quality and how to become more water efficient. Because of the way buildings were built decades ago, the intention was not to be efficient but to be up and running as soon as possible. As a result, the water flow and quality suffers, and with increase in paved surfaces and limited areas to flow, the issues such as flooding, erosion, algal bloom, chemical imbalance can intensify.
“We have to be thinking of water as one; one water”
Water is a connective tissue between the building and the environment – they both need it to function! So keeping it in top shape should be a big consideration, according to James.  This brings in the use of functional landscapes that can be disguised with plants, making them aesthetically pleasing. A win-win for clients and building tenants! James concluded his presentation with a very important reminder: Innovations are made to improve from the base model of a tool and it is important to keep innovating so as to keep improving.
“The fact is, we have to change. It’s too risky not to”
Load Shifting The third speaker was Colin Umbach, an Energy Efficiency Analyst from WalterFedy, a company that oversees architectural design, engineering and construction of a project so that these three sectors are planned and executed cohesively. Umbach spoke about a very cool project that WalterFedy underwent at Renison College in Waterloo. A very chilling concept was tested. I use the word chilling literally, as the project was investigating the use of ice to cool buildings instead of conventionally chilled water. The concept here is called load shifting, where the cooling work is done during off-peak energy hours and then the ice was utilised to cool the buildings during the day, instead of utilising on-peak energy to chill the water. This not only reduced the peak demand of energy use, but the costs associated with energy use goes down significantly. This ice system worked so well for WalterFedy that 97% of their electricity was used during off-peak hours and the chillers did not need to be used during the day. Therefore, the entire building was cooled down purely by ice, even on a hot summer day of 33°C. Going back to that important note about innovation, this is great example on how it leads to improvement. District Energy The last guest speaker of the night was Alex Chapman from the City of Guelph who spoke about the concept of District Energy (DE), a reorganised way of utilising energy. Instead of each building entity having its own heating and cooling system, DE has many entities attached to one system. This allows for a 30-50% reduction in primary energy consumption, and increases efficiency due to less short-cycling of energy. It also can save costs when more people are paying for a service, leading to a wholesale rate rather than an individual retail rate. Chapman also highlights the ability to reuse the dissipated heat from smoke stacks. It can be redirected to provide affordable energy to surrounding neighbourhoods instead of literally vanishing into thin air. These speakers talked about solutions that, if put into action, can create a positive shift in the traditional way things are done. Tova wrapped up the evening by giving the attendees some more detail about the CSE, which will be located in the David Johnston Research + Technology Park, intentionally adjacent to soon-to-be ION light rail transit. If you’re interested in talking to someone about the CSE, you can contact Allan Taylor (allan.taylor@sustainablewr.ca) for more information. It is hard to believe that this building could materialise in the next few years. I look forward hearing more about the CSE and am excited to see it materialise, but you don’t have to wait until its physical existence to start being more efficient. There are options out there, ready to be utilised! The future is here, it is happening and we are being given an opportunity to be part of something so cool. There really is no other word for it.