Sustainability remains high on the construction industry’s agenda, and for good reasons. Across the sector, there is an increasing awareness that contributing to a cleaner, greener, and more energy-efficient built environment yields long-term benefits for stakeholders and – more importantly – the planet at large.
“There’s plenty of motivation to make sustainability a priority in construction and the good news is that we see that priority being taken seriously by more and more of our clients,” says Jennifer Hogan with Pretium Engineering.
It’s an optimistic report, but now is no time for Canada’s designers, engineers, builders, and other trades professionals to rest on current accomplishments. Given Canada’s Net Zero ambitions, mounting environmental regulations, and a growing call for more eco-friendly built environments among public and private sector stakeholders, construction industry professionals must keep sustainability top of mind to stay competitive and address critical environmental objectives.
Of course, says Jennifer, the other piece of promising news is that there are proven ways to embed sustainability in any project: “For years, we’ve been involved in the design, construction, and benchmarking of multiple deep energy retrofit projects. That’s enabled us to see what sustainability strategies work and share them with our clients to ensure impactful, long-term outcomes.”
Some of the key strategies include:
Plan for the future: Long before the “shovels” break ground, it pays (both figuratively and financially) to bake holistic, future-proof retrofit plans into the initial design. “Buyers’ remorse is real,” says Jennifer. “Nothing is worse than completing a retrofit only to realize a few years later that you needed better performance or a different system to achieve your long-term goals.”
For this reason, it’s in the project stakeholders’ best interests to “begin with the end” by reviewing the entire building and all its systems to make sure the team’s energy and carbon goals are achieved once all the projects have been implemented.For example, adds Jennifer, “If you are already completing cladding improvements at your building, the incremental cost to improve the system, with more insulation or better air tightness, is typically less than the cost to come back in a few years to do it as a separate project.”
Be pragmatic: Achieving energy savings is important, but it does not make sense financially or environmentally to replace systems or components before they near the end of their useful service life. Existing materials and systems should be maintained to prevent premature failure, and when the time comes, high-carbon materials should be re-used or remain in place whenever possible.
Take, for example, a roofing system that includes an abundance of high-carbon materials like bitumen and insulation products. A well-maintained roof can last longer and can ensure that recovery is a viable option. Alternatively, it also opens the possibility of saving dry and intact insulation during roof replacements.
Stay current on energy and carbon incentive programs: There are ample programs across Canada that provide funding and support for energy or carbon-reduction technologies and projects. Over time, these programs can disappear, evolve, or be replaced by something new entirely. Therefore, there are benefits to staying on top of what energy and carbon programs are available, where they can be found, and how they can be accessed.
“We emphasize staying up to date with the changes so that we can identify opportunities to our clients where funding may be available for their projects,” says Jennifer. “As a result, we have a track record of success in completing projects and the required modelling and documentation to unlock these incentives for our clients.”
Design with climate change in mind: Predicting our future climate can be challenging, but we believe it is important to consider potential future loads when preparing our designs.
These strategies will contribute to more eco-forward (and financially rewarding) builds. Enacting them successfully, however, requires collaboration. No one stakeholder can tackle sustainable design and construction alone. Real energy and carbon savings can only be planned and actionized when all relevant parties are united in their approach.
“Sharing knowledge across our various areas of expertise is an integral part of ‘Working Together, Better’ at Pretium,” says Jennifer. “What this means for our clients is that we strive to consider energy and carbon in each of our projects.”
Jennifer Hogan is a Project Principal and the leader of the Energy and Carbon Reduction team at Pretium Engineering Inc., a specialist building science, mechanical, and structural consulting engineering firm that provides high-quality, evidence-driven services. Contact a local office to see how “Working Together, Better” can work for you.