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Nova Scotia consulting co-op lands Canadian project on international top green buildings list

by Sustainability Solutions Group

green space for Vancouver's downtown birds and bees, photo VCCW
green space for Vancouver's downtown birds and bees, photo VCCW

MAY 4, 2011, TATAMAGOUCHE, NOVA SCOTIA—The American Institute of Architects (AIA) has named Vancouver Convention Centre West (VCCW) among its 2011 Top Ten Green Projects, announced last month. Sustainability Solutions Group (SSG), the sustainability and LEED consultant for VCCW, led the project to a LEED Platinum rating, the highest level of certification by the Canada Green Building Council. VCCW is the only Canadian building on AIA's list and is the only LEED Platinum convention center in the world.

"Our strategy was to generate a sense of investment in all members of the design team—engineers, contractors and architects—in reaching our sustainability targets," says SSG co-director Jeremy Murphy. He says the firm's success is built on that kind of engagement. For the water conservation plans, for example, the team was "asked to picture a drop of rainwater wanting to spend as much time as possible on the roof." This reversal in thinking about the function of a roof led the team to design Canada's largest "living roof," where rainwater, instead of being sloughed off into the sewage system, is welcomed (and collected) both for building use and as the fundamental resource for the creation of new green space.

The six-acre living roof features 20 species of indigenous flora pollinated by local bees (and their beekeeper), and provides a nesting habitat for migratory and resident birds.

But Murphy is even more excited by the building's subtle elements. Capitalizing on its location at the intersection of Vancouver's downtown and adjacent ecosystems, VCCW is designed to protect and engage each environmental interface: landscape, marine and human. An artificial marine habitat skirt preserves salmon migration routes, and roof angles follow view corridors to the harbour from downtown streets. Meeting rooms take advantage of daylighting and open onto city and waterfront vistas. Local glass and wood used in construction support the local economy, encouraging growth in the sustainable building products sector. ("That's a really big deal," says Murphy.) VCCW's inlet location supplies the building's energy: a high-efficiency sea water pump powered by renewable hydro electricity provides cooling and heating. The building treats its own wastewater, which is later used to flush toilets. The catering kitchen sources its food locally, (and donates leftovers to neighbourhood organizations).

"The final product," says Murphy, "reflects the effort to contain everything onsite, to close the loops on these systems—food, waste, energy, water, economy."

The sheer size of the VCCW "makes [the Platinum] LEED rating a true achievement," says AIA. The $883 million development, built on 14 acres of land and eight acres of water, is the largest project on this year's AIA Top Ten list.

"That's where we like to be: on the leading edge of green building," says Murphy. SSG is currently consulting on five socially-assisted apartment buildings—not the kind of structure that typically qualifies for LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification. "We push the boundary. In this Nanaimo project, we're trying to integrate environmental stewardship and a concern for social justice."

Yuill Herbert, SSG co-director, emphasizes the concern for environmental justice that went into VCCW's design. "Creating habitat for both humans and creatures, in a time when habitat is more often destroyed, is important symbolism." The convention centre sits on a former industrial site. "The additional benefit," says Herbert, "is that it is beautiful."

Vancouver Convention Centre West is not the first project SSG has guided to an AIA green building award. In 2009, Synergy at Dockside Green, a 1.3 million square foot mixed residential, office, retail and commercial space in Victoria, BC, was honoured on AIA's list; SSG is the only Canadian firm whose work has appeared on that list twice.

A national workers co-operative, SSG extends its commitment to sustainability to its corporate structure. "We understand that 'sustainability' includes social and economic dimensions, and we wanted a business model that represents sustainability in how we organize ourselves," says Herbert. "The workers co-operative is a proven model of non-hierarchical organizing, although it is not a model we see often in our sector in Canada."

SSG has offices in Montreal, Toronto, Vancouver and Victoria. The seven-year-old group offers sustainability consultation services for buildings, communities, campuses and organizations. Herbert, who lives in Tatamagouche, says being placed on AIA's list is particularly satisfying for him as a Nova Scotian. "I'm inspired by the history of the co-operative movement in Nova Scotia, and it's exciting to be part of that legacy."

For more information about SSG, visit sustainabilitysolutions.ca.



Contact: Yuill Herbert

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