Ask the Expert: Steve Kemp, Vice President, Buildings - Sustainability at MMM Group

Steve is one of Canada's leaders in energy modeling, energy efficient building design, and green technology research. For over 16 years, he has pioneered sustainable building strategies in his work at Enermodal Engineering (now MMM Group), working on dozens of green building projects; he has also served as president of the International Building Performance Simulation Association. Fresh off his win as Green Building Champion at this year's CaGBC Leadership Awards at the Building Lasting Change conference in June, we spoke to Steve Kemp about his long and accomplished career.

1. Tell us a bit about how your career/involvement in green building started and how this has led to where you are today.

 



Steve Kemp, Receiving the CaGBC Green Champion Leadership Award at Building Lasting Change 2014

It was fortunate timing. Twenty years ago my graduate thesis was developing models for a low energy cooling system for buildings. As I neared the end of my work and started looking for employment, I found Enermodal Engineering (now MMM Group Limited) and sent a blind resumé—at the time they were a small group working on green buildings in a market that wasn't quite ready for it. At MMM I started with developing energy modeling code for solar and heat recovery system for various clients. From there, as CBIP and LEED took off I became involved in consulting in green building design.

2. What are some of the sustainable projects that stand out as most unique or interesting to you from throughout your career?

  • The Drakes Landing Solar Community (I worked on commissioning the residential air handlers) – 52 homes that receive over 90% of their annual space and domestic hot water needs from solar;
  • Chapleview, a social housing project whose LEED Platinum certification target was financed by the developer who wouldn't take no for an answer and raised monies through charitable donations to the project; and
  • Our own offices, the original Green on the Grand and the subsequent A Grander View; both of which demonstrated exceptional low energy consumption at an affordable construction cost.

3. What type of innovative things are you working on right now that people might be interested to hear about?

We have been working on large-scale analysis of both modeled and measured building performance. Within these large databases we hope to determine what works and what doesn't work and what are the lessons to be learned and guidance that can be shared with the building design community.

4. Any advice for up and coming green building professionals that you can pass on?

It's an old precept, but it would be to remember that buildings are systems designed to achieve an end goal of shelter, comfort and to allow a process to happen (office work, medical treatments, manufacturing, etc.). In trying to find solutions to those goals, don't fall victim to "auxiliary hypotheses". Challenge your assumptions and understand what the ultimate end goal is and that will allow you to discover alternate solutions.

5. Where do you see green building/sustainable building headed in the next decade?

 

"Challenge your assumptions and understand what the ultimate end goal is and that will allow you to discover alternate solutions"

On the leading edge, some truly (as measured) net-zero and net-positive buildings will be built and serve and beacons to the design community. However, the real gains for the environment will be due to improvements in existing buildings.

6. Anything else you'd like to add about your experience in energy modeling or energy efficient building design that you'd like to add?

Realize that green buildings have moved past the narrative, metrics and performance matters. With cities now demanding that energy labels be reported for many building we can't just describe the green building features; we need to measure their performance with metrics so that we can define where the goal posts need to be moved.

Also that green building design is often much less about technology and more about the process of managing people.