Ask the Expert: Scott Rivard of Zon Engineering Inc. talks about the evolution of LEED and the prosperous future of high performing green buildings

Scott Rivard

Scott Rivard is a Project Manager for Zon Engineering Inc., a coalition of professionals focused on developing sustainable building solutions by way of building design and optimization, solar consulting and geothermal consulting. In his position as Project Manager, Scott focuses on delivering high-performance sustainable buildings throughout Canada and is known for his ability to transform problems into solutions, inspiring both clients and team members.

With eight years of experience, Scott has provided consulting services relating to LEED certification across several rating systems, including: NC, BD&C, EB: O&M, CI and C&S. He is also a member of CaGBC’s Materials Technical Advisory Group (TAG).

1. Tell us about your career and how you came to be involved in the sustainability field.

When I was in the Architectural Technology program at St. Clair College in Windsor, ON, LEED had just launched in Canada. One of our design studio projects revolved around designing to the LEED for New Construction rating system, and this was my first introduction to sustainable design. After graduating, I transferred into the Architecture - Project & Facility Management degree program at Conestoga College in Kitchener. One of the draws to this program was the integrated co-operative education semesters where students spend four months working in various fields of interest.

My second introduction to LEED and sustainable design came during my time at Conestoga, where I spent one of my co-op semesters working for an engineering firm that focused on LEED and green building consulting. It was during this time that I learned the finer points of the LEED rating system, and how it can impact a building’s design, construction, and operation. After graduation I worked for that same firm until mid-2012, after which I joined the Zon Engineering team as a Project Manager in their Buildings division. Since joining Zon, I’ve also worked on several Solar PV projects with our Renewable Energy division, including the design of several large scale systems as well as the design of my own 8.5 kW system that is installed on my house.

2.You’ve worked in green building for almost a decade. Of all that time – what are some of the things that stick out in your mind?

During my eight years as a sustainable building consultant I’ve worked on projects throughout the country, including buildings that have achieved various levels of LEED certification in Halifax, Vancouver, Toronto, Ottawa, and many places in between. My project experience includes a wide range of building types, sizes, locations and occupancies, and each project provides its own set of unique design features, challenges and opportunities for sustainable integration.

One of the more interesting projects I’ve been involved with was during my first few years in the industry. It is a seven-storey office building that was formerly a de-commissioned power plant, and it is the first building project that I was involved with that achieved a LEED Platinum certification. There were inherent challenges with this project as it was in Halifax and the company I worked for at the time was in Kitchener, so being halfway across the country proved difficult at times. The general contractor on this project really stepped up their communication to ensure that the LEED requirements were met throughout construction and it showed in the final certification that was achieved. This was my first exposure with a long-distance project, but definitely not the last.

3. What have you learned most working on LEED projects? Any advice you would convey to other project teams?

The key item for a successful LEED project is open communication between the LEED consultant and the rest of the project team. Too often I have seen projects where the LEED consultant is not kept apprised of changes that arise during the value engineering or construction stages, and which have the potential to impact the LEED credits that have been targeted for achievement. In these instances, the project teams work closely during design to develop a sustainable basis of design for the project, including targeted LEED credits and achievement strategies, and then the basis of design is not considered during later stages of the project. On more than one occasion this has resulted in the loss of one or more LEED credits when the application submittals are being pulled together.

The sustainable goals for the project that are developed in partnership with the project owner, the design and construction team, and the LEED consultant need to be kept at the forefront during the entire project lifecycle. Reviewing potential changes with the LEED consultant can provide valuable insight into how these changes may affect a project’s LEED certification and avoid challenges during the certification stage.

4. You have been involved with the CaGBC LEED Program for a number of years.. How have you seen CaGBC and green building evolve throughout this time?

I started getting involved with projects seeking LEED certification in 2008. Even though the program had already been rolled out in Canada for several years, there was still a lot of confusion in the industry as to what LEED certification was and how it affected the design and construction aspects of a project. I remember several instances where I would walk into a construction kick-off meeting to discuss the LEED construction requirements and a high percentage of people that were sitting at the table had barely heard of LEED.

This provided its own set of challenges to ensure that everyone understood how the LEED construction requirements, such as the erosion and sedimentation control program, the indoor air quality management and the construction waste management requirements (to name a few) would impact construction activities on-site. These early projects required extra attention and guidance to ensure that the LEED requirements were met throughout the entire project.

Over the past several years, industry knowledge and adoption of the LEED program has grown substantially. I’ve heard on more than one occasion that the construction requirements outlined in the LEED program have been adopted by general contractors as standard practice, even on projects not pursuing LEED certification. Design teams that may have had minimal exposure to LEED in the past now have at least one LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) on-staff, and in most instances the designers of record all have their LEED AP credentials.

Many municipalities now mandate LEED certification for their own buildings and provide incentives for private developments that achieve a minimum level of LEED certification. Post-secondary institutions throughout Canada have committed to LEED certification for all new buildings on campus and often use this as a catalyst for reviewing the performance of their existing buildings as well. Building codes have been including energy efficiency requirements for the past several years and governments are beginning to mandate energy efficiency reporting for buildings.

I believe this has largely resulted from the CaGBC’s work with green building design and LEED certification, and these changes have been encouraging to see as it highlights how LEED has affected the construction industry in Canada and the role it will play in continuing to mandate healthier, more energy efficient buildings.

5. Where do you see the future of green building headed in the near and more long-term future?

There has been a lot of interest in the industry around Net Zero buildings, with an increased focus on renewable energy technologies such as Solar PV and Geothermal systems. The goal of Net Zero is admirable, though it can also be challenging to achieve; project teams should strive towards achieving this goal where feasible through the use of high performance envelopes, energy efficient designs and renewable energy system integration.

6. Is there anything that you’d like the industry to know or think about?

The LEED rating system has provided me with an amazing opportunity to be involved in the design and construction of environmentally conscious buildings that I wouldn’t otherwise have been able to experience. The LEED program has indirectly created a role on projects where I get to wear multiple hats and be involved with all elements of a building’s design and construction. While I have been involved in some amazing projects that have achieved all levels of LEED certification, I believe that the best is yet to come as the industry demands for high performing buildings and renewable energy system integration continues to grow in the coming years.