Ask the Expert: Jennifer Sanguinetti, Director of Project Services at UBC discusses her journey within the ever advancing green building industry

Jennifer Sanguinetti

Jennifer Sanguinetti is the Director of Project Services at The University of British Columbia where she and her team provide project management services for renovations, renewals and modernizations to offices, classrooms, buildings and infrastructure. Throughout her 20-year career in the green building industry, starting as a mechanical engineer, Jennifer has been a committed supporter of the CaGBC. In 2015, Jennifer was a member of the USGBC’s LEED steering committee and for two years she was co-chair of the LEED Canada steering committee, assuming the role of Chair in 2016. At this year’s National Conference and Expo, Building Lasting Change 2016, Jennifer was honoured with the CaGBC Volunteer Leadership Award presented at the Leadership Gala on June 7.

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

I’m a mechanical engineer by training and I was fortunate to get job with Keen Engineering right at the time that they finished the University of British Columbia’s first green building – the C.K. Choi Building. I count myself very fortunate that I was in the right place at the right time as Keen began their journey towards becoming one of the early pioneers in North America’s green building movement.

I was able to work on projects that were just starting to define what it means to be a green building – ones like Islandwood on Bainbridge Island, which started its LEED journey following the pilot version and was only the fourth certified in the world. The “green” side of Keen’s business drew me in as not only did the environmental focus align with my personal values, but I also loved the then-new approach of bringing more people to the table and making the buildings more about the people who would occupy them. As Keen grew into the US market and expanded its Canadian offices, I was given the chance to travel around helping both to establish the US presence and to increase the green expertise in the various Canadian offices. I worked on projects as far north as Whitehorse and as far south as Atlanta; all up and down the west coast and east to St Louis, touching a wide variety of different sizes and scales of buildings.

After 14 years in consulting, I wanted to make a move to the owner’s side and an opportunity came up to work at BC Housing, British Columbia’s social housing provider, who is the largest residential landlord and one of the largest residential developers in the province. I had the chance to bring a whole new dimension to my work, running the team that did the energy management and sustainability advising as well as the capital planning in the context of serving some of the most vulnerable populations in the province.

Four years later, I came to UBC to take on running the Project Services team, the in-house project management team. We work on projects that range in size from $50,000 to over $80M. While many of our projects are too small to be LEED projects, we have to make sure that we consider a broad range of sustainability principles as we implement them, from the energy efficiency of the systems and the choices of materials to the noise impacts of construction on research and other social sustainability implications.

2. You’ve worked in green building for 20 years. Of all that time – what are the things that most stick out in your mind? Are there any particular projects that you are especially proud of being involved with?

The projects that most stick out in my mind are ones where we were able to not only influence the direction for the clients we were working with, but where I know that the team working on the project was just as strongly influenced in return.

The David and Lucile Packard Foundation study that we did with BNIM Architects was one of these projects. We produced a matrix that defined, for the first time, what the various levels of “green-ness” would look like for a specific building, moving from a typical market building through the levels of LEED up to a Living Building. We worked closely with Bob Berkebile, Jason McLennan and their team at BNIM to quantify the energy performance, technical implications, costs, aesthetics and external impacts of each of these designs. This project was done long before Jason went on to create the Living Building Challenge, so we were really working to try to define conceptually what some of these ideas would be using a real live building as a case study.

I also am really proud of being able to work with partners at the BC Non-Profit Housing Association and BC Hydro to find a way around some really significant barriers to non-profit housing providers implementing energy efficiency upgrades. When I first arrived at BC Housing, I heard about the fact that very few non-profit housing providers had any real incentive to implement small scale energy efficiency upgrades because the resulting savings were returned to BC Housing. Our partnership produced the Energy Efficiency Retrofit Program which to date has resulted in literally hundreds of buildings undertaking retrofits and upgrades.

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

I think that the most important thing to keep in mind is that perspective is everything. When a project team spends the time figuring out the perspectives of all the different folks who sit around a table, the design decisions can more readily reflect what is truly needed and wanted on the project.

Taking the time to listen is critical in making a project about actual outcomes that are tangible in the long run as opposed to just getting it finished on time, on budget and with a LEED plaque on the wall. Consultants need to listen first to the owner’s needs for program and operations before they apply their ideas; and owners need to listen to those ideas and take the time to provide meaningful feedback and to train and mentor their staff appropriately to be able to take on the operation of that building when it is done.

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?

Over the past few years, LEED has matured into the industry benchmark for green building rating systems. There are a lot of rating systems out there now (many would argue that there are too many) but most get compared against LEED. This is both a good thing and a bad thing for LEED. The system risks being perceived as mainstream and commoditized but at the same time, I believe that this risk is a challenge and an opportunity to keep moving the system forward. There needs to be a continued effort to stay ahead of the market and to keep challenging the status quo in new ways. LEED v4 has done this well in terms of addressing the transparency that must be shown with the materials we install in our buildings. I think that the USGBC and CaGBC understand this need and I am excited to see how the system will continue to respond to the challenge.

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

Two words – resilience and innovation.

I believe that in the future, there will be a greater connection between the design of buildings and the communities in which they reside, with an increased understanding that sustainability isn’t achieved in isolation. In order to respond to a changing climate and in order to respond to a community’s needs in a time of crisis, resilience needs to be baked into the design of our buildings and communities. Concepts like those contained in LEED’s Resilient Design Pilot Credits are ones that the whole construction community needs to be paying attention to and are elements that I believe will be part of forward-thinking owners’ requirements in the future.

We also need to be working better as an industry to evolve dramatically faster than we have been in the past. Not only do we have the massive challenge of responding to climate change but we also need to think about competitiveness and our industry’s long-term sustainability. We need to find ways to innovate faster and stop relying on hundred year old methodologies and forms of contract and procurement. I am excited to see conversations growing about how we start moving at the speed of the technology sector, how we can become more appealing to young grads looking for challenge and how we will use our experience in the green building sector as a competitive advantage for Canadian industry. We have a world changing faster than it ever has and it is an exciting challenge for our industry to respond to with innovative ideas and action.