Ask the Expert: Engineer and first LEED Fellow in Quebec, Martin Roy, talks about the necessity of green engineering

Martin Roy

When Martin Roy recently earned the prestigious designation of LEED Fellow from the US Green Building Council, he became the first person in Quebec to do so.

We spoke to Martin about what it means to become a LEED Fellow, the projects that stand out in his career, and the importance of remaining connected to the living environment when designing and constructing a building.

1. Tell me a bit more about your background as an engineer, and how you get involved/interested in green building.

After school I worked briefly for a general contractor and then started as a project manager for an HVAC company. My projects mostly involved energy efficiency and building management systems (centralized controls) and refrigeration. It was in the 80s, when energy consumption in buildings became a major concern. This was also when micro-computer development was thriving, even in the controlled sector of HVAC. I was also responsible for the programming of control systems and the commissioning of mechanical systems.

Working for a contractor was a very instructive way to learn construction work, and working mostly hands-on and in the field gave me valuable experience. Then I was recruited by an engineering firm to work on energy efficiency projects and new construction. Even at this early stage, the use of energy and the comfort of the occupant were always my driving concerns.

I remember at the time I had a project where I had to analyze a building, and this is when I started using energy modelling tools. It is also where I began to understand the value of this software and the importance of planning at the beginning of a project.

In 1992 I started my own engineering firm. I did some new construction projects but mostly consulting in energy efficiency, and energy management consulting and re-commissioning. But then I met an architect that introduced me to ecological construction. This was a turning point; I began to do a lot of research about bioclimatic design, and using energy modelisation extensively in all of my projects in order to put human comfort and intelligence at the forefront of my designs, rather than simply building a machine that did the work.

This was also around the time that I started to become involved with the CaGBC, including being a part of the very first Technical Advisory Group (TAG). I am still involved with the EE TAG Group today. 

2. Is there a particular project that you've worked on that you are most proud of or that stands out? 

TOHU Montreal, QC
Photo Credit: A. Legault

TOHU is certainly a project that I am very proud of – it's a North American circus venue for performance, creativity and experimentation, as well as an active hub where culture, environment and community involvement converge. It was the first LEED Gold building in Quebec and it was truly an integrated design process. This project includes a lot of energy features but the most important for me was the use of natural ventilation in a theatre. 

Another project I am very proud of is the Raymond Levesque Library, a 4000m2 building using natural ventilation and displacement ventilation, geothermal heat pumps and radiant flooring. During the integrated design process we modified the roof slope to help the natural ventilation process, and a lot of other features were introduced in order to attain one of the lowest energy consumption rates for a library, but one that also had optimum comfort.

3. You've been involved in building energy modelling in Canada for a long time, how has this market changed over time?

Back in the 80s energy modelling was rarely used. Then came the Commercial Building Incentive Program (CBIP) and a new industry was born. Now, mostly because of LEED projects, energy modelling has become a tool that helps buildings have a better future.

4. What do you see as the biggest challenge facing green/sustainable engineers today?

Sustainability has to become prevalent in every field of engineering, not only the building sector. Solutions have to be analyzed using life cycle assessment, and engineers should have to show what the most sustainable solution is – not simply accept what is the easiest or the cheapest solution. Educating the public is also key, and I firmly believe that engineers should be involved in this.  

5. You recently became the first LEED Fellow in Quebec – what would you say is the most important thing you've learned throughout your years in the industry?

Renee Levesque Library, St. Hubert QC

There is no perfect recipe for sustainability. In all projects you have to analyze, study and research to determine what the best design will be. Also, it is important to never underestimate the input of all the participants of a project: the clients, architects, engineers, operators and maintenance people can all contribute to its success. And the most important input is from the users.

6. Having been heavily involved in the green building movement in Canada, what advice would you give to a young professional who is looking to have a career in sustainability?

Don't use cut and paste design; always question all the people that are involved in a project; research thoroughly and use your critical sense; and always involve the client so he/she understands all the risks involved.

7. Where do you think the industry is headed in the future? What changes do you hope will come?

I was there when green building was a grassroots movement; it is now a big industry and I fear that it may lose its real purpose. Money or marketing should not be the only reason for a LEED building. Since 2008 and the financial crisis hit, some of the interest surrounding environment and sustainability has been lost. Regulations should be modified to demand sustainable design, and not only energy efficiency but comfort, air quality and the inherent beauty in building.

I think Biophilia (the hypothesis that suggests that there is an instinctive bond between human beings and other living systems) will be a new direction for green building. I am sure that more scientific research will show that if we include the love of life in our design, people will be happier in their buildings – and the planet may thank us for that.