Ask the Expert: Minto’s Director of Innovation discusses sustainability commitments, and how to educate tenants and buyers about green living space

Ontario-based builder Minto has been dedicated to building green for many years, including a commitment since 2005 to designing and building all Minto high-rise communities as LEED-rated buildings.

We spoke to Rob Smith, Director of Innovation for Minto Sustainability, about why the company decided to commit to a holistic sustainability approach, and how they have managed multiple projects at one time –certifying nine LEED buildings this year alone.

1) Tell me a bit about your professional background and how you got involved in sustainable/green building projects.

With years of experience in building operations and being an environmentalist in my personal life, it was a natural transition to move from operations to sustainable design. As the Director, Innovation for Minto Sustainability, my team and I look one, three and five years down the road as to what new innovative building practices and technologies can be incorporated into our new build and existing product.

Through research and piloting, we continuously strive to provide a better product that is good for the environment and our customers. Our most recent certified building, 180 Kent Street in Ottawa, is a true testament as to how innovation and sustainable design can engage people and drive change.

2) Why was committing to designing and building all of Minto's high-rise communities as LEED ® rated buildings important for the company? How does it impact Minto and your eventual tenants/buyers?

Rob Smith

By making this a corporate commitment, everyone knew the vision, the end goal, and they were excited to work together to deliver on it. Building to LEED standard moved us in the direction of taking an integrated design approach. As a result, we are building quality, energy and water efficient communities that offer a healthier lifestyle – our customers win and so does our environment.

With rising energy costs, improved energy efficiency in our homes and buildings provides value through reduced operating costs for the homeowner and tenant. This, along with improved indoor air quality and building durability adds to the resale value of the home. We find that our customers are more aware of the benefits of green and the impact that their home has on the environment.

3) Minto has certified eight LEED projects and one LEED Home this year with more in the works. What was it like managing so many LEED projects at once?

With a large team of LEED AP’s in our group, along with a collaborative approach with the construction, design and consulting teams, we have managed to streamline the process over the years. It is important that our Sustainability Team is involved early in any new project to ensure that any initiatives are incorporated into the outline specifications and drawings.

For others to be successful in taking on multiple LEED projects, it is important to have the necessary resources available and buy-in from all relevant parties within not only the organization but also external consultants and trades.

4) The sustainability section of the Minto website says that you work hard to educate the public about sustainability in your buildings and how they can live greener. How is this done?

Alongside our social media presence, the Living Green community-specific pages on Minto.com, as well as newly produced sustainability videos, we provide homeowner classes, tenant engagement programs and packages which help educate on the various features in their Minto home or workplace and how they will benefit from them. We also train our Mastercare staff on the green features of the home so that they can assist to homeowner once they occupy their unit.

Using 180 Kent Street as an example, we have created a “green council”, consisting of tenants, operations staff and members of our team that meet on a bi-monthly basis to discuss the benefits of working in a LEED Platinum building, and to provide direction as to how they can reduce their own operating costs and greenhouse gas emissions on their particular floors.

5) Can you name just a few of the most interesting/unique sustainable features that were incorporated into any of these buildings? 

If we look at 180 Kent in particular there are some interesting features.

  • Regenerative Elevators – recycle energy used to move the elevators to help power lighting, etc.
  • Rooftop Rainwater Harvesting System – Used to flush toilets on floors 15-19.
  • Heat Recovery Wheels – Reuses waste heat leaving the building to pre-heat cold fresh air before it enters the building in the winter.
  • Carbon Dioxide Sensors in Tenant Spaces – Increases fresh air supply based on rising CO2 levels to better air quality.

6) Where do you think the future of green and sustainable building is headed in the long and short term future?

I think we have all experienced a large market uptake in regards to more sustainable buildings. Customers are more aware of the benefits of not only energy and water efficiency as they pertain to reduced costs but also building materials and air quality as they to relate to personal health. In my opinion the trend will continue, with customers demanding even better buildings that are affordable and provide value on both a financial and personal level.