CaGBC Ask the Expert: Andy Schonberger of the Earth Rangers Centre talks about their recent double certification and how other buildings can do it too

It’s not often that a building double certifies. But when the Earth Rangers, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating and inspiring children to Bring Back the Wild™, set out seven years ago to build their Earth Rangers Centre (ERC) for Sustainable Technology, they began the process of doing just that.

After certifying LEED Gold for New Construction (NC) in 2005, the ERC was happy with the results, but also felt that their new facility could go even further in demonstrating their commitment to the environment and aim to be one of the most energy efficient buildings in the world. Flash forward to this year, where the building was also awarded LEED Platinum for Existing Buildings and Maintenance (EB) – a feat that few buildings in Canada have ever achieved.

We spoke with Andy Schonberger, Director of the ERC, who is also a Mechanical Engineer, LEED Accredited Professional and Certified Energy Manager, about how they earned the highest scoring LEED building in Canada, and why it’s important to remember that a building’s impact continues long after it is certified.

1) What was the initial reason that the ERC decided to go for LEED certification?

ERC Reception

We designed the ERC to be one of the most energy efficient buildings in the world. Our original motivation was to demonstrate our commitment to sustainability to the hundreds of thousands of children that we work with each year.

After construction we realized that the facility could also be used as a demonstration tool to teach and inspire others to do the same. To do this effectively we needed the third party validation and market recognition offered by LEED certification.

2) Since the initial building, how did you maintain and adapt your green practices and the building itself, to lead to ultimately receiving a second certification for EBOM this year?

Each year since we moved in, our management and facility teams looked at actual performance data, and strove to improve those numbers. Electricity, water and gas consumption were the primary targets. When I started at Earth Rangers in 2010, I was astounded at the data that had been tracked and used to make improvements to the mechanical and other building systems.

This data was used to inform the energy audit and update process that would help us be ready for LEED EB. Energy metering and HVAC upgrades were performed as a result, improving the operational efficiency of the building and reducing our operating costs significantly.

Some practices we only needed to slightly modify to meet LEED EB requirements - such as our green cleaning program. The building has its own wastewater treatment plant, and anything that goes down a drain in the building is treated on site. So we have had rigorous green cleaning standards since 2008, well before documenting performance for LEED EB.

The real key to attaining EB certification was documentation, from energy consumption to office supply purchasing. Many of the EB credit intents we were already acting upon, but we were not documenting our efforts. We now have actual performance data to gauge our performance by, and to enable us to continue to reduce the impact of our operations.

3) Do you think that what the ERC has done in double certifying is something that other buildings could also do?

Displacement ventilation at the ERC

Absolutely. For one, it helps to ensure that the investment that was made in the building continues to be realized, and that you not only prove that the building was designed to a higher level, but is being maintained at that performance level (or exceeding it!).

Many building owners or operators would be surprised to learn what additional efficiencies can be wrung out of systems with a thorough audit, ongoing commissioning, and tracking of performance data. LEED EB helped us to formalize that process and make it more robust that we otherwise would have done on our own.

4) What are some of the highlights/features of the new EBOM ERC building?

  • In 2011, the building used 49% less energy than originally modelled, or 83% below the energy code baseline. Some of those savings come from mechanical system updates (like a ground source heat pump system and demand control ventilation), and some were found through commissioning of existing systems and changes to how the building is being used. These savings were found even though the organization is growing and the building is host to more people every year.
  • We now formally track lighting purchases, office supplies, food purchases (for both our café and our animal ambassadors), office equipment, waste diversion and even cleaning supplies, all with the goal of making more sustainable purchasing decisions while keeping a careful eye on cost.
  • Annually we generate 30% of the energy we consume with two photovoltaic arrays on the site, and all grid purchased power comes from EcoLogo certified sources.
  • Our metering system now tracks over 300 points of information from building automation and energy metering, automating data collection and making it easier to generate the reporting and tracking for LEED EB.
  • We attained 7 of 15 available Alternative Commuting points, even though public transit to the ERC is not available. This is a perfect example of how engaged our tenants and staff are in green building issues.

5) As an environmental facility that teaches kids about the environment and how to protect it, what are some of the key messages you are trying to get across by having such a green facility?

Our programs reach hundreds of thousands of children across Canada educating and inspiring them to “Bring Back the Wild” by protecting biodiversity and habitats. Our building proves to those children, their parents, our sponsors, and anyone else who walks through the front door that we can do the same thing with our headquarters. It is proof that we can act now, and that others can too.

6) Where do you think the future of green building is headed?

Earth Rangers Centre

Dramatic improvement of existing buildings is where green buildings are headed. Improvements in the existing building stock not only are a less risky investment than the stock market in today’s unpredictable economic conditions, but also reduce our impact on the world around us. A new building is always exciting to see from an architectural and engineering perspective, and if it is built as a green building, that is obviously commendable and a good thing. You might not see energy audits and retrofits on the pages of an architectural magazine, but the opportunity for greening existing buildings is an order of magnitude larger than with new buildings.

If we can take a LEED Gold building and see such dramatic reductions in our resource requirements, imagine what can be done with other existing buildings?

To learn more about LEED for Existing Buildings and Maintenance, you can visit our rating systems webpage here , or learn about different existing buildings education we offer here.