Ask the Expert: Rodney Wilts explains Regenerative Design

As mentioned last month, this is now a regular eNews feature in which we interview various experts, businesses and individuals who can provide their insight and unique perspectives about green building and sustainability. We strongly encourage anyone who is interested in being interviewed for this section, to please send an email to the Team Leader of Communications and Content Strategy, Renée Rietveld.

Rodney Wilts is no stranger to being on the cutting edge. Wilts is a Partner at BuildGreen Solutions, a sustainable development services company founded by Canadian green building pioneer Joe Van Belleghem. The company is known for its focus on deep green design, having been involved in many socially, economically and environmentally advanced projects in North America.

It’s no surprise then that Wilts would be behind a new Introduction to Regenerative Design course being offered by the CaGBC, which focuses on one of the industry’s latest forms of green innovation. We asked Wilts a few questions about this relatively new concept, and how it could change the green building marketplace in the future.

Can you explain regenerative design as a concept? How did it come about in the first place?

Regenerative design as a concept is simple - aim for developments that will start undoing the historical damage we've done to the environment. In short, these are developments that hope to deliver net benefits to the environment and the community, while respecting financial realities. It came about due to a frustration with being incrementally ‘less bad’ in our building, while we are faced with monumental environmental challenges such as climate change, urban sprawl, and development paradigms that have adverse impacts on human health.

Why do you think this idea is so important?

The way we typically build today has a whole series of negative environmental impacts: we create too many adverse impacts in the materials we source; our buildings use too much energy and water; and often our development patterns contribute to obesity, cancer, social isolation and other health issues. We have the technology and the know-how to create beautiful projects that spur on the green economy, create habitat, generate more energy than they use, and contribute positively to human well-being. We need to encourage the design and development community to aspire to those kinds of projects, and to educate on what is possible.

Can you give me some examples of current Canadian buildings that have or are being built using the regenerative design concept/model?

Dockside Green is a good example of regenerative design. That project cleaned up a contaminated site, improved the neighbourhood and the local environment, created good green jobs, and serves as a demonstration of responsible wastewater treatment in a city that is lacking in that regard.

On a much smaller scale we at BuildGreen have recently worked on a project called the 'One Planet Reno' that is near net-zero energy, captures rainwater for re-use, has a rooftop vegetable growing garden, and is the loving restoration of what was a very tired 1920's Ottawa home.

There are also lots of examples of projects that have regenerative aspects. For example, we were development managers for Oxfam Canada's new national headquarters. In this project they drastically reduced the energy consumption of a previously drafty and dark 1950's office building. They used fabrics from women's cooperatives from around the globe. A social justice screen was used in decision-making to ensure no adverse impacts resulted from procuring materials.

What do you think regenerative design’s future is?

I really do think it is the future of green building. I've often said that once people experience green buildings with great thermal comfort, clean air and low-operating costs they do not want to go back to the status quo. As we start seeing more examples of regenerative design the same will hold true - once people experience the social, environmental and health benefits - they will not want to go back.

What value would a Canadian green professional find in the new Regenerative Design course that is being offered on-demand through the CaGBC?

This course is an excellent introduction to the concept of Regenerative Design, and is aimed to help designers raise their aspirations for green development projects. It highlights regenerative projects, demonstrating what is possible. Most importantly, the course does not shy away from the financial and technological challenges inherent with regenerative design, but begins to point the way towards innovative solutions.

For more information on the e-Learning Introduction to Regenerative Design course, visit our Education Store. Now is also a great time to check out any of our on-demand courses, as they are currently priced at 20% off until December 1st, 2011!