Ask the Expert: Nancy Bosscha

International Women's Day
Member Profiles

CAGBC Awards Edition

The CAGBC Awards competition recognizes members contributing to the advancement of green building in Canada. The categories allow innovators of the green building sector to showcase new vision, skills, and a determination to instigate positive change. The Inspired Educator Award recognizes deserving individuals from academic institutions who contribute to sharing knowledge in sustainable design, green building, operations, and/or real estate development, preparing the way for the next generation of green building professionals.

In this interview, we hear from 2022 winner Nancy Bosscha, representing Bow Valley College’s (BVC) Green Sustainability committee.

Tell us about your career and how you came to find yourself in your current role with BVC. 

I started as a draftsperson in the late 1980s, working for engineers and architects on various buildings and civil engineering projects, including signage for airport runways, schools and residential projects. I returned to school in my late 20s to obtain a Bachelor of Design in Industrial Design and, after graduating, worked for furniture manufacturers, architects, and interior designers.

With the economic changes in the early 2000s, I was unemployed and looking for a change. I had always wanted to teach, and BVC was starting a drafting certificate program. I began at BVC in 2004, focusing on the courses in the drafting certificate program and teaching AutoCAD to interior decorating students. By 2007 the drafting program was no longer being offered at the College; however, the Interior Decorating program was expanding from a certificate (1-year program) to a diploma (2-year program). My supervisor asked what I had worked on before starting to teach, and I said interior space planning. I began developing and teaching courses in the Interior Decorating program, including in sustainable interiors. At this time, I also joined the BVC Green committee as a faculty member.

BVC started offering a residential Kitchen and Bath Design post-diploma program in 2017. I expanded my teaching into that program. I have taught sustainability as an individual course in the Interior decorating and kitchen and bath programs since the classes started at the College.

How do you incorporate sustainability and green building principles into your courses and lead your students to adopt such practices?

I share with the learners real projects and how perspectives and perceptions have changed. In the late 1990s, I worked on a large office project comprising buildings across western Canada. A new telecommunication company was branding all its offices and sales locations. In one case, a sales location was updated with new paint, flooring, and office furniture. Low volatile organic compounds (VOC) paints, finishes and glues were known but cost more. Many of the glues or finishes used contained VOC levels that are now considered unacceptable. The staff returned to their new offices within days of the space completion, and within hours, our office had complaints that people were getting sick. We understood what VOC could do to people. However, it was not always easy to convey that to executives in the 90s.

Jumping to 2005, I had a summer job with a furniture company relocating an oil company’s head office from Eastern Canada to Calgary. Again, the space had new paint, furniture, and flooring, yet the experience for the client was different. The materials used on the project had low or no VOCs. They were off gassed in a secondary location (warehouse) as a precaution for VOCs. Occupancy of the space occurred after seven to 10 days to allow any additional off-gassing. This project had planned off-gassing time in its timeline. Adding extra time to the project was a massive shift within the industry.

When discussing materials, I want the learners to understand the manufacturing or processing of materials and what a closed manufacturing process is, to become good researchers so that they can find out the materials used in the construction of furniture or other interior materials and go beyond the colour or feel of the products. Through assignments and discussion, the learners are expected to understand the manufacturers’ role in building green products, lowering greenhouse emissions, helping their communities and being an ethical company. When the learner understands the manufacturing of products and redlist of materials, they clearly understand how products can affect the clients’ health and maintenance of the space.

You have been involved in sustainability outside of the classroom. How does this experience help shape your approach to teaching?

My parents taught their five children (I am the youngest) that repairing items or composting was not an indication of being poor. But that these tasks indicated caring about the planet and helped to reduce objects in the landfill. Today I do the same, composting, mending items when I can, recycling and being cognitive of the carbon footprint of products I purchase. My partner and I have one vehicle by choice, and we can walk, bike or use public transport to work based on where we live.

This has allowed me to bring personal experiences into the classroom. The learners are international, with some seeing the direct effects of global warming. In contrast, others are unaware that their decisions have a snowball effect, no matter how small. In the classroom, we discuss working with the clients. Educating the client about their product choices and how to sell the ‘green’ option to the client and discussing how the marketplace is changing makes our job often easier. For example, in 2017, Waterscence-certified faucets were an expensive option for bathrooms and kitchens. In 2022, finding a faucet that is not Waterscence-certified isn’t easy.

In the classroom, we discuss how we can make a difference and help our clients make similar choices in being greener and selecting green products for their homes.

What opportunities and challenges are there for encouraging a new generation of learners to adopt sustainable practices?

The changes I have seen with green interior products over the years is promising. It is no longer an upgrade to go green, but in some product selections, the only option. The new generation needs to understand what makes a product green for the location. Embedded carbon versus functional carbon as they both play a significant role in sustainable construction and design.

The challenge is that the design and construction industry is still siloed. We are not talking to each other at the beginning of projects, with experts brought in at different stages. If you are working on a smaller project, this may include different project managers at each stage. This change affects the project, possibly delaying or increasing its cost and adding stress to the client.

The biggest challenge for the new generation is having their voice heard and being considered as part of the change. This challenge is no different from when I started in the 1980s. We were not listened to or included in the changes needed. We were expected to follow the ‘norm’. We have an opportunity to change the ‘norm’ of how we design, build and work collectively in the industry. That will only happen when all parties listen to each other. The interior designer, architect, contractor, draftsperson, manufacturer and decorators work as equals, not as one superior to the other. Those conversations are starting; however, I have seen them begin many times before, and I am determined to be an active participant in this change, individually and through my students.

This provides the new generation with an opportunity to make green design a standard in the industry. By working as a collective and understanding the roles and responsibilities of each expert on a project, the design and building practices can change. Some say we already do this, but it is not yet a universal norm in the residential industry, where projects are often smaller.

You were recently named Inspired Educator as part of CAGBC’s Leadership and Green Building Excellence Awards. What does it mean to you to be recognized in this way?

Attending Building Lasting Change last June reinforced that I am on the right track in the classroom. As an educator, you often feel isolated from industry, that your ideas are too out-of-the-box or ancient history. This honour reinforced my love of teaching and that we are making changes. Not as fast as the 80s 20-year-old wanted to see, but the changes are happening, and I can help the new generation be a part of that change.

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