Ask the Expert: Natalie Voland

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Member Profiles

President of GI Quo Vadis Natalie Voland made a name for herself by specializing in carbon mitigating projects and prioritizing accessible housing by addressing inclusion and climate change in real estate. Now head of Quebec’s first B Corp company and managing 1.5 million sq. ft building portfolio, her atypical journey taught her how to work outside of the traditional box. In this interview, she tells us more about how she builds with the future in mind and adapts to perpetual market fluctuations.

You found your path to green building in an organization whose name can be translated as where are you going. How did you get here and where are you going?

My path started with a few questions that I needed to answer: what did I want to do in a career in real estate after changing from social work, and what could I improve development and management? What could I offer the industry? I realized that there were negative side effects of what I call boardroom proformas in development – where buildings were created through financial criteria and did not always consider the ecological footprint, impact to the community and the people using them, or how they would age over time. I thought I could bring something different coming from a from social work background: the concept of systems. Buildings are not stand-alone structures; they are part of a city, nature (or not), and they affect the people in and around them. If we could figure out these metrics and build or renovate buildings with better ecological footprints that are well-integrated in the city and with people, then we would have a competitive advantage. 

You found your path to green building in an organization whose name can be translated as where are you going. How did you get here and where are you going?

My path started with a few questions that I needed to answer: what did I want to do in a career in real estate after changing from social work, and what could I improve development and management? What could I offer the industry? I realized that there were negative side effects of what I call boardroom proformas in development – where buildings were created through financial criteria and did not always consider the ecological footprint, impact to the community and the people using them, or how they would age over time. I thought I could bring something different coming from a from social work background: the concept of systems. Buildings are not stand-alone structures; they are part of a city, nature (or not), and they affect the people in and around them. If we could figure out these metrics and build or renovate buildings with better ecological footprints that are well-integrated in the city and with people, then we would have a competitive advantage. 

Your collaborative approach is based on leadership of inclusions and human-centric design. Is this how you reconciled your original career and your current goals?

Social work taught me early on that systems interact with each other and within themselves. We work with academic researchers, architects, engineers, city officials, builders, and product suppliers in a design-integrated approach that guides our targets for carbon reduction, building efficiencies, nature-based solutions, and occupant wellness to approach our projects with the goals of regeneration. We save money and spend the budgets in the right places to keep our buildings accessible as our collaborators are all part of the solution. We are almost like the conductors of a symphony: together we are stronger than the sum of our parts in the real estate industry. 

How do you make real estate a vehicle for community change? Is this how your company became the first to be certified B-Corp in Quebec?

Data, metrics, and clearly documented results are more credible than a fancy marketing campaign. We wanted to demonstrate clearly that we are a triple bottom line company where profit, people and planet co-exist equally in our decisions, targets, and deliverables. We became Quebec’s first certified B Corp to literally put our money where our mouth is. Becoming a B Corp was also an amazing way to position ourselves with our staff, tenants, lenders, and collaborators. It became clear early on in my real estate career that our goals for change in the industry were based on a better business model where we could make profit doing good things for people and the planet. It keeps our buildings full, with great tenants, allows us to have an amazing and stable team.

September 11 marks the kickoff to World Green Building Week. This year the theme is #BuildingTheTransition, with a focus on energy, restoration, and social justice. What does building the transition mean to you? 

Collaboration. Having an end goal of regenerative communities and working backwards. We do not have to do everything on day one. However, we must take stock, measure the baseline, set targets and stop at nothing to achieve them. Every new way of building or making numbers work, aligned with the values of resilience, is a step further to creating a new baseline in construction. Real estate is an industry that has not been remodeled in generations; innovation is possible and probable. So, each person in the industry can find their place to figure out what their role is. Early adopters start the transition, and the industry will follow as the risks to do nothing will outweigh changing well established practices. Social justice to us is all about access. We cannot only have elite healthy communities; we need to have all buildings and common spaces be the best they can be. Collaboration and scale will lower better construction materials costs and improve methods so that social and affordable housing become part of better inclusive communities. 

You specialize in renovating heritage buildings that promote entrepreneurial ecosystems. How do you decarbonize and repurpose a 100-year-old building like Complexe Dompark?

We started repurposing Complexe Dompark in 1995. Over time we changed its industrial vocation to 470,000 s.f. of office loft space with 16-foot ceilings. For the last 10 years, we’ve been focused on waste management, how we build spaces, materials selection, and how we can change behaviors with our Pathways Management Systems to influence our suppliers, staff, and tenants to consider our ecological footprint and social impact. Decarbonization was the next stage in Complexe Dompark. It was incredibly well-built generations ago. Its construction needed to be understood, valued and measured. We calculated all the operational carbon, but we also started looking at efficiency measures, and losses. Working with Concordia University, we built systems and used a software to model our baseline, and figured out what the highest impact mitigation strategy would be over a period to allow the cash flows to make the targets within reach. We used CAGBC’s Zero Carbon Building Standards to map out our transition. We are working with industry leaders to redesign our mechanical systems with how Dompark was built, with its wood and masonry, using a whole-life strategy to calculate new materials in renovation, LCA and local procurement policies and choosing products that have EDP’s. We are working with our bankers to find creative ways to finance the implementation of carbon neutral systems in a cost-effective way and we are using our building as a case study for the researchers of the Next Generation Cities Institute to continue to innovate our overall path to regenerative practices so Dompark continues to serve the community for the next 100 years.

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