Ask the Expert: Rebecca Holt

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International Women's Day
Member Profiles

Rebecca Holt is a senior advisor, leader and researcher with over two decades of experience in sustainable design and development, research, green building and environmental management. She collaborates with organizations and lead design teams to quantify and qualify the impacts of design on the environment. Having successfully managed many projects pursuing aggressive sustainable design goals, with multiple stakeholders and large consulting teams, she establishes partnerships between clients, academic institutions, and organizations to advance and accelerate new knowledge for the built environment. In this interview, she shares her commitment to sustainability and work to support exceptional green building project outcomes.

Can you tell us more about your current role?

As Director of Sustainability with HCMA, I’m responsible for advancing the sustainability agenda for the firm. This includes our practice, our business operations, and our advocacy work. Together with our Director of Social Impact, I lead our Impact team, an incredible group of specialists who work alongside our design teams and our clients, helping to guide and inform our work according to principles of sustainable design, for climate-responsive, healthy, and inclusive places.

You like to break the rules and redefine the possible. Can you share one rule you’d like to see broken forever and one adopted across the industry?

Any regulation that allows for highway expansions over transit investment, and zoning that allows and/or encourages sprawling, single occupancy vehicle dependent places. Please, can we stop designing communities for cars, and prioritize healthy people living on a healthy planet?

You’ve been involved in different research initiatives at an academic and professional level. Can you tell us about the focus of your ongoing research work?

Recently we’ve been engaged with Dr. Lindsay McCunn, a very accomplished Environmental Psychologist at Vancouver Island University. Together we are working to understand and evaluate how design affects our experience of space. With Lindsay’s support we’ve done both pre- and post-occupancy evaluations on some of our school projects to understand how various aspects of well-being might be influenced by various design attributes. It’s been a pleasure to learn from practical application of research to inform our work.

Research data supports green buildings as a solution to mitigating climate change. How can we ensure findings translate into actions for the building sector?

With regulation. Voluntary programs and tools in the market such as the ZCB Standards confirm that we can decarbonize large commercial and multifamily buildings, but without regulation, we won’t scale up fast enough. Overwhelmingly, most new, and existing larger properties still burn natural gas for space and hot water heating. To change this, governments need to do what is politically difficult, but necessary, and introduce stringent regulations to drive market transformation. Some good examples include building carbon pollution standards like those about to come into effect in Toronto and Vancouver, and the local governments in B.C. that are using the Zero Carbon Step Code to require zero carbon new construction. But industry is not going to go to the government and say, “please regulate us”, but it can help by signalling that it won’t oppose or fight new regulation, assuming flexible compliance options, adequate notification timelines, and other reasonable support for the transition.

How can we keep the decarbonization conversation going?

The barriers to decarbonization are not technical. The barriers are embedded in our social structures and traditional ways of working. Keep decarbonization on the political agenda! Speak, advocate, volunteer, support, contribute, and ask our government representatives for a faster transition.

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