Why Do We Care About LEED Buildings on Campus!

The University of Ottawa is now an official member of the CaGBCThe University of Ottawa just became an institutional member of the CaGBC. What does this mean? Well for the most part it means that we are entitled to get cheaper rates for training and certifying our buildings. But if you dig a bit deeper, it means that we are putting our support behind a program that understands how buildings play an immense role in building a better world.

As it stands, uOttawa only has one LEED certified building on campus, the FSS Building. But, as we all know, quantity doesn't always tell the whole story.

In early 2000, the SITE Building was the latest and greatest thing on campus. The building even won a couple of awards for its environmental design. Unfortunately, things didn't quite work out according to the design once the building was up and running. This wasn't necessarily anyone's fault but it did spur the University to take a harder look at their buildings.

 In 2012, a deep energy retrofit of the SITE building succeeded in reducing electrical consumption by 20%, heating by 77%, natural gas consumption by 36%, and eliminating the need for humidification completely.

In 2012, the university completed a deep energy retrofit of the SITE Building which dramatically improved energy performance

By 2005, when the BioScience Complex was completed, we had learned a couple of tricks and these buildings were also awarded with some distinctions as some of the most energy efficient labs in Canada. So when the Desmarais Building was under construction in 2006, someone had the idea that maybe we should try to get LEED certification on the building.

Unfortunately we had already started construction on the building and thus we would not be able to achieve some of the prerequisites required to get certified (and rightfully so, LEED should be considered early in the planning phase of a building). The Desmarais Building was built to LEED standards but did not seek certification.

This is where the story gets interesting. Many people say, "Let's just build the building to LEED standards but not actually pay all those fees to get it certified". This conversation was had many times around the halls of my office. Finally, after a presentation to the Board of Governors in 2008, the University took the decision to seek certification for the FSS Building, and in 2013-14, it was awarded LEED Gold.

So what was the key argument that encouraged the University to go for certification? Well, let's think of it this way. Saying that you will do something is fine and dandy, but actually having someone looking over your shoulder to make sure that you are doing it is a whole other story.
LEED certification forced us to account for all of the construction waste, the origin of all our wood, the limitation of how much energy we could use, etc. It's easy to just say something is "too hard" or "too expensive" and let it slide. Knowing that you jeopardize your certification if you compromise on your job gives you that extra boost to see things through.

So a few weeks ago, Facilities Service took the monumental step of making sure that any building uOttawa builds over 10,000 m2 will seek a minimum certification of LEED Silver. This is not only a commitment to the environment, this is a commitment to our people. The public tends to overlook the fact that LEED standards place a strong emphasis on Air Quality and comfort for building occupants. Better air quality equals happier and healthier workers.

There are two new buildings on campus that are seeking LEED Certification, the ARC Building and the Learning Centre. With the introduction of the new uOttawa Master Plan, the University anticipates a lot of new building developments in the coming years. This makes commitments to be good environmental stewards all the more important. And that's why care so much about LEED.

 ~ jon - campus sustainability manager