The Sandbox | by: Mandakini Chandra
February 16, 2017
A brightly-lit screen announcing water and energy consumption greets you as you stroll into a building on campus. While you’re waiting for the elevator, you scroll through your personalized newsfeed on your Myko app, and pat yourself on the back when you see that your ‘social score’ has improved. This vision of urban sustainability belongs to a new SPF project called LEEDing Operations and Maintenance (SP0156). The project aims to obtain LEED O+M certification for several buildings at McGill while prompting building occupants to assess and reflect on their daily consumption. It’s a bold idea that has garnered a great deal of support on campus. We sat down with project leader Philippe St-Jean to talk about the project and how it’s going.
What is LEED O+M, and why is it a valuable process to invest in?
LEED O+M is ‘LEED Operations and Maintenance’, and it’s a certification process for everything related to the operations and maintenance of a building. It improves the energy and water performance of buildings, creates a better environment for building occupants, and reduces costs. Some believe that LEED certification is throwing away money because you’re preparing for a very specific process. They say, “well, we could just do the equivalent measures and we wouldn’t have to pay for the certification.” This is true, but when you go through a certification process, there’s rigor involved, so it’s a form of quality control. When people know that someone’s going to be looking into the work that they did, they make sure to do it properly. The advantage of pursuing LEED otherwise is also the framework that comes with it. Instead of figuring out what’s important to target in terms of sustainability, LEED O+M tells you what’s important. It allows you to pick and choose what works within your context, and it prevents you from having to go through an intense research process to figure out the most important efficiency measures in your building. The certification provides focus, and provides a framework that people uninvolved with sustainable development can comprehend. It’s essentially a gamification of the process, so it works with a points system – the more points you score, the better your building gets.
Which buildings are being considered?
Four buildings of different usages are being considered – a residence (La Citadelle), an athletics facility (McConnell Arena), an education building (Trottier), and a services building (Brown). We are trying it on different types of buildings to involve a range of stakeholders right away. We are also conscious that starting with different types of buildings will allow us to address as many barriers to the project as possible early on.
How is the project going so far and what has being done at the moment?
It’s going well – it’s very much in its infancy. We started focusing on the project in mid-December. We are targeting four buildings on campus. Three of the buildings are already registered for certification. One of the main stepping stones was the installation of the water meters, because that’s a prerequisite for certification. We connected the water meters to our online platform, so we’re tracking them remotely. At the same time, we’re developing the policies and interactive components that go along with certification. We’re hoping that people will interact with the screens in the buildings – they would provide real-time updates on the performance of the building and create a much-needed dialogue. The screens will have a simple graphic that tracks five metrics – energy consumption, water consumption, waste management, transportation and building occupant satisfaction. Transportation tracks movement to and from the building for the occupants, so it aims to see how active building residents are, and pushes them to examine their use of public transit. That’s done through surveys. Occupant satisfaction is also based on surveys.
Those metrics sound interesting – are you attempting to nudge people to reconsider their lifestyle choices?
Yes! We’re currently pursuing LEED certification for both construction and renovation, but it’s important to keep in mind that the certification metrics are only considered until the day that the building is finished. LEED certification doesn’t look at anything after construction, so you could have a fancy LEED platinum building that’s supposed to be efficient but performs worse than a conventional building because the occupants are uninvolved and the systems aren’t being properly operated. That’s why it’s important to pursue the process rather than the product. There are some habits that people aren’t used to and haven’t considered – and we’re hoping that we can help them reflect on that.
How will the project encourage people to change their consumption habits?
We’re going above and beyond – LEED only looks at the performance of the building, not the performance of occupants in the building. We’re linking our project to an old SPF project called Myko. We’re using this smart app as a communication platform for the building occupants. We’re going to fit the buildings with sensors that will voluntarily track individual performance in terms of water and energy. The idea is to give people tools to identify how they impact the performance of the building, and help them understand whether or not they consume more water or energy than the average occupant. We want to create a dialogue that will not only improve the performance of the building, but will educate people on their impact. The hope is this – if they change the way they interact with one building, they might start to change their behavior everywhere they go. Additionally, we hope to incorporate this aspect of the project into the LEED rating system and scale it up to the world. First, we do need to show that it works here, though!
How can students and faculty members play a role in the project?
There are tons of research opportunities here, and a lot of room for students to get involved. We are already working with a dozen researchers on campus, and around ten to fifteen students are on board. The certification itself involves so many different facets of building operations, so there’s room for everyone. The idea is to scale this idea across campus, and actually, as of Fall 2017, we’re working on introducing a LEED lab course centered around choosing a building on campus and going through the certification process. Look out for that!
To learn more about the LEED O+M project, visit the SPF project page.