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Ask the Expert: Learn from Green Building Pioneer, Roland Charneux

With a career spanning 40 years, Roland Charneux has managed hundreds of projects nationwide, including major construction projects, LEED projects, and experimental green building. He started his career soon after graduation from L’École Polytechnique at Pageau Morel, a firm well known for its expertise in energy efficiency and ecodesign. That focus lines up perfectly with Roland’s own personal beliefs which prioritizes energy conservation, sustainable development and innovation. His work has touched millions of square feet of green and efficient buildings, saving owners millions of dollars, and paving the way for a greener built environment.

A renowned engineer recognized for his design of energy-efficient buildings, Roland has received more than 25 project awards, including nine Technology Awards from the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (international awards) and the 2018 Grand Prix d'excellence from the Ordre des ingénieurs du Québec (OIQ).

Last night, Roland was awarded the Green Building Pioneer award at the Building Lasting Change gala in Vancouver.

1. Tell us about your career and how you came to be involved in the sustainability field.

My engineering career started in 1976 with Pageau Morel after graduating from École Polytechnique in Montreal. At that time, a few years after the first oil crisis in 1973-1974, there was no energy code and energy costs were very low. In 1978, a second oil crisis saw the oil costs raised to unprecedented values. It was a shock having such a fast increase of energy costs. Suddenly people realized that the availability of oil was not infinite and that the cost is not easily controllable.

Even before that time, Pageau Morel was always concerned by the necessity of having energy efficient systems design to reduce the energy consumption and to recover energy as much as feasible. For example, glycol loops have been installed in labs facilities since the sixties. When oil was at $0.25 per imperial gallon, it was a challenge to justify increasing the insulation in the walls. Energy was our prime concern at that time and we slowly evolved to work together with the project teams to improve all aspects of a building, starting with the envelope.

Today, the challenges are still there, but we have more tools such as LEED and scientific knowledge, to design and build more efficient buildings. There is currently increased pressure to reduce fossil energy use and to reduce our impact on the environment.

2. How long have you been in the green building field? Of that time – what are the things that most stick out in your mind?

Since starting design in 1976, I have always been concerned by energy efficiency in heating and air conditioning systems. I could not accept that energy be spent without being optimally used and recovered. Even if the price of energy was low, particularly in Quebec, we started doing energy simulations with ESP-II software, which was sold by APEC (Automated Procedure for Engineering Consultants) in the 1980s. With these simulations, we were able to influence the optimization of the building envelope working closely with architects. Since then, we have been using simulations in all the projects that we design to optimize solutions.

Through the years, I have been involved in numerous projects of different types. One of the most interesting was the Mountain Equipment Co-op head office in Vancouver, which was designed in an integrated design process, having all the team members around the table from day one when there wasn’t a single line drawn yet. All the decisions took into consideration the well-being of the occupants. In the end, the building was awarded a LEED Platinum certification.

3. What have you learned most working on LEED projects? Is there any advice you would convey to other project teams?

“The current context has never been so favourable for energy efficiency and sustainable design. The young generation is better informed than we were and I am 100 percent confident in the future.”

The most important thing when designing sustainable buildings is to work in an Integrated Design Process with all the team members focused on synergies and optimization. For example, daylighting strategies such as elongated or multi-wing buildings will often increase the envelope surface. So for the same floor plate than in the past, we have more losses and gains through the envelope. The envelope is the most important thing in the building as it is very difficult and expensive to retrofit it over the years compared to the mechanical and electrical systems that are retrofitted at every +/- 25 years with more efficiency. Also, it is important to remember that we are designing buildings for the well-being of the occupants.

4. You have been involved with the CaGBC LEED Program for a number of years. How have you seen CaGBC and green building evolve throughout this time?

Before the LEED certification program there were all sorts of green assertions and green washing. The simplicity of using the LEED process gave a real comparison standard between buildings. Through the years, we find more and more adoption of the LEED certification, to the benefit of the community. Many municipalities use it as a standard for the construction of their own buildings, leading the way for all builders. It also helps the public authorities to improve their construction building codes.

5. Where do you see the future of green building headed in the near and more long-term future?

I personally believe that we should have a better mix of buildings in our cities between working spaces and living spaces. Buildings should be thought of as a neighbourhood having everything in walking distance: work, housing, groceries, public markets, parks, kindergartens, schools, etc. The building is a very small part of our environment, but it could be a powerful contributor to our well-being.

6. Please add anything here that you’d like the industry to know or think about.

The construction of a building is one thing, but its optimal operation is the most important. From my experience, the performance of the systems rely on their simplicity and not on additional technology. In many occasions, technology is added to correct. Human behaviour is the most important thing that we have to take into consideration. Occupants should be better informed on how to live with their buildings.

The current context has never been so favourable for energy efficiency and sustainable design. The young generation is better informed than we were, and I am 100 percent confident in the future.

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Also in this issue:
Green Building Programs
LEED Spotlight: Prairie Architects Inc. Winnipeg Office Achieves Commercial Interiors LEED v4 Platinum Certification
Ask the Expert: Learn from Green Building Pioneer, Roland Charneux
New ECCC Government Report Supports Deep Retrofits, Disclosure and Standardization
LEED Certified Projects - April 2019
Conference and Events
CaGBC Honours Canada's Green Building Leaders at BLC 2019
Member News and Updates
WorldGBC's Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment Surpasses 50 Signatories
New Global Initiative for City-Based Climate Efficiency Trading
National Media Partners' News: ConstructConnect
New Members - April 2019
There's Still Time to Apply to the Greenest School in Canada Contest
Join Us for the Making the Case for Building To Zero Carbon Webinar
Featured On-Demand Course: Engaging Tenants in Sustainability
LEED Strategic Practices (LSP) Program Course 4: Energy and Atmosphere Credits
Meet Our First-Class LEED Strategic Practices Program Instructors
CaGBC On-Demand Summer Sale: Up to 25% Off Courses Until July 31
Course Calendar - June 2019
Canada Green Building Council
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