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Ask the Expert: Lisa Bate, B+H Architects

To her colleagues, Lisa Bate is a tenacious, optimistic, and strategic leader. For other collaborators and peers, she is a global ambassador and thought leader in high-performance sustainable design in architecture. As her term as Chair at the World Green Building Council comes to an end, we are eager to hear what she has to say about international sustainability trends, where Canada fits, and focus points moving forward.

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

I am a left-handed, only daughter, middle child in a right-handed family of healthcare and allied health industry professionals. Being highly conscious and hopefully empathetic from that background, I feel it is in my DNA to equally focus on the social and technical responsibilities of what and how we design, build and retrofit or repurpose to live within the regenerative limits of our planet, tracking and validating progress to recovery.

After some short stints at a couple of architectural firms, I joined the Thom Partnership (which became the Colbourne Architectural Group). I was fortunate to work on the Body Shop Headquarters that included a level of sustainability that I had never heard of or seen prior, including on-site black water treatment. When I started my own practice in 1991, my colleagues and I were endlessly awarded retrofit projects that gave us an incredible knowledge of how to repurpose and reuse buildings but also highlighted the abundance of antiquated mechanical and electrical systems reliant on high carbon energy sources.

To try and gain a reputation and be awarded the design of new buildings, a Chinese Canadian colleague, our COO, and I decided we should pursue work in China. After winning an Eco-Tourism Master Planning project, we won the Shanghai One City Nine Towns Canada Fenjing Maple Town international competition. Our design created a Sustainable Community that included all riparian natural canal edges not concrete encased, unseen for decades in modern cities in China. We also specified a few innovative Canadian technologies including stormwater interceptors that remove 99 per cent of sediment and oils from underground waterways, that Toronto and other cities have had installed for decades. The international attention definitely redefined our firm and garnered the attention of B+H. We joined the firm in 2007.

I am a lifelong learner. When the LEED AP program was released by the USGBC, I signed up for the courses and took the exam. I had done the same when The Center for Health Design’s internationally recognized Evidence-Based Design Accreditation and Certification (EDAC) program came out. As I became more involved with provincial Architecture and allied regulatory and advocacy Boards, including the CaGBC Board from 2008-2013 and our own B+H Management Committee, I realized I needed knowledge to be a more effective Director. In 2011, I signed up to the Institute of Corporate Directors’ Directors Education (ICD.D) program at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto and passed my exams in 2012.

2. You started your career in environmental design, moved to interior design, and to architecture. Was sustainability the common denominator in these areas that made you the sustainable design ambassador you are today?

When I graduated from high school in 1980, I chose to study Interior Design at the University of Manitoba, but I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with acceptances in other design programs and schools . Over that summer, I took a course at the Ontario College of Art & Design in Environmental Design, and when I reflect, that one summer of learning really established how I approached and continue to approach design thereafter. We studied and had to draw and describe how we decoded the respiration, growth and existence of leaves, snails, and other living beings, and in relationship to each other and their habitat. I took this methodology forward with me in how I approached my studies in Architecture when I entered the program at the University of Toronto.

3. Being Chair of World Green Building Council, and B+H Global Sustainability Lead & Principal has given you exposure to sustainability on different stages and in different systems. How does Canada rank among other nations and what can it do better, compared to other countries?

I am equally grateful and proud of where Canada ranks among other nations. We have a federal government and many provincial and municipal governments that have established sustainability and resiliency as top priorities and they view CaGBC as not only their trusted advisor but also the partner to bring corporations, institutions, NGOs, other levels of government and stakeholders to the conversation. We have a strong building and construction sector that can design, produce, innovate and construct to achieve deep carbon reduction targets, creating more skilled occupations, and better social equity in our communities. We Canadians, and Canadian companies, have the ability to export the goods, methods and skills that are of high value to other countries now advancing their net zero agendas.

4. What areas do you think should be the focus for WorldGBC moving forward?

The continuation of the three-pillar approach: Advance Net Zero Carbon, promote better Health and Wellbeing for everyone everywhere, and further develop and deliver the Circular Economy. We need to implement this approach by retrofitting our existing buildings where possible and when not, dismantle for reusing, repurpose and recycling back into ‘new’ buildings and infrastructure. From mid-2018 to the end of 2019, this three-pillar, WorldGBC Strategic Plan 2020-2022 approach was created through consultation, evaluation and agreement with the WorldGBC Board of Directors, the Corporate Advisory Board of 16 global companies and the 70+ CEOs of GBCs in countries around the world. With Thomas Mueller representing CaGBC, I know the established consultative process that occurred with the CaGBC Board, staff, members and the stakeholders community, which wasreflected in Thomas’ input into the WorldGBC’s Strategic Plan. I feel confident that the voices of all stakeholders were heard, and across our industry, everyone is preparing, advancing and working together to figure things out. This race will only be won if we all cross the finish line.

5. Between 2012 and 2015, you were a Managing Principal in B+H’s Shanghai office. How different is it to manage projects in China (or in other parts of the world) compared to North America?

At B+H we say that Culture eats Strategy for breakfast, and I can say from my experience, this is true. One of my favourite stories is from an engineering sister company that had to build a long roadway in South Africa. To ensure specifications, construction methodologies and the schedule were met, they hired women seen as matriarchs within the local Township communities as the Project Manager for their +/- 50 km stretch of road over the entire few hundred kilometres to be construction. The project was delivered on time, on budget and exceeded the quality expectation of the Transportation Authority. When I work on a project in any other country, I see myself as a guest with a contribution that will only be valuable if it succeeds within that community.

6. Did you notice any changes in the green building landscape upon your return to Canada?

Absolutely. I left Canada in 2012 and the idea of a Net Zero Carbon (NZC) rating tool for buildings went from being a vision to a mission to a reality. In late 2015 when I returned, and in partnership with McCallum Sather Architects, we were awarded the Zero Carbon Building Standard Design and Performance certified Joyce Centre for Partnerships and Innovation at Mohawk College. Shortly thereafter B+H was awarded the retrofit of Humber College’s Building Nx which was also mandated to achieve CaGBC’s Zero Carbon Building Standard and Passive House certifications. Around the same time, under Plenary and PCL as P3 leads, B+H was awarded the National Library and Archives of Canada Gatineau 2 project, mandated to be net zero carbon under the federal government standards requirements.

7. You have stressed the importance of occupancy versus design in the past. What was your approach to avoid ending up with a post-event ghost facilitywhen designing the Toronto 2015 Pan/Parapan American Games Water Polo and Indoor Racquet sports venue?

During the 2015 Games, the LEED Platinum EB:O&M Markham Pan Am Centre hosted water polo, badminton, table tennis and Parapan table tennis events. In legacy mode now, it is both an elite competition venue and a community athletic centre. A depth-adjustable floor makes its 10-lane high-performance Olympic pool as suitable for toddler swim classes as it is for top-level meets. In the badminton and table tennis courts, lighting, sightlines and architecture work in tandem to maximize the visibility of a shuttlecock or small ball in play, and the HVAC system’s design ensures that air circulation will not influence the outcome of the game. The Markham Pan Am Centre’s highly flexible field house can be configured to house 12 badminton courts, or six volleyball courts and two basketball courts. Sustainability of program and community use after the Pan / Parapan American Games are as important as the high performance building envelope, sequestered carbon concrete bock and the exceptional mechanical system designed to house an Olympic size pool alongside flexible sport courts for daily community use as well as future competitions.

8. With this background and as provinces are initiating a progressive reopening, how do you think building owners could go about enticing people to reoccupy offices and public spaces?

I have experience of being afraid of the air my colleagues and I, as well as my family, breathed from my time living in Shanghai. To me, it is about building owners creating a culture of disclosure and safety so that we can all go back to what we enjoyed at work and at play. In 2016, B+H was the first company globally to publicly disclose the Indoor Air Quality (IAQ) across our global studios. Using monitors connected to the RESET platform, invented by Canadian Raefer Wallis based in Shanghai, we posted and tracked VOC, CO2, PM2.5, humidity and other IAQ KPIs via the QLEAR app. If our cleaners in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam were not using the green cleaning products we specified at 7a.m., all our staff could see the impact on our mobile phones. When the “Airpocalypses” happened in Beijing and Shanghai, we had the exact PM2.5 readings and were able to coach some of our offices’ building operators to rely on it, ensure to change out the air filters and properly maintain the mechanical systems and not shut off fresh air intake so we would all be inside breathing our recirculated CO2.

Fast forward to today, where available tools, technology, pathways and connectivity have enabled monitoring to identify COVID parameters that allow the virus to thrive are possible and advantageous. We know we have harmed our environments with overuse of anti-bacterials that kill both the good germs we need, and the bad. I am no scientist, but I know that our environment and our health are intricately intertwined and the better we understand this connectivity, the better we can protect ourselves and get back to ‘normal’, whatever that looks like, and when each of us feels confident to do so. We know the workplace will not look the same. We know not all of us will want to be back in the office as we have gained back commuting time (and reduced the associated expense), and individual choices. Yet others, as we have found in our workplace research and confidential surveys, cannot wait to be back in the studio again. As soon as Toronto reopened a few weeks ago, half of my household were on patios and planning trips and concerts, and the other half happy to be home, enjoying less people. One size will continue to misfit all.

9. What’s next for Lisa Bate?

A very focused dedication to advancing and finalizing our disclosure, implementation and verification plan by June 1, 2022 for B+H to meet our Net Zero Carbon global Commitment. We are a signatory to the World GBC Commitment to be, disclose and verify that we are Net Zero Carbon across our operations (Scope 1 and 2) by 2030, and to advocate for clients to do so as well. Further, we have committed to be Scope 3 Net Zero (embodied carbon across our supply chain) by 2040.

I think this alongside continuing to support clients, industry organizations and Boards with aspirations to commit, disclose, act, verify and advocate to advance their strategy and actions within the three-pillar approach of Advancing Net Zero, Better Places for People and the Circular Economy should keep me as energized and enthused as I always like to be.

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