Greenest in Canada

Okanagan College’s reputation as an organization focused on sustainable building has spread nationally and internationally over the past several years and is likely to continue to grow as projects such as the new Trades Complex at the Kelowna campus come on stream.

In April 2016 Corporate Knights Magazine named the Jim Pattison Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Technologies and Renewable Energy Conservation at the College’s Penticton campus as the most sustainable building in Canada’s post-secondary sector.

The building was in good company – UBC Vancouver’s Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability was the silver medalist according to the judges, who had started with a long list of more than 200 buildings to consider. Dalhousie University’s Mona Campbell building won bronze.

“When the news came out it was a surprise to us,” admits Okanagan College President Jim Hamilton. “Not because of the recognition, because we know this is a very special building that celebrates sustainability. It was a surprise because we weren’t aware that we were being included in the assessment.”

The Centre of Excellence has earned a number of awards and recognition since it opened in 2011. Before the nod from Corporate Knights, the building was accredited as a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Platinum project: the largest structure of its type in B.C.’s interior to achieve the designation.

While the Centre of Excellence has helped push builders and architects to reconsider how projects can incorporate sustainable and environmentally-sensitive practices and approaches within responsible budgets, the College’s Trades Complex project will continue that inspirational direction.Kelowna Solar Array

"When the College undertook this project starting in 2012 it wanted to demonstrate that a combination of renovations to the existing built structure and construction of a major new building could incorporate principles of sustainability and environmental responsibility,” explains Roy Daykin, Vice President of Employee and Corporate Services at Okanagan College. “Too often, people think that really green projects have to be those that are being built from scratch. Our instructors and students loved the existing trades shop space, but it was outdated, inefficient, poorly ventilated, underinsulated and – quite frankly – an energy embarrassment.

“So we set out, with our architects, engineers, builders, and staff to renovate those shops to bring them to 21st century standards. At the same time, we focused our new building on the highest possible environmental standards, building to LEED Platinum standards and incorporating the approaches of the Living Building Challenge.

“Our goal is to be energy neutral or as close to that as possible, which is a bigger challenge than you might think because of the power demand associated with the trades shops and the equipment they contain.”

One of the many things the College has done to help it achieve its target is to develop a large photovoltaic solar array to generate power. The 973 solar panels on the roof of the heavy equipment canopy produce an average 1,103 kilowatt hours of energy per day during the summer. The 194 kW electrical solar photovoltaic array system is the second largest in the province on a post-secondary building. The largest array can be found just a few miles south, on the College’s Centre of Excellence in Penticton.

The College’s dedication to environmental sustainability doesn’t just focus on construction and renovation. Over the past several years, the College has been looking for gains in other areas – metering power usage, installing more efficient equipment, trying to get  people to think differently about energy consumption.

It’s working. The energy consumption per square metre of buildings at the College’s four campuses has dropped by more than 30 per cent in the past eight years. And in its most recent Strategic Plan, the College identified sustainability as one of its key directions.

“We’ve had architects, engineers, and builders come from around the globe to look at what we’re doing. Our approach has influenced changes in some municipal building bylaws and I believe – I hope – that it has inspired other organizations to think about how they can incorporate sustainability into their construction and renovation projects,” says Hamilton.

“Where the impact of what we’re doing really struck me though, was when one of our construction project managers boasted that he had started a project driving to work every day in three-quarter ton truck but he ended up commuting to and from the site in a Prius as he realized the impact that small changes can have.”