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Zeroing in on Net-Zero Buildings with Climate Reality Leader Dan Vivian

By Sofia Vedechkina

· General

Climate Reality Canada recently sat down with Canadian Climate Reality Leader Dan Vivian, who joined The Climate Reality Project in 2018, having been trained in Mexico City that same year.

Dan is an engineer who specializes in energy conservation in buildings, and is the owner of The Building Science Trust Inc., which focuses on creating tailored plans to move buildings to net-zero energy consumption. Confident that we can move away from fossil fuels for good, Dan is proud to work in a field that is meaningful and productive for society, and hopes to contribute to protecting the environment through the work that he does.

Dan, could you tell me more about the creation of your business, The Building Science Trust Inc.?

Sure. It comes down to my general history; I’m a mechanical engineer and spent the first half of my career in manufacturing, where I learned some energy conservation techniques. The second half of my career, I worked in consulting for buildings science. I was only concentrating on capital planning for buildings in the very beginning—what goes wrong and how much it costs. In short, maintenance: we figure out when components of the building are going to need to be replaced and how much they’re going to cost when that will happen. When I worked in capital planning, it was a like for like—if it was a single-glazed window that needed replacing, we replaced it with a single-glazed window.

So, it wasn’t about sustainability at first. Only when an employer decided to offer me education in energy conservation and I started getting projects related to energy conservation in buildings did I add sustainability to the mix. Instead of figuring out if a single pane of glass was adequate, we’d ask ourselves: “What if we installed two panes?” Well, there would be an incremental cost, but we would also get savings and a return on investment in the long-run. And we could also figure out the reduction in greenhouse gases that this change would produce.

With my interest in The Climate Reality Project and its trainings, it was just one more logical step on my part to ask: “Can we move these buildings to net-zero? Can we generate as much energy as what we consume? And not use fossil fuels for it, but renewable energy?” So, I ultimately created The Building Science Trust Inc. because I saw that there was a need for it.

Could you give me a step-by-step process of the kind of work that you do?

The first step is the contract, where the price is established or estimate provided. Then, we do a study of the building, gathering information on various issues in order to come up with an energy and lifecycle analysis to understand its energy load and what kind of upgrades can be made at the best price. We then develop Energy Conservation Measures (ECMs), which are replacement components that are proposed and analyzed to determine if they can effectively reduce the building’s energy requirements. Afterwards, we put a final report together—a plan that shows the added value of my company’s work, information on the cost of the whole procedure, the return on investment, the reduction in greenhouse gases, etc. The final step is, if possible, moving the buildings to net-zero by using solar panels. Solar panels are still relatively expensive, so it’s cheaper to first reduce the energy load of the building using Energy Conservation Measures.

Why are net-zero buildings so crucial to mitigating climate change?

In first world countries, approximately 40% of our GHG emissions come from buildings. Every one of us can eliminate 40% of our emissions by making our buildings net-zero—and, economically, almost all of our buildings can be made net-zero (excluding buildings in downtown cores or high-rises).

People might be asking themselves: “But what about agriculture?” Agriculture also goes back to buildings—barns, farm houses, and sheds. Or they might be wondering: “What about the service industry?” Well, let’s say we have a pizzeria—it’s in a building, and the delivery is also made to a building. So, it all comes back to three basic categories: transportation, buildings, and industry. And, luckily, we are able eliminate the GHG emissions our buildings produce.

So, when did you first get interested in the fight against climate change and the Climate Reality Project?

In Ottawa, where I live, there is an organization called Green Drinks. Around January 2018, a Climate Reality Leader came to one of our sessions and gave a presentation. I figured I would like to get involved, considering I had a background that I thought would be useful. So, I applied, was accepted, and went to Mexico City in March 2018.

Before 2018, as I mentioned earlier, I was working in energy conservation in buildings. I’d also done some energy conservation work in manufacturing previous to that. A lot of what we were doing at the time was energy conservation but in a kind of roundabout way—we would always try to reduce the cost of things, which might mean also reducing waste. If you reduce waste, you’re also reducing the energy to create that waste. So, there was a lot of that sort of work beforehand, but not associated with the concerns about greenhouse gases—I wasn’t aware about the significance of climate change until I started thinking about it more thoroughly, got involved with Green Drinks, and then did the training with Climate Reality in 2018. My training in 2018 helped me understand the linkages between the methods I was using and the opportunity and urgency to use these techniques on a large scale.

Lastly, how has your experience being a Climate Reality Leader evolved since you’ve been trained?

There’s an organization here in Ottawa called 100 in 1 Day, which holds 100 events in one day across a region, and the events can be about anything. I thought I’d make mine a Climate Reality presentation, which I did at a local park. I have also spoken at Green Drinks about how we can move large buildings to net-zero. More recently, I’ve been invited to speak at two local Green Drinks once again. This summer, I was a keynote speaker at a YMCA conference in Ottawa. They were looking for somebody who could address leadership in sustainability.

My presentations have progressively become more focused on moving buildings to net-zero or electrifying transportation. I concentrate a lot on hope—what we can do to avoid climate disaster, as opposed to all the negative effects of climate change. It’s important to tell people, who are the source of the problem, how they can mitigate climate change and show them ways in which they can become more net-zero. Each and every one of us needs to move to net-zero or electrify our energy consumption with renewable power. Really, the solution is for people to start adopting these technologies, and then tell their friends about their successes with them.

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