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Waterloo Region’s Evolving Workplace Sector | Part 1: The Story So Far

By: Valerie Chong and Miranda Burton

July 29th, 2020

Progress on Community Climate Action Blog Series 

In 2013, ClimateActionWR, led by Reep Green Solutions and Sustainable Waterloo Region, collaborated with the Region of Waterloo, and the Cities of Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo to create the first Climate Action Plan for Waterloo Region. This Climate Action Plan aimed to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions by 6% below 2010 levels by 2020. Next year, a community greenhouse gas inventory will be conducted to determine if we have met that ambitious goal, which would be an important first step towards our overall 80% reduction goal by 2050. 

The following post is part of a new series of blogs highlighting the hard work our action owners have been doing to move us towards our community targets. This one will focus on the workplaces sector.

The Workplace Sector

In 2015, ClimateActionWR determined that workplace buildings (including industrial, commercial, and institutional buildings) are responsible for 27% of Waterloo Region’s total carbon footprint (full report in Our Progress, Our Path). We knew that the overall output would only increase as Waterloo Region’s population continues to be the fastest growing census metropolitan area in the country. We have a responsibility to make adjustments to the carbon efficiency of our workplaces. 

To tackle this issue, Energy+, Kitchener-Wilmot Hydro and Waterloo North Hydro, Enbridge (Union Gas), Kitchener Utilities, Sustainable Waterloo Region, Area Municipalities (City of Waterloo, City of Kitchener, City of Cambridge, and the Region of Waterloo), and the Cora Group committed to taking action. As action owners, they have been working hard over the past five years to bring people and organizations together to move both buildings and behaviour towards a more sustainable future in which employees, employers, and landlords can play an active part. One example of this work is the creation of evolv1, thanks to collaborative efforts between organizations and stakeholders.

“The power is in our work together.” Tova Davidson, Executive Director of Sustainable Waterloo Region 

evolv1 – Changing the Workplace Landscape of Waterloo Region 

Developed, owned and managed by the Cora Group, evolv1, Canada’s first multi-tenant Zero Carbon Building​, was collaboratively imagined by Sustainable Waterloo Region, EY, The David Johnston Research and Technology Park, and the Cora Group in an effort to model the workplace of the future.  The project considered all aspects of the modern workplace, combining sustainability and functionality to create a unique design-certified net positive building. 

Designed for today’s tech-savvy workforce, evolv1 has 104,000 square feet of space for multiple tenants, collaborative work and event areas, and amenities. Thanks to built-in features such as a beautiful 40-ft living wall, a geothermal well system, and solar wall technology, the building is designed to be net-positive, by producing 108% of its energy needs on-site.

evolv1 was carefully designed to encourage sustainable and low-impact behaviour. The main staircase is a design feature of the foyer and is wide enough for many people to use at once, discouraging the habitual use of the elevators tucked away to the side. A central waste sorting location rather than individual waste bins encourages tenants to consider their daily garbage output. evolv1’s location beside the ION LRT station in the University of Waterloo David Johnston Research + Technology Park, secure bike parking, and EV charging stations allow employees to choose sustainable transportation options with ease.

“From the geothermal, to the solar walls, two-inch thick triple-paned windows, this place is packed with cool sustainable features. But we’ve also created a better building. A beautiful, healthy space where people in this Region can work and gather.” Adrian Conrad, COO of the Cora Group

More Than Just A Building

evolv1 was developed not only to create a uniquely regenerative building, but to lead a change in the behaviour of organizations and employees in their workplaces. The building is just the beginning of a global reimagining of the workplace. A key component of evolv1 is its tenants, many of which are leading technology or sustainability-focused organizations. They are active participants in the success of evolv1 through their policies and actions; monitoring their energy and water use, carbon emissions, and waste production. 

In 2018, evolv1 launched its “Culture of Sustainability” program, a partnership between Sustainable Waterloo Region and an academic research team from the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University. Manuel Riemer, leading a team of behavioural psychology researchers from Laurier, is creating an evidence-based engagement strategy to cultivate a culture of sustainability within evolv1 and its tenants, which can be applied to other commercial building projects.

“The building will act as a ‘living laboratory’ to understand how best to engage the inhabitants of sustainable buildings in sustainable practices. There are ways to nudge people towards more sustainable habits, such as the physical design of the building, but there is also a social aspect we’re looking at to encourage engagement in all aspects of sustainability.”Manuel Riemer, Director, VERiS, Professor, Wilfrid Laurier University 

Through educational workshops, interactive events, and collaborative conversations, tenants from across all organizations within the building are encouraged to collaboratively develop and achieve a comprehensive suite of environmental, social, and economic goals. Over the long term, shared values, practices, and symbols will emerge and take root, reflecting a collective understanding of what it means to make positive contributions to environmental, social and economic or organizational systems within and beyond the building.

The first floor of evolv1 also houses evolvGREEN, a leading collaborative workspace of entrepreneurs, researchers, and clean economy supporters who are driving the march toward a clean economy. Entrepreneurs looking to build companies that support a clean economy have access to startup accelerator programming and mentorship through the Accelerator Centre’s specialized cleantech programming.

Year One at evolv1

In 2020, evolv1 became triple-certified – earning LEED Platinum CS (Core & Shell) and becoming dual certified as a Zero Carbon Building (ZCB)  – in both Design and Performance. The Cora Group applied for the zero-carbon performance certification after a year of energy data was collected from the building. After a full year of operation evolv1 has proved that it is sustainable in design and performance. 

Current tenants include The Accelerator Centre, Borealis AI, EY, Sustainable Waterloo Region, TextNow, University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University. Tenants pay market rates for their workspaces, proving the financial feasibility of the premium commercial building and that sustainability is good for business.

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