Fin MacDonald

Information on me and my current projects

Protecting Indoor Environmental Quality (IEQ) in the Nursury

Having just moved into a new house, and with a baby on the way, its time to set up the nursery.  While many people base their decisions on appearance and utility, I think the health aspect could use more attention.  I wanted to create this blog entry to share some of the decisions we made, and why we made them.

Low Emission Furniture

When buying food people pay close attention to the ingredients, however this is seldom true for furniture.  In many cases the furniture we place inside our homes contain toxic ingredients.  This is especially true of composite wood products and mattresses.  The glues and resins in these products often contain formaldehyde and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs).  Formaldehyde has a boiling point of -19 degrees Celsius which means it vaporizes at room temperature and enters the air.  We know for certain formaldehyde causes cancer, so you don’t want baby breathing that in.

The California Air Resources Board (CARB) has created standard 93120 that place limits on the amount of airborne toxins including formaldehyde emissions allowed for different types of composite wood (man made wood products like particleboard, plywood, veneers etc).  If your crib, dresser, or change table is CARB phase 1 or CARB phase 2 compliant then you know it is under the safe emission level.  If not then there is no limit to the amount of formaldehyde that might be present.  Our crib had a solid wood core and featured veneers of a different type of wood.  These veneers were glued on, so we made sure that the crib met the CARB requirements.  The is no legal requirement for manufacturers in Canada to meet CARB.

One step up from CARB would be GREENGUARD Gold certification (formerly known as GREENGUARD Children & Schools).  The emission limits for products certified to either of these standards is even lower.  This is especially important for items a baby will have direct contact with, such as a crib mattress.  We found a GREENGUARD Gold mattress and purchased it.

No-VOC Paint

Paint is another item that has a big impact on the indoor air quality.  Similar to formaldehyde, other VOCs also have a very low boiling point which allow them to vaporize at room temperature.  Paint that is manufactured without VOCs won’t cause any fumes or other IAQ pollution.  This means that you could literally paint with the windows closed and not get a headache because there are no dangerous fumes from the paint.   If you don’t want to go for no-VOC paint, you can look for low-VOC paint.  We chose to use Olympic Icon paint which is not just no-VOC but also Ecologo certified.

Mercury Free Lighting

We installed L.E.D. bulbs in the nursery lighting.  When buying bulbs you typically have two choices when it comes to energy efficiency.  L.E.D. or Compact Fluorescent (CFL).  What many people don’t know is that CFL bulbs contain mercury, and the amount of mercury is not regulated.  When these bulbs are burnt out they need to be taken to a toxic waste disposal site.  This isn’t something you want in your nursery (or your house at all).  If one of these bulbs were to break indoors the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends you open a window, shut off your forced air heating or air conditioning system, and leave the room for 5-10 minutes before attempting to clean (more info).

Flush-Out

Finally, once the room is finished you can flush out any toxins that may have snuck into the room.  You do this by airing out the room for long periods of time.  Any toxins that may enter the room’s air can leave throught the window.  Its important to assemble any furniture well in advance of the baby’s arrival to allow for any toxins to off-gas and be flushed out.  We assembled our furniture two months before the baby arrived and aired the room out for a few hours once a week.

 

 

Our Household Carbon Footprint: 2014

After working in the Carbon industry for a couple of years I felt it was time to prepare our household’s carbon footprint, and set a few goals for the future.  If the few years I spend working in the accounting industry have taught me anything, its that what gets measured gets managed.  This carbon footprint will serve as a baseline for future years as I try to reduce our impact on the environment.  I also wanted to try to go beyond just global warming though.  For that reason I have also included a metric on nuclear waste.  The Greenhouse Gas Protocol Corporate Standard was used to calculate emissions.  The values calculated do not include upstream emissions or embodied energy.

Our current apartment is located at 1833 Riverside Drive.  We have a one bedroom apartment which is roughly 637 square feet (60 square meters).  Our building heats the units with a natural gas boiler.  We cool the unit using two electric air conditioning units.  We also have electric lighting and various plug loads.  The apartment houses myself, my wife, and a cat.

Our transportation consists of a family car.  We own a 2003 Hyundai Elantra.  Green & rust coloured.  I use this car for work, and our family uses it for errands and weekend or vacation getaways.  In the past year we have driven from Ottawa to Nova Scotia once.  My wife works on a major bus route downtown and uses transit to get to work.  We did not travel by airplane at at all during 2014.  We took two long trips by train to Niagara Falls and Nova Scotia.  Our emissions are as follows:

Scope 1 (Owned Automobiles): 3,451 kg CO2e

Scope 2 (Purchased Electricity and Imported Heating): 1,780 kg CO2e

Scope 3 (Train and Bus Transportation): 601 kg CO2e

Total Emissions: 5,832 kg CO2e

Footprint Breakdown

Breakdown of GHG Emissions by Source

Our carbon footprint shows that driving a car is really impacting our emissions in a bad way.  Taking the bus on the other hand is a great way to travel and reduce emissions.  Our heat related natural gas emissions are high, but that is to be expected.  In Ottawa’s climate we need lots of heat in the winter.  Our electricity emissions are quite low.  This is due to the great work Ontario’s electricity grid has done to remove coal and reduce other high carbon sources of electricity.  Ontario generates a lot of electricity with nuclear plants though, and as a result we created 40.64 kg of uranium waste.

In April we are moving into a townhouse.  We chose a location that was on a major bus route for both of us.  It is also walking distance for me to get to work when the weather is agreeable.  We will also be welcoming a baby into the world in August, which means our house population will be increasing.  With this move in mind, I have set the following goals for the next year:

  1. Cut automobile transportation emissions in half by driving considerably less.
  2. Keep electricity emissions from increasing by carefully managing plug loads and phantom power.
  3. Evaluate and consider responsible options for local natural gas offsets using landfill gas.
  4. Quantify any airplane emissions which are planned for 2015.

Certified Engineering Technologist

Effective Monday October 6th, 2014 I am officially a Certified Engineering Technologist, or C.E.T..  This marks the end of a 4 year long quest that started with me going back to school in 2010 after I wanted a change from working in financial accounting.  I have been a member of the Ontario Association of Certified Engineering Technicians and Technologists (OACETT) since 2012.  I am proud to call myself a technologist and I believe the future of my profession looks bright.

What EGBs are doing across the country to engage students and new professionals

At the recent CaGBC National Conference in Toronto the EGB National Committee presented a poster presentation to highlight what sort of events EGBs across Canada have been doing to attract students and new professionals to the green industry.  I designed the poster, which contained a submission from each CaGBC chapter across Canada outlining an event that they hosted and the impact it had on those who attended.  The poster was on display this week in the Expo Hall at the conference.  A copy of the poster is below.  Here is a description of the events:

 

Halifax

Halifax EGBs hosted a social for BuildGreen Atlantic, which is the local green building conference.  Social events bring EGBs and other chapter members together to network share ideas.

Montreal

At the Quebec Chapter’s GreenDating participants had the opportunity to learn about the Living Building Challenge during the cocktail hour. Afterwards students and young professionals met with employers and participated in a job fair in the form of a speed-dating activity.

Ottawa

Ottawa’s Green Jobs 101 is an educational job skills event. Presentations from professionals introduce the different types of jobs available in the green building industry and the skills required to do them well. After the presentations attendees have the chance to meet with the presenters.

Toronto

Toronto holds an annual Green Building Bike Tour. The tour focuses on buildings that have sustainable features and provides participants the opportunity to exercise, learn, and be inspired.

Winnipeg

Winnipeg EGBs held a green building trivia night at a local pub. Trivia nights educate participants on green building and also allow for networking opportunities.

Saskatchewan

In Moose Jaw, EGBs partnered with a local ASHRAE group to take a group of students for a tour of a local LEED building. Hard-hat tours are a great way to learn about building materials and construction methods.

Edmonton

The Edmonton EGB’s coordinate a bike tour along the Edmonton Eco-Solar Home Tour to raise awareness of local environmental construction as well as provide a healthy alternative to transportation.

Vancouver

Vancouver held a speed mentoring event similar to speed dating, which connected EGBs with industry professionals to get career advice and insight.

Poster_Prez

 

EGB Poster Presentation - 2014 - 11x17

2014 Emerging Green Builder Leadership Award

I was recently presented with the 2014 Emerging Green Builder Leadership Award from the Canada Green Building Council.  This is a tremendous honour for me, and is in recognition of the volunteer work I have done both locally with the Ottawa Chapter of the CaGBC, and nationally with the EGB National Committee.  There are so many people across the country who work hard nd also deserve this award, so it was an huge honour to have been chosen by the selection committee.  Thank you to everyone involved, and to those who nominated me.

The Emerging Green Builder Leadership Award recognizes a deserving student or young professional who has made a significant contribution to advocating, educating or practicing green building and/or community development. This individual is recognized as a leader among their peers and has a strong commitment to change. (Source:http://www.cagbc.org)

fin award 2 fin award

Green Jobs 101 – Success again in 2014

For the 2nd year in a row the Ottawa Region Chapter of the Canada Green Building Council held Green Jobs 101.  This year’s instalment was held in late March.  While we didn’t sell out like last year, we did draw a great crowd considering ASHRAE was holding a career fair at Algonquin College the same week.  10 industry professionals presented on job skills and career paths.  Companies in attendance included:

Morrison Hershfield
CSV Architects
Ashlar Homes
Sustainable and Renewable Technology Canada
WSP Group
Carleton University
In Da Industry
CaGBC Ottawa Region Chapter

The format to this event was similar to last year, but did have some small changes

Part 1: Job presentations by each of the 8 companies in attendance (5 mins each).  Presentations included information about the presenters, their companies, the types of jobs people do at their companies, and the types of skills that they value most.

Part 2: Motivational Speech by Jewne Johnson of In Da Industry called “The Next Step.”  Her empowering presentation explained steps you can take to turn your dreams into realities.

Part 3: Speed dating – This consisted of 1-on-1 sessions between the industry professionals presenting in part 1 which lasted 4 minutes each.  This is by far the most unique and valuable part of the event.

We were able to get a bigger projection screen this year to help make sure everyone could read the slides.  We weren’t able to have professional audio as I had hoped because of budget limitations, but the event went great without it.  We are already looking forward to next year.

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Planning to attend the 2014 CaGBC National Conference

I have decided to attend the CaGBC National Conference this year in Toronto.  I have never attended the CaGBC’s annual conference, and have always gravitated towards the Greenbuild international conference in the past. While Greenbuild is attended by the world leaders in my industry, the CaGBC conference will be attended by the leaders in my market, as well as potential clients.  This means my attendance will include seeking out new business opportunities rather than just personal development and training.  The conference is being held at the Metro Toronto Convention Centre from June 2nd – 4th.

Aside from representing my firm Morrison Hershfield at the conference I will also be there to represent the CaGBC’s Emerging Green Builders National Committee which I am currently the chair of, as well as the Ottawa Region Chapter of the CaGBC of which I currently serve as the Finance Director on the Board of Directors.  Needless to say its going to be a busy couple of days.

A number of my Morrison Hershfield collegues are presenting at the conference, and I am looking forward to seeing their presentations.  I am also looking forward to re-connecting with some old friends from the Atlantic Chapter in Halifax who will also be attending.

The Emerging Green Builders are preparing a poster presentation highlighting the types of events that EGB groups are organizing across Canada to attract and engage new professionals to our industry.  It is still in the early stages of development but the ideas coming in from the different chapters have been great, and I’m really looking forward to displaying the final copy at the conference.  The Toronto Chapter EGB Committee is also hosting the first ever EGB social as part of the conference.  This will take place on June 2nd from 6pm-8:30pm.  I’m really looking forward to meeting EGBs from across the country.

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Adapting to Climate Change: A EGB Lecture Event

On Wednesday November 6th the Ottawa Emerging Green Builders held a fall lecture event themed around Climate Change and what is being done to reduce mankind’s impact.  The event was held at Carleton University and was free for the general public.  The lineup of speakers included:

Geoff Green – Adventurer, Educator, and Environmentalist
Dr. Elena Kreuzberg – Conservation Biologist
Fin MacDonald (me!) – Sustainability Analyst at Morrison Hershfield
Craig Goodman – Principal Architect at CS&P Architects Inc.

Geoff Green spoke of the damage to the environment he has seen first hand through his work as a polar explorer. His captivating and inspiring speech was a highlight of the event.  Dr. Elena Kreuzberg explained the science behind global warming and showed some examples of its impact throughout history.  I gave a speech on one of the corporate solutions to climate change: Greenhouse Gas Accounting.  Craig Goodman wrapped up the event with a presentation on designing building for the future, even when their future uses aren’t known.  He called it designing for the “anonymous client.”

The event was attended by Carleton University students and professionals in the green industry.  Special thanks to Liam O’Brien of Carleton University for getting us a lecture room for the event.

photo 2

This is me speaking at our recent climate change event

 

Speaker Panel Poster

Gearing up for an Eco-Friendly(ish) vacation

Planning a honeymoon to the Caribbean is becoming a fairly standard practice for most newly weds.  The tourism industry is well equipped to help you book a standard vacation, but what happens when you want something eco-friendly?  You will find that this isn’t a common request that travel agents get and they aren’t prepared to answer it.  This is because flying south isn’t typically viewed as as something that can be done in an eco-friendly way.  Times are changing and now you have options.  There are choices you can make from the resort, to the airline, to the food, and the products you use.  Here is the process we followed:

1) Choose an eco-friendly resort.  This doesn’t mean you have to stay in a grass hut without air conditioning but you should seek out a resort that puts a focus on sustainability.  Market demand for eco-friendly hotels is a great thing, and will encourage more hotels to follow suit.  After a lot of research we settled on the El Dorado Royale in the Riveria Maya, Mexico.  This resort was recommended by friends for its food and amenities, but when we did more digging we found out it took sustainability serious as well.  The eco friendly features include:

  • Solar panels to heat 100% of the water for the pools.
  • A greenhouse that grows fresh organic vegetables and herbs for use in the restaurants.
  • Laundry at the resort is cleaned without chemicals, and 92% of the water is reclaimed and filtered/cleaned for other uses.  Heat recovery recovers 98% of the heat used for drying to heat hot water for washing.
  • Energy efficient air conditioners eliminate on/off cycling and reduce energy consumption by 50% over standard models.
  • The resort is Green Globe certified (3rd party verified green rating system similar to LEED).

2) Mitigate the effects of travel.  Travel is the part that is difficult when you head south.  Nobody wants to spend their entire vacation in a car or train.  Its pretty much airplane or nothing.  When faced with no options for eco-friendly travel you need to take steps to mitigate the effects of your travel.  Air Canada offers a great carbon offsetting program in cooperation with a firm called Zerofootprint.  Not only can you offset your flights emissions, but you get to choose how they are offset.  We chose to offset our emissions using a combination of planting trees and recycling tires. Planting trees removed carbon from the atmosphere and recycling tires cuts down on carbon as well as hazardous gases associated with burning tires (which is standard practice for tires not recycled).

3) Choose Eco-friendy sunscreen.  Many of the chemicals found in sunscreen are toxic and their effects on marine life are especially harmful.  If you plan on swimming in the ocean in and around the coral reefs you should do your part to reduce serious damage to the local eco-system.  Eco-friendly suncreen does not include any of the following chemicals:

  • Benzophenone
  • Ethylhexyl
  • Homosalate
  • Octyl metoxycinnamate
  • Octyl salicylate
  • Oxybenzone
  • Octinxate
  • Butyl methoxydibenzoylmethane

Terra20 in Ottawa sells sunscreen that is free of these chemicals.

These are the eco-friendly decisions we made when planning our honeymoon.  Our trip is scheduled for the end of October and I will try to grab some good photos of the eco friendly features at the resort while I am there.

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LEED Green Associate: 2 years later

It has been over two years since I earned my LEED Green Associate credential.  I believe this was the spark that ignited my new career.  Recently the CaGBC has announced a contest to hear from Green Associates about where their career has taken them since earning the credential.  My entry is below:

LEEDGA

Posing for a picture at Greenbuild in Toronto a few months after earning my credential.

Earning my green associate while I was still a student was a great career move.  I wrote the exam while still in school and it helped me land a summer job in my field.  I worked with Thermalwise in Halifax as a Green Building Researcher.   In this role I developed case studies and video tours of green buildings throughout Atlantic Canada.   I wanted to learn more so I applied for and won a scholarship through the USGBC and the CaGBC Atlantic Chapter to attend the Greenbuild conference in Toronto.  Contacts I made at this conference helped me to land a job before I graduated with Morrison Hershfield in Ottawa as a Sustainability Analyst.

During my last year of school I applied and was accepted for a 3 week student exchange to Ireland to work on a passive house retro-fit design project.  My LEED Green Associate was a big talking point during the interview process and I know it helped me stand out and get selected.  I worked with Irish, Scottish, German, Dutch, and Canadian students.

Shortly after graduating and beginning work with Morrison Hershfield I earned my LEED AP with specialty in Existing Buildings (EBOM).  To date I’ve been involved on over 10 LEED projects, including an EBOM project that is pursuing LEED Platinum.

I wanted to be involved in Green Building outside of work as well.  I joined the Ottawa Emerging Green Builders (EGB) committee and I have held a number of roles including finance director, vice-chair, and chair.  I also joined the EGB National Committee as the Ottawa representative.  I went back to Greenbuild in San Francisco last year, and I met with members of the USGBC’s Emerging Professionals and USGBC Students.  We are now working together and sharing ideas across the border.  Since then I have led the development of the EGB handbook which serves as a guide on how to start and operate a chapter EGB committee.

Currently at Morrison Hershfield I have been helping out with LEED reviews for the CaGBC and will be taking over as leader of our LEED EBOM review team in November.  I have also been working as the lead carbon verifier on some high profile greenhouse gas projects, and working as the lead quantifier on our own carbon footprint.  I’m also working with our marketing team to help increase awareness of our carbon services and try to bring in new business.

My LEED Green Associate started me on this path.  It gave me a great story to tell in a job interview.  It showed employers that I was serious about sustainability and proved that I am committed to continuous learning.  It’s helped me get a career I can feel good about.  Taking the exam was my first interaction with the CaGBC and it opened the door to the wonderful chapter community I found in Halifax and then Ottawa.  It’s hard to believe how much has happened in the 2 years since I earned my LEED Green Associate.

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