Fin MacDonald

Information on me and my current projects

Robinson Place wins 2016 Canadian Consulting Engineering Award

Robinson Place in Peterborough Ontario became the first government building in Canada to earn the prestigious LEED Platinum certification in August of 2014.  The building was awarded certification using the LEED for Existing Building: Operations and Maintenance (EBOM) rating system.  Morrison Hershfield were the consulting engineers responsible for sustainability, retro-commissioning, and mechanical/electrical design.  My role on this project was to develop and implement a strategy to achieve LEED Platinum certification.  The building had a number of impressive features including:

  • Green roof
  • Rainwater harvesting
  • Storm water retention cistern and pond
  • Energy star score of 89
  • Community garden
  • Recreated natural habitat

The building was awarded a Canadian Consulting Engineering Award on October 25, 2016.  This was not the first award Robinson Place has won either.  The list of awards includes:

  • 2016 Canadian Consulting Engineering Award of Excellence
  • 2016 Consulting Engineers Ontario Award of Excellence
  • 2015 CaGBC Greater Toronto Chapter Existing Building Innovation Award

More information on Robinson Place is available here.


Robinson Place Project Team


Robinson Place


Carson Award – Customer Service

Each year Morrison Hershfield gives out employee awards.  These awards are called the Carson awards, in honor of our founder Carson Morrison.  What makes these awards so special is that they are peer nominated.  Anyone can nominate a colleague for an award.  These nominations are then reviewed by a panel of judges made up exclusively of Morrison Hershfield clients.  Winners are chosen and are honored during a company event.  This year I was selected as the winner of the customer service award for my work in the field of greenhouse gas verification.  It is an incredible honor and I am humbled to have been chosen.



Our Ottawa office took home 3 Carson Awards in 2016 (left to right): Judy Jeske, winner of the Teamwork Award, Fin MacDonald, winner of the Customer Service Award, and Jamie McKay, winner of the Environmental Leadership Award.

No Fracking Way – Reducing my household heating impact through bio-gas offsets

My family recently moved into a new townhouse in Ottawa.  Our house has a Goodman natural gas furnace which is only a couple years old.  It has an annual fuel utilization efficiency of 95% and is Energy Star certified.  Despite its high efficiency I’m still worried about our consumption of natural gas (otherwise known as Methane).  Methane burns cleaner than most fuels however the hydraulic fracking process used to extract it from the ground can damage the water supply, and it also creates fugitive methane emissions which are very difficult to measure and therefore largely unaccounted for in current greenhouse gas accounting programs.

The alternative to using methane from hydraulic fracking is to get it from landfill sites.  Landfills and composting facilities produce methane from organic waste.  Things like rotting fruit, vegetables, or other biomaterials produce methane.  The conventional practice was just to vent this methane into the atmosphere so it doesn’t build up and cause a risk of explosion.  Venting it to the atmosphere contributes to global warming much more than burning it would (20-80 times as much).  This methane can be captured and injected into the current utility pipeline for natural gas.  Methane is much more potent of a greenhouse gas than Carbon Dioxide, and when methane is burned it produces Carbon Dioxide.  This means that by capturing and burning the methane that landfill sites produce, we are not just reducing the global warming potential of landfills, but also providing a source of fuel.

Most fuel providers don’t sell landfill gas, however Bullfrog Power now provides green natural gas from bio-gas facilities.  As mentioned above they harvest the waste gas from rotting bio materials and inject it into the natural gas pipeline on your behalf.  The facilities that they use are both local and innovative, and the cost premium you pay directly funds this innovation.  They are currently funding three bio-gas locations in Ontario, including the Toronto Zoo’s Zooshare project which captures methane emissions from “animal poo”.  The cost of offsetting your home’s natural gas consumption with natural bio-gas is approximately $20-$30 each month.  Its even cheaper for us because we have an Energy Star certified furnace and our home is a semi-detached townhouse.

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).


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 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.


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


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.


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



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 and 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:

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.