Innovator Profiles

Russ Golightly

Russ Golightly, City of Calgary

One day in the hopefully not so distant future, there will be no such thing as a sustainable building – it will just be a building. On the road to making green buildings the norm rather than the exception, people like Russ Golightly, Project Manager at The City of Calgary, are changing the perception of municipal buildings and how they’re built and managed. “Sustainability isn’t an add-on anymore,” he says, “it’s part of how we deliver buildings.”

The green building movement in Calgary has grown tremendously in the last decade. “When I started working for the City of Calgary about 14 years ago,” begins Golightly, “I was looking into renovating some of the existing facilities. While I was trying to determine how best to do that, the City introduced a sustainable building policy.” This policy was born initially from the efforts of, among others, Alderman Bob Hawkesworth in 2002. Calgary was the first Canadian municipality to adopt such a policy.

“The pilot for that was a new office building for the water services and water resources group,” continues Golightly. “They had employees in five different buildings with the desire to consolidate, and we had a new policy that we had to apply.” The result was the City of Calgary Water Centre, which was the first LEED Gold certified office building in the city. It incorporates numerous green elements such as a green roof, rainwater harvesting, and natural lighting.

However building a new green building is a completely different proposition than renovating an existing building, especially one with heritage elements. That was the challenge when the City sought to retrofit the Calgary Public Building, built in 1931. “Being a heritage building, we couldn’t touch the exterior, which included the single pane wood frame windows,” explains Golightly. These windows and other heritage elements, combined with an outdated heating system, led to numerous challenges in updating the Public Building to meet sustainability guidelines.

“So many factors played against the comfort of the building,” says Golightly, “the heating system was a prime example. In the winter it was too cold, and in the summer there was no effective air conditioning. The trend of the 1970’s, when the building was last renovated, was to put up as many walls and offices as possible, so you can’t get free-flowing air. We did scans when it was cold out, and the building was basically red hot. There was a steam radiator under each and every window, and each window was just letting that heat out.” The solution to maintaining the heritage elements while tackling these heating issues was to keep the outside of the building untouched, and instead re-skin the interior of the building. “We built a new shell on the interior of the building: new insulation, new radiant cabinetry for heating and cooling. We now have a really well-insulated building.”

In addition to the re-skinning, other sustainability elements were installed, including lighting. “All areas have motion sensors and control of their own lighting in major areas. The entire exterior perimeter is now open offices, so everyone has access to some form of natural light.”

Once completed, the energy savings were so significant to be almost unbelievable. “The energy management office at the Calgary Public Building had bills showing how much it cost them for energy and natural gas. When we finished construction, we let them know that we were switching over from the contractor to operating and they gave me a call and said they thought the meter was broken. They said they were using one third of the natural gas they were using in 2007. That’s how much of a change that is.”

“Illustrating the effect of  sustainable buildings has always been the big question,” explains Golightly. “We can show immediate results in better construction practices with higher rates of waste diversion and happier employees with the buildings that we finished recently, like the LEED Platinum Public Building or the LEED Gold Water Center. It’s the anecdotal evidence from the employees in those spaces – if they move to an older building, they aren’t happy. Green buildings provide a different feel.”

It’s this different feel that’s hard to put a finger on, but one that Golightly wants to promote. “I’ve been talking about sustainability for many years, and trying to illustrate that the effect of a great indoor environment helps with productivity and the basic overall happiness of employees,” he explains. “I would like to see more and more people figure out a way to test people in their space. We can do surveys, but surveys are opinion; they’re subjective, not objective.”

When green buildings become the norm, rather than a novelty, the energy savings will be taken for granted. Those other benefits - happier and healthier employees, and a more productive work environment - will be the less visible, but lasting legacy, of the efforts of Russ Golightly and others involved in today’s push for green buildings. “The benefits can be measured in gas and electrical meters,” says Golightly, “but the true effect that isn’t measured, is the lasting impression of what green buildings will provide.”