Case study on a LEED-certified project, prepared for the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC).
With a focus on sustainability and innovation throughout its business, it’s fitting that Mountain Equipment Co-op’s head office in Vancouver has achieved LEED Platinum certification. Spanning 112,000 square feet over two intersecting three- and four-storey buildings, the office features the post-and-beam construction that has become a hallmark of the outdoor lifestyle retailer’s architectural brand, with a wood, steel and glass superstructure on a concrete basement foundation. The building, which is on a former brownfield site in the False Creek Flats area, is designed to create a collaborative, active workplace for its staff of roughly 450 employees and to be an energy-efficient site with minimal impact on the environment.
The building received its LEED Platinum certification in November 2017. CaGBC spoke with Tim Southam, Public Affairs Manager at Mountain Equipment Co-op, about how the new head office embodies the retailer’s corporate values and culture.
A next-generation green office building
Green building is deeply ingrained in MEC’s DNA, with the Co-op citing “quality, creativity and sustainability” as the core values guiding its efforts to support people in leading healthy outdoor lifestyles. As such, the retailer has made it a priority to invest in green buildings and green operations for more than two decades, as a tangible demonstration to its members and employees of the potential for green buildings to reduce energy and water consumption, while inspiring and supporting its people to do their best work.
“We take pride in our facilities and believe that the built environment provides important and lasting opportunities to tread more lightly on the earth, while creating buildings that both do right by people and enable MEC’s retail operations. It embodies what we stand for as a retail co-operative,” Southam says.
Sustainability features include lower embodied carbon; extensive daylighting; energy efficiency and monitoring; passive heating, cooling and ventilation; and a high-performance building envelope. On-site water management is provided by a blue roof and a 35,000-litre underground cistern to collect non-potable water and several bioswales to detain and filter particulate and runoff. Wood figures prominently throughout the building, for esthetic, environmental and structural purposes, totalling 2,908 cubic metres.
The building promotes a healthy workplace by providing opportunities for people to be active, with secure bike parking, and shower and change room facilities to support cycle commuting, an indoor climbing cave, and a fully equipped multi-purpose room for on-site yoga, fitness classes and weight training. Other elements that contribute to employee health and productivity include extensive natural light, operable windows for fresh air, and a rooftop amenity space and garden for staff to meet or relax outside when the weather is favourable. As well, the interior is programmed for interaction and the exchange of ideas, with numerous media-equipped meeting rooms as well as informal areas for collaboration.
Taking the big picture into account through an integrated design process
Led by Proscenium Architecture with extensive input from MEC, the project team employed an integrated design process to full effect. Southam notes that the building is greater than the sum of its parts, and embodies the team’s systems thinking approach and technical expertise.
Sitting on former salt-marsh flats on loose permeable soils of industrial fill, the team had to be sensitive to the surroundings. They also wanted to exploit the site’s southern exposure to access natural light within the building, through extensive glazing and narrow floor plates. A central staircase was also envisioned as a defining element of the building’s form, to compel occupants to walk through the building and encourage contact between them.
Enclosed offices for executives and directors were located along the centre of the floor plates to ensure that most employees could enjoy views and access to natural light. A solid business case for building a largely wood structure was also established early on. In sum, the integrated design process was a means to optimize the unique attributes of the site and business objectives for the facility, wedding opportunity to practical considerations including cost, programming, amenities, and so on.
A 55 per cent reduction in energy and potable water usage
MEC’s green building portfolio presently includes seven other LEED certified buildings out of a total of 25 properties; as such, pursuing LEED certification was borne out of their experience with the program and a belief that the rating system provides robust, internationally recognizable validation of MEC’s green building efforts to its members and employees, retail peers, the building industry and governments, among others.
“LEED Platinum certification of MEC’s head office validates our goals for the facility, it’s a feather in the co-op’s building cap generally,” says Southam, adding that the achievement is significant given that LEED is perhaps the most recognizable green building standard in Canada today. And as a result of the certification, there has been extensive interest in the facility from the media, commercial building and design sectors – including two Japanese delegations – as well as from students and the public alike.
“The value of MEC’s pursuit of LEED certification is certainly also supported by the data it has gathered on building performance. The company’s own energy monitoring has determined that the building achieves a 55 per cent improvement against the 261 kwH/m2 energy use intensity rate for the Model National Energy Code for Buildings baseline. Similarly, MEC estimates the building can reduce potable water demand by 55 per cent (although the retailer notes high shower usage would make that number variable at times). In addition, a 2014 Canadian Wood Council case study indicated the building’s usage of wood materials has a total potential carbon benefit of 2,798 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide, or the equivalent of removing 534 cars from the road for one year.
And while MEC hasn’t specifically measured employee health or productivity gains related to its head office, a recent third-party survey measuring a range of employee perceptions showed head office employees’ overall engagement was 74 per cent. Fully 82 per cent of them also said they “would recommend MEC” as a place to work.
“In that light, LEED certification affirms credibility and trust in the MEC brand while supporting our efforts to be a destination employer and leading Canadian retailer,” Southam says.
A facility that will pay for itself over time
MEC notes its head office’s accomplishment is thanks to a huge effort and the talent and expertise of many individuals, showcasing the strengths of a development that has made a lasting imprint on its local community of False Creek Flats. The building fits well with the neighbourhood, says Southam, with its signature architectural elements such as post-and-beam construction, daylighting and regional materials on full display.
More importantly, however, MEC emphasizes that the facility – as with all green buildings the company develops – is good for business.
“Our experience shows that green buildings are cost-effective, feasible and esthetically pleasing,” Southam says. “Through efficiencies and cost savings, the facility will pay for itself over time just as its continues to support employee health, well-being and productivity and the ongoing success of our outdoor retail co-operative.”