A case study of an impactful project by a member of the Regional Sustainability Initiative

WalterFedy is a leading integrated architecture and engineering firm with a history of strong sustainability commitments. They’ve been a member of the Regional Sustainability Initiative since 2011 and have recently launched Beyond Zero Carbon, a campaign that involves ambitious long-term reduction targets and an immediate commitment to offset all emissions, plus an extra 10%, going forward.

We sat down with Patrick Darby, Manager of Energy and Carbon Solutions, and Katie McQuaid, Marketing and Business Development Team Lead, to learn more about Beyond Zero Carbon.

Initiative goals

Beyond Zero Carbon involves:

  • Setting a greenhouse gas emission reduction target of 60% over WalterFedy’s 2017 baseline by 2030
  • Purchasing annual carbon offsets to offset any remaining emissions plus an additional 10% to go Beyond Zero Carbon

“Working with Sustainable Waterloo Region, we’ve had great success setting and achieving our previous reduction targets,” says Darby. “When establishing our next goal, we knew we wanted to be ambitious while also being pragmatic. We knew that achieving immediate neutrality – through supporting offset programs – could positively impact our community right now, while we worked towards our 2030 reduction target.”

The rollout

Even in an organization with a long history of sustainability commitments, achieving immediate neutrality, plus an additional 10%, was a big ask.

“Gaining support for the idea of moving beyond carbon neutrality was easy,” says Darby. “Building an actionable strategy without relying too heavily on offsets required some education, consultation, and deliberation. Our Sustainability Advisory Committee worked together to develop a presentation that clearly outlined the benefits and next steps.”

Sustainability is a core value for WalterFedy and is something their design team advocates for when working with clients.

“There are so many wins with this initiative,” says Darby. “We’re building pride internally and our reputation externally. We’re demonstrating to our clients that we practice what we preach. We’re showing that our commitments go beyond the bottom line by committing dollars to supporting the health of our community. ”

When it came time to announce the commitment to staff, they tied the initiative to annual Employee Appreciation Week celebrations.

“Instead of giving out the typical assortment of branded goods, we wanted to think about long-term impact,” says McQuaid. “Emissions from driving – commuting and business travel – tend to be our greatest source of carbon. We decided to demonstrate our revamped commitment to sustainability by directing our dollars to countering the team’s commuter carbon while also supporting local green initiatives.”

Employees received a package that included educational material about the offset programs: the Niagara Escarpment Forest Carbon Project and the Ontario Biodiversity Afforestation Project.

“Our Sustainability Advisory Committee selected those projects based on the interests of our staff,” says McQuaid. “We know that many of our employees enjoy hiking the Niagara Escarpment, and contributing to biodiversity initiatives helps maintain a balance between the built environment and natural environment.”

The Tactics

Below are some of the many strategies WalterFedy staff are employing to achieve their emission reduction goals.

Spotlight on commuting

Commuter traffic to offices and project sites is the largest contributor to WalterFedy’s emissions footprint. To that end, Darby’s team built a commuting tracker tool. The app is available to all staff members and allows employees to better understand the immediate emissions impact of various commuting choices. It also pulls from Statistics Canada data to help employees compare emissions impact across vehicles, allowing for sustainability-informed decision making when purchasing their next vehicle.

“We’re encouraging a shift away from single occupancy vehicle trips,” says Darby. “This includes subsidizing transit passes, considering hybrid working models, and promoting active transportation. We’re also researching electric vehicle charging stations which we hope to install at our offices.”

Client education

Every decision made in the process of designing a building has environmental implications. Established in 2014, the Energy and Carbon Solutions Group that Darby leads works with clients to help them understand the impact of design decisions, with a focus on four areas: conserving energy, selecting low-energy and low-carbon systems, developing onsite energy generation, and considering carbon off-sets.

“Education is key here as well,” he says. “Once our clients appreciate energy and carbon as quantifiable decision-making criteria, and we demonstrate the long-term value of sustainable choices, we find many are open to these ideas.”

Why Beyond Zero Carbon?

“Going that extra 10% beyond carbon neutral was essential for us,” says Darby. “Change doesn’t happen in a vacuum and the more we work together on this, the greater an impact we’ll have. If going an extra 10% helps offset someone else’s emissions in our community, then we’re happy to do it.”

To Darby and the WalterFedy team, imitation is the highest form of flattery.

“Hopefully other people will look at our example and do the same, or better,” says Darby. “If we all commit to a goal like this one, imagine what we can achieve.”

To learn more about Beyond Zero Carbon, check out WalterFedy’s website.