The Advancing Leadership Blog

Building for the Future: An Interview with TEC Member Teresa Coady (Part 1)

Teresa Coady is the President and Founding Partner of the highly acclaimed Vancouver-based sustainable design practice B+H Bunting Coady Architects. She was recently elected to the United Nations Energy Programme’s Sustainable Buildings and Climate Initiative (UNEP-SBCI). The UNEP-SBCI is a partnership of major public and private-sector stakeholders who share the goal of promoting sustainable building policies and practices around the world. Teresa joins fellow board members from across the globe, representing disciplines ranging from consulting engineering to property development to NGO’s.

Teresa recently spoke with TEC Canada Communications team member Laura Dempsey to discuss this new role.

Had you been involved with the United Nations Energy Programme previous to your new role with the Sustainable Buildings & Climate Initiative?

I joined the UNEP-SBCI about two years ago. I’ve been involved in a number of their advocacy groups and initiatives, and I’ve also joined a number of their meetings and associated activities around the world. I’ve been pretty active for at least the past year and a half.

What made you want to be a part of that program?

They’re the only group that’s really tackling the problem at the right level. If you look at what we have right now, we have a whole bunch of people around the world saying that we have an issue with the way we’re building and the way we’re developing, and we have some ideas in various pockets around the world about better ways to do that.

There are some fabulous programs in Austria and Germany for instance, but they’re not really translated and accepted in North America. There are some fabulous ideas in North America that aren’t making it into Asia. So, this group could really take the best from around the world, and put it together in a way that might actually make a difference.

The very first thing they’ve done is figured out what’s called a common carbon metric. They’ve said that if you want to measure your carbon footprint – whether you’re a person, an organization, a municipality or country, or a developer and you have a portfolio of buildings – whatever you are, here’s how you do it, and here’s the universal way – the benchmark that everyone will be working to. What that means is that it begins to translate it so that we’re all speaking the same language.

The hope now is that we can take that and start to put forward other universal standards to make change happen faster. Our firm [B+H Bunting Coady Architects] is known for green buildings, and I just felt that this would be a way to broaden my reach.

What role do you think that architects and the built environment can play in reducing climate change?

It’s critical. The biggest thing we do as human beings on our planet is development. Half of the resources as a planet are extracted every year to basically serve construction.

The stuff we take out of the earth mostly goes to construction, one way or the other – either new buildings or running buildings. If we could learn to do that better, we could literally reduce the impact of our human activities by half, right there. Yes, we have other impacts, of course, but if you add up all the cars, the clothes, and all those other things, they really don’t add up to much. It’s the buildings and the stuff we put in them and the stuff we use to operate them that is really causing the change.

Also, the buildings themselves alter the surface of our planet. That’s something that you don’t hear a lot about. We talk a lot about how much stuff we’re using, whether it’s energy in various forms or materials, but we forget to talk about the way we’ve changed the surface of the planet.

One of the most impactful things we do is we add roads, roofs, and rice paddies, and we make the planet more shiny, and by doing that we change the dynamic at an atmospheric level. Again, we need to understand that. If you know it, it’s one thing, but to actually make a change and have people understand how that really matters, and why a shiny roof or a white plaza is a bad idea rather than a good idea. These are details that can make a big difference.

It’s quite clear that the architectural community is in support of the green building movement, but on a public level do you feel as though people are more interested in or accepting of sustainable design?

I think there’s a lot of awareness, but I also think there’s a lot of fear. One of the things I would like to bring to the table is a sense of the solution. There are so many exciting things that are happening right now that are positive and are part of the solution. People need to hear this because they need to feel that there are things that can be done that will make a difference, and that there is hope. Sometimes we fall somewhere between not wanting to know anything and believing the worst and falling into despair. What we really need to do is have a deep understanding, and commit to a positive change because there are so many things that we can do that are happening that we just need to embrace. Again, as a collective, we have more chance. That’s where I really felt that the UNEP model was a very powerful one.

Be sure to read Part 2 of Teresa’s interview, coming soon. You can read Teresa’s success story here:

B+H Bunting Coady Architects:

United Nations Energy Programme Sustainable Buildings & Climate Initiative:

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