Children have a nose for authenticity. So it makes sense that Earth Rangers, the Canadian organization working to educate schoolkids on biodiversity and habitat preservation, would endeavor to make its headquarters building as sustainable as possible. The Earth Rangers Centre has met that standard, twice in fact, as the building was certified LEED Gold in 2006 after first being constructed in 2004 and subsequently as LEED Platinum for Existing Buildings in 2012 to reflect its continuing efforts to reduce operational energy, water, and resource use. These are human standards that we use to measure environmental success in buildings—60 homo sapiens work in the Earth Rangers building—yet a majority of the occupants belong to other species. Peregrine falcons, ring-tailed lemurs, serval cats (an African wild cat), New Guinea singing dogs, monitors, bald eagles, snakes, and more.
These animal ambassadors represent the globe and have widely varying temperature, humidity, and light requirements. The energy demand within the four-season climate cycles of Woodbridge, Ontario, is consequently formidable. “The strategy is to get to net-zero energy use,” says Andy Schonberger, director of Earth Rangers. Thirty percent of current energy needs are generated
on-site through two photovoltaic arrays, and 90 percent of natural gas consumption was eliminated through the installation of a ground-source heating and cooling system in 2010. Earth tubes temper 100 percent fresh air delivery, providing free air-conditioning for a majority of Canadian seasons. The organization sells the electricity it generates through photovoltaic modules to the grid, adding about $80,000 annually to the nonprofit’s revenue stream.
Earth Rangers’ Bring Back the Wild campaign is a web-, schools- and broadcast media-based educational program that captures the imagination of young Canadians with “animal ambassadors” to communicate the more complex topics of habitat, biodiversity, and sustainability. Leadership within the organization was committed to “walk the talk,” as Schonberger says, in how its headquarters operates. “They wanted to know if original investments in ecological construction were working,” he says. “We have found ways to improve performance of the building by about 10 percent every year since moving in, so we decided to shoot for the highest standards possible.”
The Earth-friendly structure and operation is just as important to stakeholders as it is to educators and children. The organization receives only about 10 percent of its funding from the government sources and receives the bulk of its $5 million annual budget from corporate, foundation, and individual donors—people who understand that tropical reptiles need extended ultraviolet light for health and that it would be somewhat incongruous to draw that energy from fossil fuel sources.
The Platinum certification came after an energy audit of the structure, which was originally designed as an animal hospital with an outsized ventilation system. The program changed, so meter-monitoring systems helped identify where the greatest reductions in energy- and water-use could occur. Rainwater harvesting and on-site wastewater treatment help meet toilet, landscaping, cleaning, and fire protection needs. The result was the highest-scoring existing LEED building in all of Canada. Not that the fauna within would know the difference—to them it’s their habitat.