Best Firms to Work For: Enermodal Engineering is green to the core

At Enermodal Engineering, there’s only one kind of building—a sustainable one.

Enermodal staff at the firm’s annual employee conference (opposite) and Enermoda
Enermodal staff at the firm’s annual employee conference and Enermodal Green Games. The firm has racked up numerous LEED Canada firsts: the first Platinum certification in Ontario (Toronto Region Conservation Authority’s Restoration Services Centre), the first Platinum industrial certification (Fifth Town Cheese), and the largest Platinum project in Canada (Bay Adelaide Centre).
March 21, 2013

When it comes to corporate mission statements, it’s hard to beat Enermodal Engineering’s for its deft combination of altruism and personal satisfaction. It goes like this: 1. Save the world energy and resources by creating green buildings. 2. Have fun doing it. 3. Make enough money to continue to do 1 and 2.

It’s this alignment of business and personal missions that is central to Enermodal’s growth and success. “Our mission is to be an agent for green change,” says Braden Kurczak, LEED AP BD+C, Enermodal’s Green Buildings Division Head. “We seek to attract like-minded people to the firm and actively engage them in decision-making processes. It’s a grassroots strategy for success.”

The strategy has paid off. Starting in 1981 with just three employees, Enermodal has grown to more than 100 full-time professionals, making it Canada’s largest consulting firm dedicated exclusively to green buildings and communities. The company is responsible for one-third of all LEED Canada–certified buildings and is currently involved in more than 350 LEED projects in Canada and the U.S., with a combined value of more than $5 billion. This is one of many reasons why Building Design+Construction has recognized Enermodal Engineering as our fortieth “Best AEC Firm to Work For.”

Making sustainability the only goal

Enermodal’s headquarters: The view from ‘a grander view'

Completed in 2009, Enermodal’s three-story, 2,150-sm headquarters in Kitchener, Ont., achieved triple LEED Platinum certification for New Construction, Commercial Interiors, and Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance. The building, which overlooks the scenic Grand River, is the most energy-efficient office structure in Canada.

All workspaces have access to daylight and outdoor views, thanks to the building’s narrow, 12-meter-wide footprint. Fresh ventilation is supplied independent of heating and cooling. Stormwater passes through a vegetated swale and water treatment system before being released into the storm sewer.

Other characteristics include:
·  30-cubic-meter rainwater cistern for toilet flushing
·  Condensate recaptured from HVAC system
·  Variable-flow multi-split ventilation system serves 60 small zones
·  Occupancy sensors control ventilation, lighting, and heating/cooling
·  CO2-controlled ventilation in meeting rooms
·  Daylighting sensors control exterior blinds to decrease glare and cooling loads
·  5.5 kW of rooftop PV-supplied power
·  Green housekeeping supplies and procedures

Compared with traditional buildings, the headquarters achieves 82% energy savings, 89% indoor water savings, and 25% raw materials savings. A teleconferencing facility reduces staff travel for meetings.

With PVs supplying the office’s electrical load, offsets will be purchased to cover employee transportation, making operations carbon neutral by 2014. “We practice what we preach,” says Braden Kurczak, who heads Enermodal’s green buildings division.

In 1981, with a newly minted master’s degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Waterloo, Ont., Stephen Carpenter, PEng, founded Enermodal with a focus on energy efficiency and solar heating. “It was post-OPEC oil crisis and it seemed to me that energy efficiency would become the big driver,” says Carpenter. “But I quickly saw that green buildings would be a better driver to help ensure that people make the changes necessary to achieve energy efficiency and sustainability in buildings.”

Over the next 30 years, the firm became known as a technology innovator, implementing on-site biofiltration, radiant cooling, renewable energy systems, rainwater cisterns, and variable-flow refrigerant systems. Its client base expanded, and the firm grew organically.

When the Canada Green Building Council was formed, in 2003, Carpenter, was named Chair of the Technical Advisory Group, a position he still holds. He co-authored the original LEED Canada Reference Guide and delivered the revised 2009 Reference Guide. He was one of the first two Canadians named a LEED Fellow.

Today, Enermodal’s professional staff includes more than 100 engineers, architects, and technicians, most of them LEED Accredited Professionals. Headquartered in Kitchener, Ont., Enermodal also has offices in Calgary, Edmonton, Halifax, Toronto, Vancouver, and Winnipeg. In 2009, the company completed its triple-LEED Canada Platinum office building.

In addition to LEED design and certification, Enermodal offers energy modeling, mechanical and electrical design, new building commissioning, green education program development, windows research and rating, and community master planning. “The only thing we do is green buildings,” says Kurczak, a 2011 BD+C “40 Under 40” honoree (see www.bdcnetwork.com/winner-40/24134). “Our focus is on green buildings and sustainability.”

Fostering professional growth, development, and commitment

Enermodal employees are encouraged to participate in corporate decision making and provide information and feedback. Managers meet with their teams weekly and with individuals monthly to discuss personal goals and other job-related concerns. Employees can serve on the DROOL (Don’t Rest on Our Laurels) Committee, which makes recommendations on overall company direction and service offerings; the Employee Sustainability Committee, which reviews proposals for new green initiatives; and the SMRT Committee, which provides input on upcoming lunch-and-learns and other professional development activities.

 

Continuing education, training, and staff development are crucial to Enermodal’s success. The firm attracts many young, highly mobile employees, yet maintains a 93% voluntary retention rate.

The company provides new employees with two weeks’ paid leave during the first year of employment to pursue professional development activities, such as conferences or courses; after the first year, one week of paid leave is provided. The firm pays for all continuing education courses and test fees for LEED APs to renew their accreditations.

Enermodal professionals appreciate the support for continuing education. “There’s so much to learn about what it takes to make high-performance buildings,” says Antoni Paleshi, Senior Analyst with Enermodal’s energy performance group. “Learning because you’re eager to apply your knowledge is the easiest kind of learning. Learning because you want to make a difference is easier still.”

The firm not only encourages local volunteerism, it guarantees the job security and salary of any employee wishing to take time off to pursue a charitable activity (with management approval). The company also encourages employees to adopt sustainable habits and healthy lifestyles by providing organic lunches for employee meetings, on-site gardening plots for green thumbers, and fitness membership discounts.

Employees are encouraged to reduce their carbon footprints by taking alternative transportation to work. “We practice what we preach,” says Kurczak. “We try to be a carbon neutral firm, so we encourage our staff to take alternative transportation and record their commuting mileage so we can track the firm’s overall carbon footprint and environmental impact.”

Shared values and camaraderie create loyalty and growth

For many employees, working at Enermodal is highly motivating. “Each new project is pushing the industry forward in some way and breaking through traditional ways of thinking,” says Cindy MacCormack, LEED AP BD+C. “It’s exciting to be on the front line of change.”

Christianne Aussant, Manager of the building performance group in Calgary, calls working at Enermodal her dream job. “It’s not uncommon to encounter a cluster of people passionately discussing the merits of the latest green technology or debating the environmental impact of their morning commute—whether by car or canoe,” she says. “Being surrounded by people who truly care about their work is inspiring and provides a sense of camaraderie that is rare to find in the workplace.”

Sampling Enermodal’s employee benefits and incentives

· Up to $3,000 reimbursement to purchase a LEED-compliant vehicle
· Fully paid continuing education for LEED APs to renew accreditation
· Guaranteed job, salary, and position to take extended time off to pursue charitable
activities or to deal with family or personal needs (with manager’s approval)
· 80 paid hours in first year of employment for professional development courses or
conferences; 40 paid hours each subsequent year
· Commuter transit passes reimbursed to 60%
· Company bicycles for use at lunchtime
· Corporate discounts for fitness memberships
· Full reimbursement for compost bins, rain barrels, and high-efficiency showerheads in employee’s home
· $1,500 incentive for grid-connected renewable energy or permanent solar hot water systems in employee’s home

Enermodal has a voluntary employee retention rate of 93%, which, considering the mobile nature of its workforce, is remarkable. “We have a young demographic,” says Kurczak. “If you walk through our building, it’s more like Google or Facebook than like the traditional engineering firm. Our employees are young and mobile, so the retention piece is a different discussion.”

Employees are encouraged to “dig deeper and get into the meat of the work we are doing,” says Kurczak. “That helps engage them and more fully understand the impact of the work we are doing and the benefit it can have on the built environment.”

In 2010, Enermodal became part of MMM Group Ltd., one of Canada’s largest consulting firms in program management, planning, engineering, and geomatics. One reason Enermodal joined MMM, says Carpenter, was because its employees were traveling across Canada to meet with clients and oversee projects. “Frankly, this was not the most sustainable thing to be doing,” he says. “We needed to have a local presence to work on local projects, so we needed to expand the business in terms of locations.” Joining MMM gave Enermodal access to six more offices across Canada.

Being part of MMM’s 2,100-person roster will also open doors for advancement for Enermodal’s staff. “In a smaller firm, it’s hard for employees to see opportunities five to 10 years out,” says Kurczak. “But being part of a larger firm, they can see myriad opportunities.”

Kurczak says there’s an important difference between a green building and a green building that works. “We’re seeing a push in industry for buildings that actually perform better in terms of sustainability, in saving energy and water, than their peers, and having that performance being measurable,” he says.

MMM’s backing will further enable Enermodal to meet the needs of clients wherever green building is active, not just in Canada or the U.S., but anywhere in the world. “Nobody grows for growth’s sake any more,” says Kurczak. “It’s not sustainable, but it needs to be.”

 

 

 

CEO Stephen Carpenter addresses employees at the firm’s annual conference. The engineer started the firm 30 years ago and shaped it into Canada’s most prolific green engineering company. Enermodal joined MMM Group in 2010, in part to give employees greater career options.

         
 

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