In 2002 Equiterre, a non-profit organisation in Canada campaigning for a more sustainable and fairer future, came up with the idea of creating a building that could become a melting pot of green ideas.

It would be a place where those committed to a greener future could share knowledge and work on new innovations. The problem was that they had no money, no site and no experience in property development.

Enlisting the help of more than 45 partners of all kinds, from developers to building managers to state departments, they were able to raise $27 million and finally, after more than 10 years hard work, their vision has been realised.

The Centre for Sustainable Development, located in Montreal, is the first commercial building in the downtown core of a major Canadian city to obtain LEED Platinum certification in the category of new construction.

The project’s greatest innovation isn’t so much its final product as the whole process leading up to it: a multidisciplinary team working together to implement integrated design.

The demonstration green building was designed by Menkes Shooner Dagenais Letourneux Architectes, with structural engineers Pasquin St-Jean et Associés and building services engineers Bouthillette Parizeau & Associés Inc. and aims to inspire everyone from property developers to the general public to embrace sustainability.

The initiatives are numerous. The floors in the building’s office spaces are raised, leaving a 305-millimetre space between the exterior surface of the floor and the concrete slab below. This space, which is called a plenum, houses a ventilation system that delivers conditioned air directly to occupants. This system uses less energy than conventional ventilation because it circulates air at a lower speed, and from below, directly into the space occupied by the employee.

It features an ultra high performance building envelope with superior thermal resistance that significantly reduces weak spots in the insulation (known as thermal bridges). All windows are triple pane with two layers of low-emissivity coating.

Montreal-CentreThe 28 geothermal wells that lie 152 metres underneath the Centre for Sustainable Development supply the building with 100 per cent of its cooling needs in summer and 80 per cent of its heating needs. For each unit of energy used to circulate the fluid in the system, three or four new units are created. There is also an auxiliary natural gas heating system.

A 400-plant colony is vertically mounted on a five-storey wall over a duct that “inhales” air so that microorganisms living on the roots can feed on pollutants in the atmosphere, acting as a natural air filter.

Structurally, it was made using ecological materials all the way. The Portland cement used to make the building’s concrete is 10 to 20 per cent fly ash, a residue recycled from coal-fired power plants. The building also features two experimental concrete slabs (fitted with monitoring equipment) made in part with powdered glass from recycled bottles. The drywall is made from 99 per cent recycled materials and the fiberglass wool insulation from 70 per cent. Even the counters of the building’s five kitchenettes are made from 93 per cent recycled glass

True to form, the Centre for Sustainable Development also obtained permission from the city not to provide the parking spaces that would otherwise have been required by law.

The Centre has been running for 12 months now and through its program of workshops, conferences, training session, guided tours and interactive exhibits is fulfilling its mission as a place for reflection, innovation, education and the meeting of minds on sustainable development. Boardrooms and conference halls can also be rented, offering even more space to meet and share ideas.

The design team has been rewarded with numerous accolades for its achievements, including most recently an Award of Excellence in the Building category at the Canadian Consulting 2013 Engineering Awards.

“This project is a showcase of fine engineering practice in the field of sustainable development. The jury liked the idea of it being a living laboratory for educating the public in green building,” said the jury in awarding that prize.