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Holistic design: Taking green to a new level

IKEA Halifax shows how large retail stores can be trailblazers for sustainability

By Mercedes Byers, Sustainable Buildings Consultant, and Oleksandra Onisko, Sustainable Buildings Consultant (Toronto, Ontario)

Large retail stores can be trailblazers for sustainability. But, to be truly sustainable, they need to move beyond implementing isolated green initiatives to take a more holistic approach.

LED lights. Low impact building materials. Tight building envelopes. Efficient HVAC and renewable energy systems. All these design elements can help make a building more sustainable. But, no matter how worthwhile each of these elements may be, if they function in isolation from one another, their optimal environmental and financial benefits can go unrealized. To achieve the optimal design solution, designers need to consider all sustainable elements and their interconnectedness together.

Case in point: IKEA Halifax. The new store celebrates its grand opening on September 27. IKEA has a lot to celebrate—not only is IKEA Halifax the iconic company’s first store in Atlantic Canada, it’s also IKEA’s greenest store in all of Canada. The store is targeting LEED certification, with a focus on energy efficiency and waste avoidance. How did they achieve it? And how can other large retailers emulate their success? IKEA looked at the big picture—and you should too.

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There are many individual components that make IKEA’s new Halifax store their most sustainable in Canada. One worth a closer look is the ground-source heat pump system. In a conventional Heating Ventilation Air Conditioning (HVAC) system, heating is provided by burning fossil fuels or using electricity. Big box stores typically use many standard rooftop HVAC units, which are not very energy efficient. These traditional systems are also very rigid: they either run at 100 percent capacity, or they’re off. There’s no in-between.

IKEA’s ground-source heat pump system is different. The system uses electricity to extract or reject heat to the ground and provide heating and cooling to the building. The system delivers three to six units of energy to the building for every unit of energy put in. While outside temperatures in Nova Scotia fluctuate greatly between seasons, this system can use the earth’s constant temperature to either absorb, or reject heat, as needed.

Ground-source heating and cooling is just one of the innovative sustainable features of this store. The building also features solar panels for renewable energy generation, LED lighting systems with daylight and occupancy sensors controls, and more. At the end of the day, all these components must work together. A geothermal heating system may provide 400 percent efficiency, but what if your building envelope is inefficient? Not only would that mean that the system you install must be larger, you also lose efficiency as the system is forced to work harder. Picture your own home: If your windows aren’t well sealed or you have poor insulation, you will likely feel drafts in colder weather. What do you do when you’re chilled? You might turn up your furnace. So then, it doesn’t matter if you have the newest, sleekest, most high-efficiency furnace on the market. If that furnace is working overtime to compensate for your poor insulation, you are wasting energy and acting unsustainably.

The same can be said for large retail stores—but on a much larger scale, making the impact that much greater. That’s why, for IKEA, we brought together experts from various disciplines to work collaboratively to achieve the project’s sustainable goals. Too often, different disciplines, whether they be mechanical engineers or lighting designers, work in silos. If the design team is not integrated, each team member may not consider or realize the impact of their design component on other aspects of the building. For example, if the mechanical engineer is working without knowledge of the lighting the electrical engineer is selecting, they may oversize the HVAC system, resulting in a unit not working at optimal efficiency

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With any complicated task, you need to enable your designers with the right tools to deliver optimal results. In the case of sustainability and building performance, that means taking advantage of advanced energy modelling tools. Energy modelling simulations assess the energy impacts of the proposed design. In turn, that energy modelling process informs the decision-making process. For IKEA, that meant they could understand the benefits and drawbacks of each design component, like the ground-source heating system, and make an informed decision on how to move forward with a plan that would meet both their sustainability and their financial goals for the project.

At the end of the day, what it comes down to is caring about the environment. And, when you approach your building design in an integrated way, considering how all components work together, you’ll be well on your way to achieving your sustainability and your financial goals.

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Mercedes and Oleksandra are members of the Sustainable Buildings team in Toronto. They are focused on coordinating projects seeking LEED certification, Envision certification, net-positive energy, and net-zero carbon design. 

There are many individual components that make IKEA’s new Halifax store their most sustainable in Canada.

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