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Region looks to become green-tech hub with evolvGREEN

Developed by the Cora Group, the evolv1 office building celebrates its opening on Friday. [Cora Group | Submitted]

In and of itself, the evolv1 office building is an impressive feat of engineering. Aptly situated in the “Idea Quarter” of the City of Waterloo, the evolv1 became Canada’s first project to receive a carbon-zero building certificate. So what better place to grow and develop the region’s burgeoning green industry?

That’s the intent with the official launch this week of evolvGREEN. A collaborative project to put the Region of Waterloo at the forefront of sustainable business and technology, evolvGREEN will operate from the green open office spaces of the evolv1 building, sending an important message in the process.

“To me it’s very simple,” said Paul Parker, associate dean in the University of Waterloo School of Environment, Enterprise and Development, of the location. “It’s to demonstrate we can have the future today. So how do we grow the green economy, a low-carbon future? We start by saying we don’t need fossil fuels in our buildings. So that’s the message of evolv1 being zero carbon building.”

Owned and developed by the Cora Group, the evolv1 office building is a net positive energy producer, meaning that it contributes more clean energy to the Ontario electric grid than it subtracts. It’s still a private operation, however, proving that the net-positive buildings are commercially viable. Crucially, the office building was designed to be replicable, using conventional technologies readily available on the market today, and employing local talent to build.

“The Cora Group wanted to build a Class A office building, with a high degree of sustainability, and at market rates,” said Cora Group COO Adrian Conrad in an email to the Observer. “We wanted to build a commercially viable building that operates without carbon emissions and show there is no longer an excuse to develop without sustainability in mind.”

The office building is designed to be the ideal place for start-ups and sustainable businesses to set up shop. The ground floor of the evolv1 building, meanwhile, will serve as the base of operations for the evolvGREEN project, which is a combined effort by Sustainable Waterloo Region, the Accelerator Centre, Wilfrid Laurier University and the University of Waterloo.

“We want to provide a pathway for our students and colleagues and friends with good ideas to say, ‘how do we make the future a reality with sustainable services and low-carbon goods and services?’” said Parker.

“Essentially it’s a collaboration between those four organization to create a community hub that focuses on the green economy and really foster the culture of sustainability in Waterloo Region,” added Tabatha Laverty of the Accelerator Centre, which has years of experience in helping young start-up businesses in the region. It now hopes to apply that same expertise to growing green industry businesses as well.

“The  Accelerator Centre’s role in that is we’re going to be operating Ontario’s only green-tech dedicated accelerator. An incubation space. So, what that is we’re calling it the TD Sustainable Future Lab,” she explained.

Through the lab, and the centre’s accelerator program, the hope is to give more green-tech start-ups in the region the support they need to flourish. It’s just one piece of the evolvGreen puzzle, which in its entirety hopes to drive the green sector forward in the region.

“The evolvGREEN is a collaborative space,” explained Tova Davidson executive director of Sustainable Waterloo Region, which led the charge on the evolvGREEN project. “And what has happened in there is the four partners, and then people who then come in and work there as well … together are all working to take advantage of the green tech sector world-wide which is a $3-trillion sector, but Canada is losing market share.”

Of course, the area is no slouch when it comes to science and technology; the talent and leadership exists in Waterloo, contends Davidson, but it needs to be leveraged to spur on rapid growth.

“We in Waterloo Region are a strong leader in sustainability and innovation, and I think it’s an opportunity for diversification and strengthening of our economy through the adoption and leveraging of that innovation and leadership that happens here. So the idea, the vision from Sustainable Waterloo Region, is that what we want to do is to accelerate that to the economic benefit of our region,” she said,

The evolvGREEN program will be officially launching tomorrow (Friday), at the evolv1 building located in the David Johnston Research + Technology Park at the UW campus.

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