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Alumni Engagement

Going Places 2011: Alex Zimmerman

January 1, 2011

Alex Zimmerman, President
Applied Green Consulting, Ltd.
1975, Engineering Technology

As a teenager, Red River College alum Alex Zimmerman devoted the bulk of his free time — and a sizeable amount of cash — to his passion for rebuilding cars.

A few short years later, he switched to a far more environmentally-friendly obsession, and has spent the ensuing decades at the forefront of the green buildings movement in Canada.

Not surprisingly, Zimmerman is also a committed environmentalist in his day-to-day life, as well. He’s hasn’t driven his car to work since 1977 — preferring instead to bike — and he cites his concern for the future of the planet as one of the key factors fuelling his passion for green technologies.

“It (green technology) impacts climate change, which is the single biggest crisis facing the human race in the last 10,000 years,” says Zimmerman, who after years of managing environmental stewardship initiatives in B.C. and Alberta, recently went into business for himself as President of Applied Green Consulting Ltd.  “It takes a long time to turn around, but it’s incredibly important — what you can do and how you can react, environmentally.”

Zimmerman graduated from RRC’s Engineering Technology program in 1975 — a period when the only “green” development to catch the engineering world’s attention was the introduction of solar power. After a brief stint working for the Navy, he took a job with Alberta Public Works, Supply & Services (APWSS), where he’d spend the next 14 years exploring how to make new and existing buildings more energy-efficient, often with the help of emerging technologies like computer modeling and motorized building controls.

“I remember being shocked to learn at the time that we didn’t insulate to save energy; we insulated to save money,” says Zimmerman. “That seemed counterintuitive and just plain wrong to me — I thought energy had an intrinsic value beyond just the monetary, and that we should have been treating it better than we were.”

In 1991, Zimmerman took a job with the British Columbia Buildings Corporation, where he worked in a similar capacity on buildings projects for B.C. Hydro, various colleges and universities, and other arms-length government organizations. By this time, the environmental movement had caught the public’s attention, leading Zimmerman to align himself later in the decade with the then-fledgling Green Building Challenge (GBC).

“In the ‘90s, there were a couple of people who got together and said, ‘What’s the greenest building in the world?’ But of course nobody really knew what that meant,” says Zimmerman. “So they came up with this notion of the GBC, which was to come up with an environmental assessment method and then bring in a bunch of buildings from around the world … to see how they compared.”

One offshoot of the GBC was the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC), a national non-profit group that advocated for green buildings and environmentally-friendly technologies, while recognizing and rewarding those who’d taken measures to reduce their environmental footprints. Under Zimmerman’s two-year tenure, CaGBC’s membership grew almost tenfold, to over 900 member organizations.

“One of the great things about our rating system, which was called LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), is that for the first time everyone was speaking the same language and working toward the same objective,” says Zimmerman, who since 2006 has run his own environmental consulting firm, doing both organizational and commissioning authority work. “One of the strengths of the LEED and green building approach is that it gives us that common objective — that reminder that we’re all in this together, and here’s how we can make it better.”

Click here to learn more about RRC’s Civil Engineering Technology program.