Brett Sverkas & Andy Schonberger, Mechanical Engineers, Earth Rangers

Automation Animals
Mechanical Engineers, Earth Rangers

Brett and Andy are the brains behind one of the most energy efficient buildings in North America!

The Earth Rangers Centre of Sustainable Technology (ERCST), located in Woodbridge Ontario, opened in 2005 as a sustainable building showcase and headquarters for the Earth Rangers Foundation. Its original goal was to save 67% more energy than the average building its size. By 2010, Brett (a mechanical engineering technologist) and Andy (Earth Rangers Centre director) found ways to get the building to nearly 90% efficiency. The main tool is a sophisticated building automation system that Brett uses to monitor the energy use of the building’s electricity, heat, water and air conditioning systems. The data also helps identify aspects of the building that can become even greener. The money saved on operations is used for children’s education and outreach programs. Check out a virtual tour of the ERCST here!

Brett and Andy’s CareerMash

Brett and Andy mash their shared passion for the environment with technology. Both specialize in a division of mechanical engineering focused on sustainability – which is to help preserve the environment through technology and engineering. Together, they use the information found through the monitoring system to reprogram components and maximize their green potential. “For example, when we put in our ground source heat pump system, Brett used this data to reprogram one of the pumps. We were able to save 30% of its load – hundreds of dollars a year – simply because we had this information,” Andy says.

A day in the life

Earth Rangers is a non-profit organization that teaches kids across Canada about sustainability, biodiversity and how to reduce their impact on the environment. Earth Rangers brings its animal ambassadors like Sonic the barn owl into classrooms and communities to inspire action. The award-winning building provides a showcase for several environmentally conscious companies.

Brett writes programs that help make the Earth Rangers centre more sustainable. He designs and implements new features, like lights that turn on when someone enters a room then off again when they leave.  Brett customizes systems or components to meet Earth Rangers’ goals. “If you are capable of manipulating the system to change little variables here and there (and it could even be just one line of code), you can make drastic changes for each individual component and the entire building. We easily save 30% of energy consumption just by changing basic code structures,” he says.

Andy oversees the ERCST building and ensures it leads by example. “My role is to make sure our animals have somewhere comfortable to live – and also to provide office space for the foundation in the most environmentally responsible way that we can.” Andy constantly thinks of new ways to make the building greener, works with the IT department, and advocates green technology. He also gives tours of the building to other companies and shows them how the ERCST uses technology to positively impact the environment.

“Technology is how we minimize our environmental footprint without completely changing our standard of living. We want to accomplish our mission and at the same time minimize our impact on the world. The only way we can do that smartly and efficiently is with technology. It lets you make informed decisions and implement great ideas,” Andy says.

Why this job rocks

“There are so many systems that are woven together. We don’t just work on electrical components or water. We work with a lot of different technologies so it’s never boring. Something always needs to be tweaked or fixed, to conserve energy or do something better. We get to meet a lot of people and talk about these technologies. It’s really exciting because there are so many opportunities in the technological field to marry with environmental practices,” Andy says.

Roadmap

  • Brett studied mechanical engineering with an emphasis on mechanical design and production management at Centennial College. He went on to pursue another diploma in building systems engineering at Seneca College. He graduated with the highest honours and a 4.0 GPA. Brett worked as a computer numeric control programmer at Gregory Signs and then as a mechanical design technologist at Ideal Demographic.
  • Andy studied mechanical engineering at McMaster University before earning an MBA in Business and Sustainability. He worked as a plant engineer at Steelmatic Wire USA, then as an energy auditor at the Elfstrom Engineering Corporation. He is a Director of the Toronto chapter of the Canada Green Building Council and an executive committee member of the Professional Engineers Etobicoke chapter.
  • Andy started working at Earth Rangers in 2010. Shortly after, he recruited Brett straight from Seneca College. Brett started work immediately after graduation and now teaches at Seneca as a professor in energy, ecology and green buildings.

Speed Bumps

To measure sustainability, Canada uses the LEED system to rate buildings on how they maximize their operational efficiency yet minimize their impact on the environment. Buildings score out of 100, with 80 points or higher being the top platinum certification. Earth Rangers sits just below this with a coveted Gold certification, but aim to reach Platinum for Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance in 2012.

To accomplish this, Andy and Brett will continue to use the metering system to monitor consumption for every system in the building – and then find new ways to make the building even greener. The information is stored in the data centre, which also operates 90% more efficiently than normal data centres (read more about it in Rob’s profile!). “We use that data to see where we can save energy and be more efficient. It’s not just guesswork,” Brett says.

Tips for success

  • Do what’s exciting and interesting to you! Green technology is on the rise as more companies try to reduce their environmental footprints.
  • Use tech for good. Use technology to find greener and smarter ways to operate no matter what industry you’re in.
  • Learn the basics. Whether you go into IT, mechanical, electrical engineering or plumbing, Brett recommends you learn the basics of computing – including networking, security and programming.