Let's chat sustainability: An interview with Joanna Jackson, Director of Sustainability & Innovation, Minto Apartments

LIVE Minto | 7 MIN READ | 2021-10-21

We recently caught up with Joanna Jackson, Director of Sustainability & Innovation for Minto Apartments, to learn more about how her team is working to make our properties more environmentally friendly.

Read the full interview and see how we’re continuously optimizing building performance and working to reduce energy and water consumption. Joanna also shares some great tips on how we can all be a little kinder to the planet this year. Let’s dive in!

Joanna Jackson, Director Sustainability & Innovation

Can you introduce yourself, and tell us a bit about your role and how long you’ve been with Minto?

I’m Joanna Jackson. I am the Director of Sustainability and Innovation for Minto Properties. I’ve been working for Minto for about 3 and a half years now.

What does the sustainability team do?

The Minto Properties sustainability team really focuses on trying to make our properties more environmentally friendly and reducing the energy and water consumption. 

Most of the work that we do falls into two major buckets:

First of all, we look at our buildings as they are right now and figure out how we can optimize the performance. Looking at the building automation system and making sure all the equipment is running at the appropriate time. And then just trying to make sure that everything is as efficient as possible.

The other bucket is looking at all the different technologies that are out there and figuring out what’s most appropriate to put into our buildings to make them even better. 

When we find a new technology, we usually run a pilot project at a couple of buildings to test the technology and make sure we understand how it works and figure out if it’s a good fit for our type of building. And then, if the pilot project works out well, we’ll look at rolling that out to further properties and possibly even portfolio wide depending on the type of project it is.

Sounds like you are extremely busy!

We can be very, very busy - yes! But it’s really fun work, and everybody on my team is really engaged. It’s stuff that excites us, so being busy is good!

Looking at the future, what is your team working on right now in terms of sustainability planning?

So, right now is a really exciting time because we’re going through a big change in terms of trying to decarbonize our buildings. So right now most of our buildings are heated by natural gas which has a very high carbon intensity, and the Government of Canada and also municipalities have that target to try to have buildings reduce the amount of carbon that they consume. So, we’re looking at how we can switch our buildings from natural gas heating over to electric heating, which isn’t just a straight technology change. There are a lot of different components and we’re also, as a part of that shift, trying to make our buildings more efficient in terms of improving the envelope, putting in new windows, etc... it’s quite a lot of pieces that go together to try and get our buildings off of natural gas.

There’s a lot of planning that goes into that, and then as I said, trying out new technology is also going to be a key component. So, we’re trying to break it down into little pieces and test one thing and make sure that works before we move onto the next, and then gradually build up to the whole picture of getting a building off of natural gas.

What other new technologies are we using in our buildings now?

We’re trying to make our buildings a lot smarter.

We are currently testing out two different artificial intelligence (AI) systems that integrate with our building automation system (BAS). Once you install an AI system, it sort of sits in the background for a couple weeks and learns how your building operates. So, when equipment comes on and off and how it responds to changes in the loads in the building.

Once you deploy the AI system, it starts optimizing that performance. It also looks at the short term weather forecast. If it’s really cold in the morning, but it knows from the weather data that it’s going to heat up a lot fairly soon, then it’s not going to run the boilers as much to heat up your building because it knows that pretty soon, the outdoor temperature is going to increase. It’s trying to prevent the equipment from operating at major extremes because normally the equipment doesn’t know what’s going on. So it tries to provide that intelligence in terms of when it should be operating and how loads from the outside are going to influence things.

So that’s really exciting. We’re testing out two different technologies there. We’ve got some good results but we’re excited to see what we can do with that.

On a similar theme, last year for most of our properties with irrigation systems, we installed a new controller that is able to connect by the internet to the local weather station. So instead of having the irrigation on a set weekly schedule where it would operate say Monday, Wednesday, Friday, it now gets data from the local weather station. If it knows that the site had a large amount of rain the day before, then it won’t run the irrigation system that day because it doesn’t need to.

And then the third thing that we’re diving into a lot is putting in different devices that allow us to get real-time energy and water consumption data from our buildings, so that we can make sure that our equipment is running as efficiently as possible. If there’s problems with the water, it can identify if there’s a leak in the building, or if there’s really high water consumption then we can get in touch with site staff and they can do some further investigation and fix the problem, and if it’s a large leak, minimize the damage that’s done from floods.

What are some things that our residents and readers can do to be friendlier to the planet this year?

I think there’s a lot of opportunities out there. Sometimes even I get a little bit overwhelmed about all the possible things you can do.

I think what everybody needs to do is start small. Start with something you know you can incorporate into your daily life. Don’t try to make a change that’s going to be way outside of your norm. 

Whether that’s when you go to the grocery store, you remember to take reusable bags so that you’re cutting down on the amount of plastic that you’re using. 

When we get out of COVID, getting a travel mug so that when you go to get your morning coffee you can use a reusable mug rather than something that you throw out.

A great one for water is making sure that you turn off the tap as much as possible when you’re brushing your teeth. Don’t leave it running.

So, there’s lots of little changes that you can do. And I think the key thing is to start small. Start with something that you know you can incorporate into your daily routine. Do that for a month or two, and once that becomes the norm, then pick something else. And gradually build up and don’t try to do this major lifestyle change all at once because it’s not going to be sustainable in the long run. 

And try to incorporate everybody in your household and make it a team effort!

I love it! That’s great advice. So, one more question, we want to know a little bit about you. What’s one thing that you love to do outside of work?

I’m a triathlete. When life is normal, I participate in triathlons. I also love training, and I have two kids, so although sometimes it’s hard to get up in the morning, my training time in the morning is my “me time”... I love going for a bike ride, going for a run… When the pools are open - the pool is my happy place!

Well, thank you so much for your time, Joanna! And for all of this helpful information.

You’re welcome! Happy to share.

For more great tips and tricks on how to live a more sustainable life, be sure to explore our LIVE greener section!