How to Care About Climate Change

If you're Brookfield Johnson’s Michael Wymant, you get out there and see it for yourself.

Michael Wymant
Michael Wymant

When Michael Wymant was growing up in Toronto, he and his brothers used to shovel snow for a few extra bucks during the winter. It was his first job, and not surprisingly, in a city where snow might fall eight months out of the year, he wound up with enough income to open his first TD Bank savings account at eight years old.

Now 38, Wymant resettled in Toronto a few years ago, and last year he took his then-three-year-old daughter on a trip to a TD Bank to open a savings account of her own. But by the time she’s old enough to pick up an odd job of her own, it’s hard to imagine she’d make half as much as her dad did shovelling snow. The warmest year in Toronto’s recorded history was 2012, so in five more years, her best bet might be a lemonade stand.

It’s such realizations that make Wymant, the North American director of energy and sustainability at Brookfield Johnson Controls Canada LP, a facilities-management company, feel like what he’s doing for a living matters.Words and phrases such as sustainability, recycling, greenhouse effect, CO2—and, perhaps most importantly, change—tend to float around in the ether above our daily lives; but when heat waves hit Ontario, when the snowline steadily recedes on Africa’s highest mountain, and when stronger hurricanes pelt the Atlantic coast, those buzzwords start to mean something.

Wymant has seen or experienced firsthand all of the above, and he continues to actively seek such phenomena out, never wanting his job—maximizing energy efficiency across Brookfield’s 130 billion square feet of North American real estate—to feel theoretical. He personally saw the shrinking snowcap atop Mount Kilimanjaro in 2012, when he summited its nearly 6,000-metre hulk as a member of the charity WaterCan’s first climbing team. This year he’s travelling up to the Arctic with a small group of business leaders specifically to witness the glacial melt. And every time he gets back to Canada, where you’d hardly notice the impact humans have made on our environment—where fresh water is cheap and plentiful, the possibility of oil independence is confirmed, and fish and lumber seem inexhaustible—he’s reminded of the relationship between awareness and action.

“We’ve enjoyed a really small population for such a vast amount of land in Canada, and I think there’s a preconception that we have an abundance of resources,” Wymant says. “But when you do the math on what our water use is versus what’s replaced each year, we’re actually operating at a deficit. We use more water than any other country on the planet, with the exception of the US.”

The Word on Green

Michael Wymant is all about maximizing building efficiency. Here are his thoughts on some of the trending topics in the industry.

Tracking Efficiencies
“Because our firm’s agreements with clients are about efficiencies and proving performance, the day-to-day is all about measuring energy reduction, which is the single most effective way to reduce costs and carbon.”

Technology
“We’re in the midst of a technological revolution that is empowering change. Technology connects all levels of our staff to clients, to building systems, and to the public in real time, so the ability to capitalize on energy reduction and spread positive messages is far greater.”

Sustainable Behaviours
“There are a number of studies that show [that] we Canadians love to feel that we are more passionate about and conscious of the environment than, say, Americans. But the truth is that it’s not reflected in our behaviour.”

Sustainability sort of forced its way onto Wymant’s radar. In 2004, he had just moved to the Florida Gulf Coast, where he had a job in real estate and project development. He watched his Gulf Breeze home battered, in quick succession, by both Hurricane Ivan and Hurricane Dennis (in 2004 and 2005, respectively). These incidents brought on a moment of clarity—Wymant’s first conscious inkling of a global climate headed in the wrong direction. Then, just a month after Dennis, Hurricane Katrina hit Louisiana, but by then Wymant had relocated to northeast Ohio to get away from the storms.

It was in Ohio that Wymant first encountered the LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) program. Clients were asking about it, and “none of the other guys in the firm were interested in this environmental stuff,” Wymant says with a laugh. “They thought it was all nonsense, so they said, ‘Hey, let’s make the young Canadian guy learn about it.’”

That was a game changer for him. Soon LEED “was the only type of project I wanted to work on,” he says. “I found myself working on projects where there’s a solution, or at least a consideration, for the big picture. I had the thought of, ‘I don’t want to be a part of the shortsightedness anymore. There’s a better way to do this, and it’s shortsighted to think there’s not a payback to it.’”

Wymant’s first real opportunities in the field were in New York, where he worked on more than 100 LEED projects, including the famous retrofit of the Empire State Building. Then, in 2009, he got an offer that would take him back to his hometown.

Canada initially had a laid-back attitude toward sustainability—so much so that its Green Building Council was founded a full decade after the US version. However, by the time of Wymant’s return, people were starting to pay attention. Gordon Hicks, a major advocate for sustainability and climate-change awareness, had recently become CEO of a joint venture between the American building- and automobile-systems manufacturer Johnson Controls and the Canadian real estate management company Brookfield Properties. Hicks wanted to launch a Toronto-based team that would strengthen Brookfield Johnson Controls’ portfolios by advocating green solutions. Wymant became the company’s first director of sustainability in 2009.

His first task was to garner LEED Platinum certification for an existing building, and the client, fittingly, was TD Bank. He has since overseen 60 of its LEED projects, and today a part of his work is to exclusively oversee energy and sustainability strategy for the financial institution, which has an aggressive carbon-reduction goal. Wymant’s daughter might never fill her account at TD Bank with a windfall from the Toronto winters of a few decades ago, but if Wymant and others continue working to remove construction- and use-related emissions from the atmosphere, it might never have to come to lemonade.