How this Ontario Factory Succeeded in its Commitment to Sustainability
When sealing products manufacturer Soprema was looking to build a plant in Woodstock, Ontario, the idea was to locate closer to its clients. In an interview with LoopNet, Florent Bellini, general manager at the Woodstock factory, said Soprema wanted to reduce its environmental impact and that “it made more sense to be closer to the market because we have a quicker response time and less environmental impact when we deliver products to our clients.”
As part of the North American expansion of the company, Soprema wanted to settle in Woodstock because the city is at the intersection of highways 401 and 403 and close to the ever-growing Greater Toronto Area. The new factory, which was finalized in 2020, has an expansive 107,801 square feet (10,015 square meters) area.
Soprema specializes in the manufacture of materials for waterproofing, insulation, green roof systems and other construction materials. The French company was founded in 1908 and has a presence in 90 countries. It launched in Canada in 1978, and its North American headquarters are in Drummondville, Quebec.
According to its official website, “Soprema has always chosen to innovate, invest and anticipate the future while preserving the environment and its natural resources.” During Bellini’s interview with LoopNet, he stressed the importance of the environment and sustainable strategies to the president of the company, Pierre-Etienne Bindschedler. Soprema Canada is committed to a 71% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2030.
The recently completed Soprema plant reduces CO2 emissions equivalent to 153 cars on Canadian roads annually, according to a case study published on the company’s website. The factory was designed with white roofs to reduce the heat island effect, which is when urbanized areas experience temperatures that are warmer than the outlying area. The roofing was made with reflective materials from Soprema’s Soprastar line and green roofs from its Sopranature line. In addition to being sustainable, the green roof is also usable: part of the roof was transformed into a vegetated terrace for both employees and visitors to enjoy.
“The project in itself was visionary,” explained Loïc Angot, associate and practice leader in sustainability at architecture firm Lemay, who worked on the project. “It stands out in contrast to its surroundings. The Woodstock industrial park consists of shoebox style buildings with some grass around them, and now there is a quality of architecture and landscaping that makes the project stand out.”
Always Looking Forward
Soprema wasn’t looking to build just any factory, but rather a LEED v4-certified factory. The certification, initially designed for workplaces, living spaces and institutional buildings, is more difficult to obtain for a plant, as it is far from urban centers and some criteria cannot be met, such as accessibility to public transit. “We want the LEED certification to be used as a tool for market change and with SOPREMA, we think that we have succeeded,” said Angot.
When building the factory, the team had to sort out construction waste every single day. “When you build a LEED project, you can’t say ‘we will sort out waste tomorrow, we don’t have the time today,’ it’s an essential part of the process,” Bellini said.
Preparation was of utmost importance in this project, according to Bellini. “We designed and built things to be able to become LEED-certified. It’s a decision [we made] from the start, it’s not a result at the end,” he said. “For two years, you never look behind you, you always look forward.”
For instance, 80% of the waste from construction was recycled. “It doesn’t happen often on construction sites, to have real sorting of materials,” said Angot. “It was brand new at the time, now it’s become more common.”
Every type of waste was analyzed to find out how it could be recycled, explained Bellini. “The walls in the factory are entirely insulated with recycled cellulose,” he said. There is a plexiglass window in the factory that reveals the interior of the wall, which is filled with cellulose-based paper entirely made from recycled materials. “The building is a way to show that what we do and what we say are aligned,” said Bellini.
Three Years in the Making
Collaboration between Lemay and Soprema began at the end of 2016. The design of the new factory was a team effort between the two businesses, and their partnership was due to their common commitment towards the environment and sustainability.
“We knew that Lemay could work with us on many fronts, including building a LEED factory,” said Bellini. Construction began in 2018 and finished in 2019. Once the base building was done, operations did not begin right away. The Soprema manufacturing machine needed adjustments and testing to be ready for production, so the plant opened in 2020.
A New Kind of Plant
“Soprema makes very interesting factories, and this one is no exception,” explained Angot, adding that the Woodstock facility was designed to not feel like a typical plant.
The building is divided into different zones such as offices, manufacturing and storage areas. “We wanted the work environment to be interesting to each and every user, which means that there is no segregation between a production employee and an office employee, with a flashy zone for offices while the rest isn’t well designed,” said Angot.
The emphasis is on natural light, with floor-to-ceiling windows that let in the light. “We thought about the building and the production area so that people could have access to light. We are convinced that natural light has benefits to our employees,” said Bellini.
Even the laboratory is behind glass, and it is usually devoid of windows, according to Angot. “The office has lots of windows, but there are also plenty of windows on the production side, so access to natural light was thought of as a general feature throughout,” said Angot.
Landscaping for Flora and Fauna
The landscape design was also an important component of the plant design. It is surrounded by greenery and the stormwater management system is based on two ponds. At least 40% of the 645,834 square foot (60,000 square meter) parcel of land was left in its natural state. “We kept the flora and the fauna as it was, without adding too much turf, for instance,” explained Angot.
The landscaping was so natural that animals ventured on the land – ducks tried to get into the factory and a turtle gave birth in one of the ponds. “I’ve never seen this before,” said Bellini. “We feel lucky that the fauna is coming back. It proves that it’s well-integrated.”
Jumping Through Hoops
Since Québecois firms were working on an Ontario-based project, there were added challenges. “There are different regulations affecting codes, standards and construction,” explained Angot. At Lemay, architecture, structural engineering and sustainable strategies departments collaborated on the project. Quebec-based construction company Pomerleau was the contractor. The company has since opened offices in Ontario, as did Lemay.
Another important challenge of the project was adjusting to the new version of LEED v4. “We were at the beginning of the new version in 2017 and 2018 and manufacturers didn’t know about it, so we had to raise awareness, communicate and educate,” explained Angot.
There are just about 30 employees working at the Woodstock plant since important parts of the production are automated. Soprema reworked the shape of its machine and manufacturing process so workers would not be isolated from one another.
Instead of a machine spread along a traditional production line, it is now in a U-shape. “The benefit of a U-shape is that the machine comes back to us, so it allows operators to not work by themselves along a line but to work together at central points throughout the process,” explained Bellini. “It’s helpful for both team spirit and the well-being of our employees because it’s always more fun to work with people than to work separately.” Team collaboration led to positive changes, such as carpooling between employees. Concerning the worsening labor shortage, “having an interesting workspace is not a panacea, it’s almost a must-have to be in business,” said Angot.
This influence goes beyond the factory and its employees. “When we started designing the project, we thought of it as a green project focused on sustainable development,” said Angot. “I think that it’s really helped that it was adopted by the city. Now, the mayor talks about an exemplary project that changes the face of its industrial zone, so it’s a great compliment.”