“We’ve never had this level of health or peace, prosperity in our history, and we just need to keep that vision and know that we can get through this. And there are solutions that we can take to get there.” 

Ryan Zizzo

In this podcast interview, I spoke with Ryan Zizzo, the Founder and Chief Operating Officer at Mantle, an interdisciplinary climate change consultancy based in Toronto, about the challenges and opportunities for reducing both operating and embodied carbon in new buildings as well his thoughts on climate change adaptation. Ryan is doing some really exciting work in the quantification of carbon and developing strategies to reduce both operating and embodied carbon.

I first met Ryan when we were both presenting at a CaGBC Conference some years ago. What impressed me most about Ryan’s presentation was his deep understanding about, not just how to design a sustainable, low-carbon building, but the implications of the life cycle of the building – and this was when life cycle approaches were not widely used. Ryan is also one of the most knowledgeable people about carbon accounting in Canada. He is currently the Chair of the Embodied Carbon Network’s 80+ member Policy Working Group, as well as a member of the Canada Green Building Council’s Zero Carbon Steering Committee.

Ryan Zizzo and the Mantle team developing a life-cycle and carbon strategy
Ryan Zizzo and the Mantle team developing a life-cycle and carbon strategy

As the Founder and Chief Operating Officer at Mantle, Ryan and Mantle’s team of lawyers, engineers and green finance experts assist public and private sector clients decrease their carbon footprint and devise strategies to transition to a low-carbon and climate-adjusted future.

Ryan has worked on dozens of green building and neighbourhood projects with leading Canadian and European architects, developers, and property management firms, and spent three years working in the leading Nordic green building scene in Helsinki, Finland.

Ryan holds a Masters degree in Applied Science in Civil Engineering and Environmental Engineering from the University of Toronto, is a licensed Engineer in the Province of Ontario, and holds a LEED Accredited Professional designation in Neighbourhood Development.

Ryan speaking at Federation of Canadian Municipalities Conference, Cement Association of Canada session on greening government procurementRyan speaking at Federation of Canadian Municipalities Conference, Cement Association of Canada session on greening government procurement

Advice Ryan Gave Listeners

I’d say just discuss … If climate change is important to you, which I think it is if you’re listening to the podcast, and you’re still listening to us talk, just talk about it. Talk about it with those around you. It shouldn’t be a taboo discussion. As human beings, we’re really social creatures, and we want to know what our family and friends think and our neighbours think. And if the politicians understand that this is really an important issue for people, then they’re going to make changes. And the only way to really make that happen is really to talk about it, and look for every opportunity, as I said. I wouldn’t expect anyone to totally change their life in one day to be lower carbon, but every week, every month, we can make one lower carbon decision and build that into our life. And if we all did that, then in the long run, we would be able to get to where we need to go.

What Ryan Requested of Listeners:

So I think I’m just going to repeat myself, which is … to do one little thing and integrate that into your life, and then do one other little thing. Something like Meatless Mondays. I love food, I love meat, but I can have a Meatless Monday. I’m not going to become a vegan (unfortunately) overnight. Maybe in a few years, maybe I might. But we can do little things, and we shouldn’t be afraid to do a little thing like that.

And also, to talk about the challenges. Don’t only talk about the things that you’re doing great, because that’s the only way that we learn. For me, I’m really guilty of flying too much. It’s part of my life. I go to conferences, I go on vacation, I visit friends and family. I’m not proud of it, but it’s just kind of a reality. So, I’m really looking forward to those carbon neutral fuels, to electric planes. But if we don’t talk about those things, then we’re not going to materialise them, we’re not going to show the market that there’s a need for that.

So, let’s not only talk about our successes, but let’s also talk about the things that we’re struggling with as well. But I think if we all talk about these things, if we support each other, and we do one more thing every year or whatever the time scale we want to talk about is, that’s all we can really do, but it will have a big impact when we all do it together.

Books that Ryan Recommended to Listeners:

Jane Jacobs The Death and Life of Great American Cities

So I actually have two books that I really love. One is kind of from the past, and it’s about nuts and bolts of city living called The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs. It’s all about how seemingly unrelated or small decisions can hugely change people’s lives. And her context was urban design. So how changing the street grid could mean more people are outside and we have more better community and we have less violence. So, something that you wouldn’t necessarily think about, like the size of the windows in a building, or how many lanes of traffic – things that are really connected to the nuts and bolts of designing our urban spaces – how they’ve had a huge impact on people’s wellbeing. So I really love that book.

Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem

And then the other book that’s kind of out there, and is more science fiction related, is The Three-Body Problem, which is a Chinese science fiction book. Which has kind of taken off and I think they’re going to make a movie about. It’s actually part of a trilogy, and the first book of the trilogy’s called The Three-Body Problem. It’s all about what potential futures could look like. And I think that solar sail thing that I talked about is one of the things from that book. But it’s just unbelievable to see the range of human imagination and what people in science fiction can think of. And often, a lot of the technologies like our cell phones today, were science fiction 10 years ago. So it’s really not totally outside of the realm of possibility to think that we can do audacious, unbelievable things. So I really like to ground my thinking in those two realities. Nuts and bolts, how do we design our streets for every day, but also, let’s dream big!

How You Can Connect With Ryan:

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