BAC Alum Brian Rippy Is Fighting Climate Change

Through sustainable design, Brian is helping small island nations fight climate change

Brian Rippy, LEED AP, REP (Renewable Energy Professional), a native of Palmer, Alaska, received his Master of Design Studies from the BAC in 2014. Prior to that, he earned a BS in Civil Engineering with a Bio-resource Option from the University of Montana State, and spent time living and working in Jamaica, Laos, and American Samoa, where he was inspired to fight the effects of climate change through sustainable design. He has been working as a sustainable design consultant in the South Pacific since 2008. Recently, Brian facilitated the launch and the integrated design process for the American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency's new office building, the first building in the South Pacific to achieve Net Zero Energy Building and LEED Platinum Certification. Additionally, he has consulted on projects addressing energy occupancy training, renewable energy deployment, solid waste management, composting facilities, rainwater harvesting and storm water management infrastructure. Now living and teaching in British Columbia, Brian talked to the BAC about his work and what he hopes to do next.

When did you become interested in sustainable design?

I first became interested in sustainable design as a Peace Corps volunteer in Jamaica working on community based water conservation projects. I would love to expand on this, but I don't think I have the grace to properly convey what I learned during those two years. More or less I realized that sustainability was about helping people improve their lives in a balanced way with their environment. For me, this became a life goal/purpose.

How did you find the BAC and what made you choose to study at the BAC?

I was looking for a program that would complement my consulting work in the Pacific Islands, Sustainable Buildings. It allowed me to study with time flexibility maintaining my challenging work schedule obligations working from home in Canada with travel back and forth to projects in the South Pacific.

What was your BAC experience like?

It was the exact opposite of my previous academic experiences. Full of information that kept me engaged, interested, and required critical thinking. The instructors were not stereotypical professors that were more interested in research than conveying knowledge; instead they were leading edge industry experts in all aspects of sustainable design and the built environment that were passionate about sharing their knowledge. For me, most importantly, I was able to utilize the BAC courses in my profession almost immediately where there were significant synergies between my studies and my work. For the duration of my studies I was working on a building, "The American Samoa EPA Office Building," in American Samoa. It not only achieved LEED Platinum, but was also achieved Living Building Net Zero Energy Certified buildings.

What was your capstone project for the BAC and what resulted from it?

My capstone project was basically a study about how to make the Manua Islands of American Samoa fossil fuel free. Long story short, the study was used as one of the documents for securing federal funding that paved the way for these islands to become energy independent. Here is a link to a short video the contractor, Solarcity, did for the micro grid they installed on one of the Manua islands: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VZjEvwrDXn0.

Tell us about your teaching job in British Columbia.

I'm one of two professors at Okanagan College in British Columbia who was hired in 2014 to develop a new program, Sustainable Construction Management Technology, that focuses on providing the sustainable design knowledge, whole systems thinking, and integrated project delivery approach to construction project managers, site supervisors, estimators, quantity surveyors, etc. Previously much of these elements of sustainability has been solely in the hands of the designers, but in a truly integrated approach, we need those that are putting the sticks together and making a lot of decisions during the construction phase to also have the same sustainable ways of thinking. The program is a mix of design, technology, and hands on projects such as sustainably built Tiny Homes, high performance building envelopes, and the first daycare in North America seeking Passive House Certification. In addition to that, we get to teach in one of the most sustainable post-secondary buildings in North America, the Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Technologies and Renewable Energy Conservation. Here is a link to a short video they did highlighting the SCMT program.

What inspired you to become a teacher?

Prior to taking the instructor job, I always found myself in a teaching role, whether it was on projects, at workshops, or speaking at conferences. When you work on Small Island developing states on technical projects, this tends to be a significant portion of your time.

What values/lessons do you hope to instill in your students?

Above all else, leadership and ethics in the field of sustainable construction. The construction industry is ripe for, but slow to, change and in order for our students to be part of that change they are going to need to be leaders, be willing to go against conventional norms, and walk the walk.

What project are you most proud of?

Actually the project that I'm most proud of was a water quality project that first took me to American Samoa. Long story short there was a CDC study back in 2004 that discovered extremely high levels of leptospirosis (a bacterial disease typically carried by rats, dogs, and pigs who release it in their urine; the bacteria enters a person either through cuts in the skin or by accidentally drinking water containing it, and causes flu-like symptoms that can potentially be life threatening) in the population and significant nutrient loading on the near shore reefs. The source was improperly managed pig waste. I was hired to develop a culturally accepted waste management system. The original dry litter concept was created by Glen Fukumoto. I just took the idea and developed it into a working system along with several other piggery waste management systems. After a lot of challenges, I developed a dry-litter composting system that ultimately became a practice adopted in American Samoa.

In 2011, we held a dry litter technology summit organized by Glen Fukomoto (University of Hawaii) and the agency I was consulting for (American Samoa Environmental Protection Agency). Several Pacific island stakeholders and mainland partners attended, including two agricultural professors from Puerto Rico. Additionally we made all of my designs available (open source), which has allowed other Pacific Islands, as well as island nations as far away as the Caribbean, to implement this system.

Are you working on any other design projects right now?

I'm currently consulting on another office building project in American Samoa that is targeting LEED Platinum and Net Zero Energy Certification, as well as a new winery project that is aiming to be sustainable in both their production facility but also vineyard management practices.

What is your ultimate goal/dream that you would like to accomplish through your design work?

In addition to influencing tomorrow's green buildings, I would like to get back to my roots in sustainability and work on community based projects in developing countries. I've been working with Canadian Humanitarian on small scale renewable energy projects in Ethiopia and Malawi. I'm hoping to get more involved and include the SCMT students on projects there as well.