Panda Passage Passes Petal Certification

How do you host four giant pandas, on loan from the Giant Panda Research Base in Chengdu, China, for five years in a habitat that’s beneficial to both the pandas and the environment? That’s the question the Calgary Zoo committed to answering when it agreed to build Panda Passage.


With its new pandas’ welfare top of mind, the Calgary Zoo partnered with PCL and Integral Group (environmental consultant) to create a cutting-edge habitat that resembled a Chinese bamboo forest.

“We wanted to focus on the health and wellbeing of the pandas but also make sure the habitat offered long-term positive environmental impacts,” says Stacey Wormsbecker, project manager for PCL. “It was Integral Group’s idea that we pursue the International Living Future Institute’s (ILFI) Living Building Challenge Pet​al Certification. We all agreed that the unique and complex nature of the habitat make it a great candidate for certification.” 

Advanced Sustainability

The Living Building Challenge is the world’s most rigorous green-building certification program. To receive Petal Certification, a project must satisfy the requirements of at least three of the seven petal categories outlined by the ILFI – energy, equity, health and happiness, beauty, materials, site, and water.

To reach certification requirements, the project team incorporated the Living Building Challenge into its everyday activities. “We were continually comparing all our products and materials against the ILFI​’s Red List of banned substances and chemicals,” says Stacey. “Then we submitted all the products selected, as we would our shop drawings, to make sure that absolutely everything was tracked — right down to adhesives and fasteners.”

The ILFI’s Red List bans all building products that contain harmful chemicals. These include products like PVC, which is required by the electrical code. To satisfy this requirement, the project team persuaded authorities to include fiberglass-reinforced epoxy conduit in the next update of the electrical code; these concerns were escalated to The Vinyl Institute​ (a U.S. trade organization that represents the leading manufactures of vinyl and serves as the voice for the vinyl industry) for consideration.

The project team also sourced materials from manufacturers within 5,000 km of the project and hired a third party to track the waste from the demolition and construction, to ensure it was almost all completely diverted from landfills.

Passing Petal

Panda Passage received four petals out of the potential seven: health and happiness, materials, equity, and beauty. On April 30, 2019, the Calgary Zoo was officially awarded certification on the completed project.

“Being involved with this project is definitely a sustainability milestone for us. It’s the first for PCL, the first in Alberta, and only the second zoo internationally to receive the Petal Certification,” adds Stacey. “Projects like Panda Passage challenge our project teams to find innovative and sustainable ways to give back to the community. We are proud to have been a part of this project.” ​​​​​​​


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