Evident: Teaching the importance of zero energy

Auckland-based consultancy Evident is aiming to change the way people think about building, and they practice what they preach.

Matt Fordham and Shay Brazier founded the company after the success of Brazier and partner Jo Wood’s ground-breaking zero energy home project in Auckland’s Pt Chevalier in 2013.

The company’s approach is two-pronged. Firstly, they supply automation systems that provide a single point of control for a building’s heating, lighting and ventilation. But Fordham and Brazier agree that the most important aspect of their working is encouraging change on a wider level.

To help speed up the transformation of New Zealand’s building industry, towards a more sustainable future, they aim to make all the lessons, data and stories from their projects freely available.

Fordham says the data gathered from the automation systems can show others how to make the same steps towards sustainability.

“We can show data, sometimes close to in real-time, about how a building is performing. Sharing that data shows how people’s behaviour affects a building’s performance and how they can use their energy more effectively.”

Matt Fordham and Shay Brazier

Brazier is a mechanical engineer who has previously worked on super yachts around the world. He brings the technical, renewable energy technology knowledge to the company. Fordham’s background is in marketing and project management. 

Three other team members, an electrical engineer, software developer and architect join them – mostly the team collaborate on projects together.

“When you do progressive stuff having different perspectives is useful,” Fordham says. 

Evident’s projects include developing a smart precinct concept for Waterfront Auckland and they are currently working on three zero energy houses inspired by the Pt Chevalier example.

The biggest, and most significant, project on the books is the Camp Glenorchy project – a redevelopment on the site of the old camp ground, targeted to be certified as a zero energy build.

The significance of the build is huge. The town on the shores of Lake Wakatipu is a tourist destination nearly all-year-round.

Evident is installing the building automation systems, and the sustainability of the project is seen in solar PV generation, electric vehicle charging, grey water and black water treatment, among other features.

“The clients want the buildings and site to be an exemplar project, so people learn about how buildings’ impact on their lives in the future,” Brazier says.

The educational campaign attached to the project will run for a couple of years, with twenty-plus articles focused on different features of sustainability within the site. The aim is to teach people about how they work so they can start implementing them in their own homes and communities.

Camp Glenorchy site prior to above-ground construction of cabins, showing cellars for composting toilets. Photo: Sharee McBeth Photography.

Evident is also designing a custom-built app that will show people in close-to real-time how the building is performing and how efficient it is. Users can explore the design methods adopted in the build and how they can use them in their own lives.

“There will be thousands of people going through this development every year and we think one of the most innovative things is to bring all that stuff together. Data needs to be in a place where people can use it,” Fordham says.

While Evident’s focus is on creating a more sustainable building industry – Fordham and Brazier are both weary of the term ‘sustainable’.

They take a more holistic approach, and say sustainability is not a word that describes what all the benefits are.

Buildings are a strain on the environment, Brazier says, and numerous elements can be impacted by the way a house is built.

“People can be much healthier in buildings that are well-built, they are more comfortable and happier because they are warm and dry, and that has an impact on the direct cost of living,” Brazier says.

“How do you put a price on your child’s health?”

Fordham says the aim of the game is to create measurable outcomes for people that are related to the times that are important to them, such as making sure the temperature of a house is within the comfortable range for people.

While building a zero energy house may be out of many people’s price-range, creating an affordable space in the market is all part of Evident’s plan.

Evident made a decision to focus on leading-edge projects, because when doing things for the first time builds often take longer and there is more risk involved. At the moment the focus is showing people how these builds can be done and drive the costs down over time.

“The capital cost often determines the affordability, but total cost over time is something to consider as well. We have to look at it holistically if thinking long-term as a country rather than an individual,” Brazier says.

 Shay and James commission Cabin One’s building automation system at Camp Glenorchy. Photo: Sharee McBeth Photography.

New Zealand is playing a game of catch up in its move towards zero energy building projects, Brazier says. Most of the main markets around the world are working to improve the building industry, and Germany is often held up as an example.

“We know there are better ways of doing it and there are a lot of people who know it makes better sense to do that – but there’s a lot of opportunity to improve,” he says.

The fact that New Zealand is a new country on global terms means that we are still discovering the best building techniques for our environment, Fordham says.

“One of the areas we could do better at is setting more strategies around things like energy supply. But there are a lot of positive things happening here and it’s important to focus on those.”

It’s early days for Evident, but so far, so good.

They started the company to have impact and looking ahead, they will continue to try and generate as much of an impact as possible.

“We see the approach as unique and we want to help change the market, and we will keep developing more systems and working on better ways of educating and informing people,” Fordham says.

Fordham and Brazier are presenting in Seattle in May next year and will be launching an online education tool, as well as showcasing some of the projects they are working on.

They are also currently in the process of becoming a certified ‘B Corp’ (Benefit Corporation), which they hope will happen by the end of the year. The certification identifies for-profit companies that are making a positive impact on society and the environment.