"Normal is Broken"

On October 6th, I had the opportunity to go on a one-on-one tour of The Mosaic Centre with Christy Benoit. Christy is one of the innovators behind the building. It is more than just an office space; it is the first “net zero” commercial building in Alberta, designed for conscious community and commerce.

Photo Credit: Manasc Isaac

Photo Credit: Manasc Isaac

The Mosaic Family of Companies aims “to create a role model organization that enables positive social change through business.” Housed within the space is InterChange, an open concept, co-working space; Seed and Sprouts Day Care; a restaurant, currently under construction, that will forge stronger community connections around local food and community; a fitness centre; and, of course, The Mosaic Family of Companies. The headquarters for the Mosaic Family of Companies is an example of commerce balanced with community consciousness.

Christy not only champions this vision, but is the epitome of balance. She is visionary, yet realistic - she has figured out how to work in the middle to transcend a polarized picture of the environment within a resource driven economy.

When taking visitors on a tour of the building, Christy often gets this question:

“Isn’t it hypocritical that the first commercial net zero building in Alberta was created with money from an oil company?”

Christy’s responds by suggesting that environmental issues are human issues and we as humans have to work together to solve these problems together. When looking around the building, any observer can see it is a living example of solving problems together.

The Mosaic Family of Companies includes Oil Country Engineering and its sister company,Eco Ammo Sustainable Consulting - both are housed side by side within The Mosaic Centre. What may seem paradoxical on the surface, is in fact the embodiment of their success. Forged through an ability to, as management philosopher Charles Hampden Turner puts it,  “steer between values that are in tension” because “ having the vision to combine them in practice requires particular ways of thinking and acting which are not the usual ways” (Charles Hampden Turner).   

The Mosaic Centre represents the ability to locate and operate on common threads, developing alignment among opposites, setting an example for how we can begin to rethink Alberta’s complex, transition towards a reimagined energy future.

Photo Credit: Aleeya Velji

Photo Credit: Aleeya Velji

A model way to build: Integrated Project Delivery

The process of bringing The Mosaic Centre to life set the commercial building sector on an entirely different path. Christy and her partner came to the project with their vision, engaged a well-equipped team, and through an integrated project delivery plan (IPD), the contractors, engineers,and consultants worked side by side in sincere collaboration to ensure this building would exemplify the vision.

Worksites are often places where contractors, architects, and consultants are separated. The IPD process works to blend this difference.  Architects dialogue with contractors utilizing each other's strengths and talents to ensure the goal of building a net zero office space within budget could be achieved. This integrated process suggests that silos between knowledge can be broken down, and sharing and learning across boundaries can lead to a better outcome for the overall good. The instrumental role of the IPD process, combined with the hands on approach of visionaries like Christy is an example of how business models can adapt to enable positive change with social and environmental benefits.

a tHOUGHT Leader in action:in-sights from Christy 

shifting any system is a long-term journey:

Q: How have others been influenced by your process?

A: Currently there are 11 buildings that are taking on the IPD approach, and 3 are considering eco friendly approaches to their design… “It would be great if there were more, but construction projects are usually planned very well in advance, making it challenge to change direction once underway.


Q: How do you see social innovation flourishing in Alberta?

A: A business case for social innovation needs to be created, people need to see innovative practice as something that is good for business and a part of the triple bottom line.  This way it becomes infused into business practice and not a nice thing to do.


 Q: What do you see as the possibility of the Mosaic Centre?

A:We are closed in the evenings; I want to forge partnerships with the surrounding community so it can become a space where the community can gather for functions and events…

Shifting behaviours minds & hearts: 

I also want to create a hub for social innovation that inspires people to engage in and learn about how environmental impact can occur through small behavioural changes that lead to positive social, economic, and environmental outcomes.

Photo Credit: Aleeya Velji

Photo Credit: Aleeya Velji

The Mosaic Centre is a space that showcases the possibility of ‘impossible’ ideas; Christy is an example of how thinking differently and building a physical and mental space to bridge polarized opposites can be the key to fostering integrated positive community, economic, and environmental impact. Innovation is not about perfection - it is about progress, finding and valuing the leverage points that can lead to impactful future change and tip a system into a “new normal.”

There is a lot of work to do. By understanding our problems - and the path to solutions - as people problems, not sector problems, we realize that bridges can be built together. These bridges forge action towards social innovation with solutions for our most complex environmental and societal issues.

Further Exploration: 

To learn more about the Mosaic Family of Companies or The Mosaic Centre check out their video and web links:

www.mosaicfamily.ca    www.themosaiccentre.ca  www.mosaicinterchange.ca

Written by: Aleeya Velji