PAGE B6 – June 2010 – The Ottawa Construction News
Education rather than regulation best way to achieve sustainability: Michael Sachs
STAFF WRITER – The Ottawa Construction News
A leading Ottawa home builder says the best way to create sustainable, environ- mentally and energy efficient construction is to educate consumers and allow the in- dustry to respond to the evolving market de- mand.
Michael Sachs, general manager of Ur- bandale Construction, told the Green Build- ing Ottawa conference in May that government programs and regulations aimed at encouraging energy and environ- mental efficient construction often create “market distortions” that go against the best interests of business, consumers and the en- vironment.
Conflicting demands and political agen- das often distort the objectives creating truly unsustainable conflicts, he said. “I have a unique perspective on these is- sues,” he said. Before joining Urbandale, Sachs worked as an Energy Consultant with Marbek Resource Consultants where he analysed the effectiveness of policies to support renewable energy technologies for utilities and the government.
As a consultant, Sachs thought the logic
of energy/cost savings and environmental enhancement seemed obvious, with a win-
win partnership between municipalities and utilities working with developers to co-or- dinate the necessary public infrastructure to effectively create green municipalities. Unfortunately, when municipal govern- ments and regulators get involved “special interest groups and pet causes” get in the way of rational decisions.
“When we’re developing an energy-ef- ficient community, for this community you want to have density,” says Sachs. “Then (municipalities) say the green community should have extra park space and more bike paths.
“And the master plan or the cities should be inclusive to all constituencies of the community, with affordable housing, ac- commodation for disabilities and more. The list of requirements can snowball.” “Sometimes the best thing a municipal- ity can do to allow (environmentally re- sponsible) construction to happen is to stay away.”
Sachs said government incentives, whether federal or provincial, distort the market.
He said for example Urbandale had hoped to work to install solar water heaters in a new housing project. “I was able to get preferred pricing, with $9,000 solar heaters, at $2,000 less or $7,000.
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“Unfortunately, the federal government has an eco-energy program where solar water heaters are only subsidized for retro- fits. If you take the eco-energy program and matching provincial programs” it makes more sense economically for the consumer to purchase the home with a con- ventional water heater, wait six months, tear it out, and pay $4,000 for an add-on system which “is not as efficient as one that is in- stalled in the first place.”
Even more scandalous, he says, are the rebates paid for ground source heat pumps in existing homes. “You have large, expensive machinery drilling 100 ft. In the ground,” Sachs said. “Does it make sense to do in new construc- tion, or does it make sense to do this in a house that is already built.
“This incentive is almost designed to make it look like governments will do something without having any money into this.”
“I’m trying to be an optimist in all of this,” Sachs said. “I’ve made many con- tacts within Government. There are a lot of extremely intelligent and dedicated people. It’s the structure and context of working within the Government framework that makes it difficult to put (rational) policy in place.
“There is a myth that developers and builders are looking for subsidies and in- centives to promote green buildings,” he said. “We’re not looking for handouts at all.
“We’re looking for governments to edu- cate consumers, so they can give credible third-party information to help consumers make the correct choices.”
“In my opinion, there is only one barrier to a true market transition to green build- ing,” he said. “What’s missing is consumer demand. “We proudly are building energy-effi- cient homes that are better for the environ- ment. But people are buying our homes because of our reputation, location, and the price.
“When we tell them the home is energy
efficient, it’s just a ‘feel good’ after the fact. That’s not why they are making the pur- chase decision. “We need an educated market that de- mands energy efficient products and is will- ing to pay for them.” Sachs’ colleagues on the closing plenary panel provided their own perspectives on the situation, suggesting that government can take the lead in improving environ- mental measures. Other speakers included Dan Leeming, Partner, The Planning Part- nership, Jane Welsh, Project Manager, En- vironmental Planning, City of Toronto, and David Miller, Manager Community Sus- tainability, City of Ottawa. Mark Lucuik, Principal, Morrison Hershfield, served as moderator.
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