Hoisting the green standard

Mackay & Sposito moves to take leadership role in green building trend

Al Schauer is passionate about building green. So much so, the president and chief executive officer of Mackay & Sposito, a Vancouver-based civil engineering firm, held a summit Jan. 24 at the Hilton Vancouver Hotel and Convention Center to present to builders the virtues – and the business sense – of embracing such methods. Presenters at the conference talked about global warming and the wisdom of building energy efficient homes. Many references were made to Al Gore’s movie, An Inconvenient Truth, and speakers described the trend toward green building in the industry as inevitable.

"(An Inconvenient Truth) really is a scary movie," said Bill Maris, Jr., founder of Transform LLC, a Bellingham-based company that advocates sustainability in construction. "Back when I was working construction with my dad in the 1970s, we didn’t call it building green," he said, "we called it, ‘get your work done efficiently so tomorrow we have a job."

Maris said consumer demand is driving the green building trend.

"I don’t think this is just a passing thing, I think the industry has got to change, not just for the environment, but for business."

Schauer pointed to consumer awareness as a catalyst for the trend.

"The buying public is being blasted by the concept of sustainable building," he said, "And in years past, the industry didn’t talk about green, they talked about business. Now, green is business."

Schauer said the new crop of home buyers are driving the trend toward green building, and that the industry needs to give them what they want.

"The new group, the Generation Ys that are coming out of college, are keenly interested in green practices," he said. "And they need to know that we’re not just ‘old white men,’ and that there are people in the industry that have different thoughts and that are meeting the demand."

What Schauer and others like him would like to see is a new standard in the industry – one that requires homes to be built to meet the energy efficiency rating system established by the United States Green Building Council in 2000. The program, called Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, seeks to create dwellings as well as neighborhoods that are comprehensively energy efficient and sustainable from the ground up. A LEED-certified home or other building, such as the Vancouver Hilton, addresses not only energy flow, but everything from the type of paint used to what material is used for the floors. Homebuilders such as Pacific Lifestyle and New Tradition Homes are building LEED-certified homes, but Schauer allowed that there are some in the industry that dismiss the green movement as a fad.

"Sure, there are some who say this is just a bunch of hooey and ask, ‘Why should I have to change the way I do things?’ There’s that idea that ‘if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.’ Well, maybe it is broken."

Schauer said consumer demand, coupled with a newfound affordability for green building, may make his vision a reality.

"In the late 1990s, homes that met these standards were 20 to 30 percent more expensive," he said. "Today it’s around two percent."

If the price of such homes is going down and consumers, as Schauer said, are demanding such homes, then Realtors must be re-tooling their product pitch to push the green homes.

Patrick Ginn is an agent with Keller Williams Realty in Vancouver. He said he hasn’t seen anyone yet who specifically asks for a green built home.

"It’s a selling point, but a lot of them are just trying to get into a home," Ginn said. "And most of them, I don’t think, are completely aware of the concept yet."

Ginn said while the idea is desirable, he doesn’t see anyone who would go out of their way for a green home the way they would for a well-built home.

"There are builders like Pacific Lifestyle that are building green homes," he said. "But I think their homes sell because they’re just really well-made."

The Business of Sustainability

What: Sustainable from the Ground Up

Who: MacKay & Sposito Inc.

Where: Hilton Vancouver Hotel and Convention Center

When: Wednesday, Jan. 24

Why: To introduce and encourage sustainable and energy efficient building practices in the construction industry. The focus of the conference was that consumer demand is driving the need for green practices in building, and that for contractors to remain competitive, they need to stay ahead of the curve. The five-hour conference featured speakers from MacKay & Sposito; Energy Star, the sustainable energy practices consulting company supported by the Environmental Protection Agency; natural gas provider Northwest Natural; Earth Advantage, a sustainability program geared toward the building industry; Clark Public Utilities; Affordable Community Environments, a sustainable construction low-income housing development company; and Jim Muir, chief building official for Clark County.

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