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Tough Love: Building sector wants stringent codes, level playing field

How to turn their fear of being first into an energy efficiency opportunity

Regulation is often thought of as a dirty word in business. But we discovered otherwise when we asked architects and construction companies about energy efficiency. In CEEA’s 2014 survey 67 per cent of

Building sector wants stringent codes to level the playing field says CEEA survey. Photo by Pedro Moura Pinheiro

Building sector says a level playing field and strict codes will make them more energy efficient Photo by Pedro Moura Pinheiro

businesses in the building sector said they’d support improved building codes, even if it raised the cost of commercial real estate*. This jumped out at us because we’ve also been hearing that cost is a barrier. Why is the building sector so attracted to what is often perceived as a nasty stick? It has to do with competitiveness and a firm belief in first-mover disadvantage.

When being first isn’t considered an advantage in the building sector

As Gandalf Group’s David Herle said at our forum about establishing more energy efficient practices “if you’re in construction, you might put yourself, at least in the short-term, at a competitive disadvantage….because you’re going to increase the short-term costs in your operation, so there’s a tremendous disadvantage to be the first mover.”

This perceived disadvantage is why the building sector prefers to have a level-playing field, one where everyone moves at the same time, under the same rules. It needs to be seen as affordable, without a negative impact to the bottom-line. This is definitely an opportunity for energy conservation.

3 steps for energy efficiency to attract Canada’s building sector

So we have the pre-conditions – the buy-in. Now, how to get the building sector to take action. First, as mentioned, the regulatory framework, the 2010 National Building Code of Canada, needs to have its energy efficiency amendments universally accepted.

Currently British Columbia, Nova Scotia, Yukon and Newfoundland and Labrador have adopted those amendments to section 9.36 of the NBC. Provinces in the process of adopting them are: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island. Some provinces and municipalities have adopted their own energy efficiency codes, which are equivalent to the NBC amendments; they are Quebec, Ontario, Vancouver and Whitehorse. Nunavut, NWT and Yellowknife do not currently have plans to adopt the amendments.

Second, we need to improve communications and outreach about the great incentive programs that are out there. Whether they’re government programs at a municipal level – as in Vancouver; at a provincial level, such as Nova Scotia; at the federal level; or from utilities like Enbridge or Union Gas — the building sector simply doesn’t know enough about what’s available. When asked how familiar they were with incentive programs from utilities and governments for their businesses to become energy efficient 16 per cent were very familiar, and 42 per cent were somewhat familiar in the building sector. And when asked if their business had ever taken advantage of any programs 34 per cent said yes and 58 per cent no. So we have to do more showing, not telling, about these programs.

Third, we have to make the case for how energy efficiency and conservation can generate returns in the marketplace for the building sector. ROI is king. This also feeds nicely into the improvements needed in communications.

Transforming green building from a niche market to mainstream

Surprisingly green building is seen as a niche market, more so by construction than by architects. As Alex Swann of the Gandalf Group pointed out during his forum presentation, 63 per cent of architects and 42 per cent of construction companies designers and construction companies have been involved in BOMA BESt-certified projects or LEED-certified projects, particularly in residential design. When we asked builders and designers  whether they considered green design to be a growth market, 59 per cent of architects and 41 per cent of construction companies said yes, and only 25 per cent said they saw no substantial growth. The problem is 57 per cent of architects and builders agreed they’d be unlikely to design or build a more energy efficient space until it was required by more stringent building codes.

Demand is perceived as a barrier – it was the second specific barrier mentioned, after cost, and before ROI. Cost is always a customer preference, but growing demand is more complicated. The demand that exists is not enough to motivate them — hence the call for more regulation. The real growing demand is in niche high-end areas where the higher costs rule out most customers. So it would seem we have to raise awareness with customers about the advantages of energy efficiency buildings.

Does certification matter in the building marketplace?

There was a big discrepancy in terms of certification awareness between architects and construction companies. Of LEED certification, 91 per cent of architects and 58 per cent of construction companies were familiar with it, but BOMA BESt is less well known, with 52 per cent of architects and only 20 per cent of construction companies citing awareness.

What is CEEA doing to encourage energy efficiency in the building sector?

The alliance will be working to promote the renewal of NRCan’s Office of Energy Efficiency during our next Advocacy Day on Parliament Hill on November 18. Our goal is to educate decision-makers — bureaucrats and politicians — about the necessity to have improved energy efficient amendments, codes and standards, and to communicate more effectively with the public. To build demand we need customers who see energy efficiency as a useful tool to save energy and money. It needs to be something they want to do.

*Survey Page 60:The vast majority of architects, 89%, would support more stringent building codes for energy efficiency, even if it raised the costs of commercial real estate (58 per cent of architects strongly support and 31per cent somewhat support). In the building sector it’s 67 per cent of construction companies (26 per cent strongly support and 41 per cent somewhat support).

Posted June 19, 2014

Elizabeth McDonald  is the president of CEEA.

One thought on “Tough Love: Building sector wants stringent codes, level playing field

  1. An excellent post, Elizabeth – thank you.

    Do you have plans for advocacy at the provincial level? With the continuation of the Liberal administration in Ontario, it would be worthwhile to remind the key players in cabinet of the importance of renewing their commitment to energy efficiency.

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