This blog explores changes in the energy industry from an insider’s perspective as it transitions from the old centralized utility model to the new paradigm of distributed generation.
This blog was previously called Inside the Housing Evolution and focused on energy efficient homes. Ultimately, it’s all linked. Soon, every building will have the potential to generate, store, and sell energy. Welcome to the era of the transactive grid – the greatest shift the electricity sector has seen in over 100 years!

July 21, 2010 No Comments

Five Sins of Greenwashing in Housing

Green is in, and savvy businesses in all fields have been making some pretty bold environmental claims in their advertisements in the hopes of cashing in. It can be difficult for purchasers to tell when these claims are genuine, and when they are simply greenwashing.  Terrachoice, an Ottawa based environmental consulting agency, came up with their Five Sins of Environmental Marketing. Here I’ll apply the Five Sins to the housing industry and where applicable we’ll see how Urbandale stacks up.

Vagueness/No proof: Many builders claim their houses are green, but by what standard and how do they prove it? Urbandale homes are third-party certified to meet standards set by the government for high levels of energy efficiency. Vague claims like “better for the environment” or “lowers your energy bills” can often be a sign of greenwashing. We know our homes lower energy bills by 30-35% compared to standard construction because every home we build is modeled in a computer program to measure energy use.

Hidden trade-offs: Sometimes one environmental benefit comes at the expense of another far worse repercussion. For example, bamboo flooring is seen as green because bamboo grows quickly so it is considered a renewable resource. Unfortunately, bamboo only grows on the other side of the world so it has to be shipped much further to be used here in Canada, contributing to added emissions from burning fuel. Compared to locally grown, sustainably harvested Canadian hardwood, bamboo flooring may actually be worse for the environment. We offer both as we recognize that some people could put more value in one trade-off over the other.

Irrelevance: If a builder tells you his HVAC system is CFC free, don’t be too impressed. While technically true, CFC’s have been illegal to produce since 1995 so no new builder would install an air conditioning system that relies on CFCs. We’re careful in our advertising to focus on real benefits to the purchaser, not simple claims that sound good but have no meaning.

Relativism: “Improved indoor air quality” is a difficult claim because there is no true benchmark for clean air. Look closely enough in any home on any day and you’ll find minute levels of mold and not so minute levels of toxins in the air. Urbandale makes the claim of improved indoor air quality, but we back it up by following the strict standards set out by the R-2000 program, and R-2000 houses have been studied by Health Canada to prove that asthma sufferers health improved after moving into an R-2000 home.

False labels/Fibbing: In the housing industry, I’ve seen a builder (who shall remain nameless) create what they called the “EnergyWise” program, in the hopes that consumers would confuse their lower-level program with the government certified EnergyStar program. Just weak.

Posted by Matthew

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Matthew Sachs

P. Eng. LEED AP

  • COO of Peak Power since July 2016
  • General Manager of Urbandale Construction (May 2008 – Oct 2014)
  • Vice-Chair R-2000 Renewal Committee
  • Member of Energy Star Technical Advisory Committee
  • Greater Ottawa Homebuilders Green Committee
  • Recipient of Canadian Homebuilder’s Association 2009 R-2000 Builder of the Year Award
  • Participant in Natural Resources Canada’s Technology Roadmap for Sustainable Housing
  • Energy Consultant with Marbek Resource Consultants (Feb 2002 – May 2006)

ABOUT PEAK POWER

Peak Power is a Microgrid project development company focused on delivering innovative solutions to offset the most expensive hours of electric demand. We specialize in optimizing the revenue streams from energy storage, advanced building automation, and renewable technologies for customer sited and utility scale projects. Please visit www.peakpowerenergy.com.