Our ways of producing and consuming are exhausting the planet. If nothing changes, we’ll need the equivalent of two Planet Earths to meet our needs by 2035.¹ A change of tack is needed: the time for sustainable development has come. In the housing field, how can we reduce the impact of buildings on the environment? Here are a few ways.

Certified houses
Houses certified to meet the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), R-2000 and Novoclimat standards are pioneers in the area of sustainable housing development. Their performance is evaluated or measured on the basis of tough criteria, in line with each standard. They must:

  • consume much less energy;
  • be made of environmentally friendly materials;
  • offer indoor environmental quality (air and natural light);
  • provide efficient water management (recovery, reduced consumption, etc.);
  • be situated ecologically (location, site layout, etc.).

These more ecosystem-friendly principles do not apply just to new structures, however.

Eco-materials and products
Not only does their construction demand an enormous quantity of raw materials and energy but, over their long useful lives, buildings continue to exert huge pressure on the environment. They are occupied, maintained, repaired, renovated, occasionally altered, and ultimately demolished. In most cases, the environmental cost of this use is exorbitant. All the materials, products and equipment used in a house generate their share of rather harmful impacts, from their manufacture to their replacement.

This makes it important to make well considered and responsible choices, whether this involves cleaners or paints, floor coverings, pesticides or heating devices. It is preferable to look for materials and products that:

  • are made of natural or renewable resources;
  • have recycled or recovered content;
  • are sustainable;
  • require little upkeep;
  • have low VOC (volatile organic compound) emissions;
  • need less energy to produce (manufacture, transportation, etc.).

Green labels
Lists show more than 300 programs and standards that certify so-called ecologically preferable products. Criteria and approval procedures may vary quite widely, and there exists no standardized method for describing a product’s ecological content. As such, they do not all have the same value.

The most credible certifications require, among other things, scientific evidence and third-party verification before a product can display their environmentally friendly label. This is a prerequisite, for example, for the EcoLogo label under the Canadian government’s Environmental Choice program or for certification from the Greenguard (health and air quality), Forest Stewardship Council (forest management) or WaterSense (water management) programs.

Other certifications are based on statements from manufacturers, importers or distributors and are not subject to independent verification. Before placing blind trust in a logo, it is better to learn more and check the seriousness of a product’s ecological pretensions.

There are many ways of applying sustainable development principles in housing. Additional reports will be devoted to this topic in the coming months.

Our thanks to Josée Lupien, President of Vertima and a founding member of the Quebec section of the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC), for her contribution.

1. Centre interuniversitaire de recherche sur le cycle de vie des produits, procédés et services (Interuniversity Research Centre for the Life Cycle of Products, Processes and Services – CIRAIG), created under the leadership of École Polytechnique de Montréal in collaboration with Université de Montréal and HEC Montréal.