Buildings have a significant impact on the environment. Construction uses resources; on-going operations require energy and water; residents generate waste; and the land used for human purposes may disrupt habitats for other organisms or disrupt ecosystems. Recognizing these impacts, we can take action to reduce them and make our co-ops more pleasant places to live. Reducing impacts can sometimes also reduce costs due to avoiding unnecessary waste and inefficiencies.
Canada’s building sector is the third highest source of emissions in the country. Heating and cooling systems use energy, so choosing and maintaining efficient systems is important. The materials we choose when building or renewing capital assets also matter. This page focuses on how environmentally sustainable actions are impacted by a co-op's physical assets (most significantly around energy use and emissions of greenhouse gases and pollutants).
Energy use and efficiency
Reducing unnecessary water use
Pollution/use of resources
For more information and links, visit our general environmental sustainability page.
Co-ops can have an impact on their operating costs and the environment when they carefully consider energy sources and energy efficiency when engaged with asset management planning.
Different sources of energy have different impacts. Some generate no obvious pollution where consumed (photovoltaic, wind power, burning hydrogen, hydroelectricity) and others (like burning fossil fuels or nuclear fission) have well-known concerns. Even the cleanest methods of keeping us warm or powering our lights will have less impact if we use less of them.
Electricity and gas are the main energy sources in our homes: perhaps consider how your co-op's current energy use could be optimized.
Energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions are affected by a range of factors including the kind of heating (and cooling) systems; where their power comes from; the design and number of lights and electronics, and the degree of insulation. Reducing waste is the first step in making your co-op more energy efficient. Are your systems running when they are not being used? Is there a potential for automation? Increasing the efficiency of your systems can mean regular cleaning, insulation, or replacement of certain components.
One way to determine how and where energy is being used (and identify opportunities for improvements and incentives) is through an energy audit. There are different standards for energy audits. One of the more popular, ASHRAE (the American Society of Heating, Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers), provides three levels of progressing detail for energy audits:
*BC Hydro and Fortis have their own requirements for their incentives
Freshwater is a precious resource and even in British Columbia its availability is limited. Co-ops can save water through changes in behaviour (at the member level) and through careful maintenance and renewal decisions. Here we'll focus on co-op maintenance and renewal practices.
Buildings have a significant impact on physical and mental health, as do site conditions. Some elements of a building are largely determined during the design and construction process, but renewal projects and on-going maintenance make an impact as well. Members and management may want to consider the impact of their choices and aim to improve their co-op homes.
Extreme weather events are becoming more common. In recent years we've had the hottest temperatures on record and wildfire smoke has been a recurring problem.
These issues affect our comfort, but they also have health impacts — many died in 2021 from the affects of the heat dome. What can we do?
One of the first things is to do a bit of planning and preparation. Take a look at our checklist, Housing Co-ops and Coping with Extreme Heat and Smoke(PDF).