Call To Action: The #AlwaysWaste Cycle of Canadian Construction

The greenest building is always the existing building – We know this. Life Cycle experts around the globe have told us this, and demonstrated it, countless times. And yet, our leaders continue to ignore the benefits of existing buildings, the carbon payback period of new “efficient” buildings, and the catastrophe being caused by demolitions, within Municipal Bylaws, Energy Step Codes, Building Codes, and Zero Waste Planning. Why do our leaders refuse to utilize the information being provided to them? Why are the top 2 tiers of the Zero Waste pyramid - Avoid and Reduce, so consistently ignored in development and community planning?

When I discovered that Construction and Sustainability make up 11% of Canada's GDP on their own, increasing to a whopping 24% with the addition of real estate, this picture started coming together for me. 

"Time is money," has long been a prevalent saying in growth industries. The one commonality between Avoid and Reuse Options - like Home Relocation and Deconstruction - is that they often require developers to think of waste earlier on in the construction process. They require prioritization of responsible waste, and for waste to be considered in project timelines. They also support reducing production and consumption of materials - Both of which are not favored ideologies within our culture or economy.

In addition, both Home Relocation and Deconstruction offer the option to have structures or materials donated to a registered charity or Indigenous community, in exchange for a tax receipt. This prioritization of Avoid and Reduce, along with money forfeited in taxes, does appear to be in direct conflict with government objectives as outlined in current goal-planning documents, despite the opportunities for low-cost housing these charitable programs offer. Just home relocation alone could have provided 9000 homes to Coastal and Indigenous communities in the last 10 years, if only Provincial governments had been willing to provide clarification of Building Code applications - which is objectively in their scope - to municipalities, as companies and jurisdictions have been asking them to for decades. (You can read the correct application: here.)

Until our government accepts reality - that waste cannot be undone - continued production, consumption, waste and embodied carbon will continue to undermine all other sustainability efforts, and climate action will remain a problem for future generations to fix. We will continue to hear refrains of, "They knew this 30 years ago, why didn't they do anything about it?" from our children, and their children. Because addressing waste, would require governments to enforce accountability within 3 profitable industries. And why would they want to do that?

Further Reading:

UBC Teardown Index

NBC GHG Provisions Proposal

NBC Code Change Request Fact Sheet

The Greenest Building

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