The quality of our environment and how this environment affects our lives is intimately associated with where we live.
Where we live includes the geographic location and also the immediate quality of our housing. Because of our climate, Canadians pour a great deal of our resources — and by resources we mean not only financial, but energy (fossil fuels) and raw material (wood, stone, more fossil fuels) — into keeping warm in the winter, cool in the summer and dry in all seasons. Recently, a reader contacted us about initiatives by Habitat for Humanity. We have tremendous respect for the work Habitat does in the community, working closely with partner families.
The basic model is that partner families meeting income requirements invest 500 hours of “sweat equity” into the construction of their own house, alongside Habitat volunteers. The families then purchase the homes at cost with an interest-free mortgage supplied by Habitat for Humanity, resulting in good quality affordable homeownership.
Some current Habitat initiatives reflect a “greening” trend that is starting to appear in many sectors. Moreover, it is a pleasant change to write about an organization that is making housing accessible for people with limited means and revitalizing neighbourhoods, while simultaneously trying to make a difference for the environment.
One of the ways in which Habitat works for environmental, as well as social responsibility, is in its ReStores. Many Habitat affiliates operate ReStores. These ReStores sell new and gently used renovation materials that have been donated by individuals and organizations. These stores help Habitat for Humanity Toronto cover all costs for administration and fundraising, allowing Habitat to designate 100 per cent of regular donations to building homes. The recycling of renovation materials is environmentally friendly as it allows individuals to donate their materials instead of throwing them out. At the same time, the stores allow others to purchase these furnishings at less than half of what they would cost in stores. Locally, Habitat Toronto will be launching its third store on Wednesday at 7 Queen Elizabeth Blvd. in Etobicoke.
Another Habitat environmental initiative is in the area of energy conservation. According to Allen Davidov with Habitat Toronto, the organization is beginning to build Energy Star rated homes, and all future homes will be built to Energy Star standards. Habitat Toronto will be the first Canadian affiliate to build all its houses to this rating. Energy Star rating is based on energy use, and from a construction standpoint it means more insulation, sealing the outer walls, ceilings and floors to prevent drafts, and using Energy Star qualified windows. This will make construction costs slightly higher, but will reduce energy bills in the long term. Habitat Toronto’s inaugural Energy Star build will culminate with the “Green Blitz” during the week of Aug. 13-19. This finishing blitz is still accepting volunteers, and more information can be found at www.torontohabitat.ca.
While this highlights efforts in Toronto, other Habitat affiliates across Canada are increasingly conscious of energy costs when constructing homes. These houses are intended to be affordable to partner families in the long term, which includes constraining energy costs. It is likely other Habitat affiliates will follow the lead of Habitat Toronto in moving toward Energy Star homes. For more information on environmental initiatives, or to get involved as a volunteer, contact your local Habitat affiliate.
With these initiatives, Habitat for Humanity is expanding its model, which traditionally included economic and social sustainability, to include environmental sustainability. Habitat is certainly not alone in its movement toward greater environmental consciousness. Other individuals and organizations across Canada work tirelessly to improve the environment, while strengthening their communities. We will highlight more of these efforts in future columns.
Andrew Laursen is an assistant professor in the department of chemistry and biology at Ryerson University and is a member of the environmental applied science and management program in graduate studies. His research is in the area of ecosystem ecology. Sophia Dore is an environmental scientist with Conestoga-Rovers & Associates, an environmental consulting company. Contact Andrew Laursen at firstname.lastname@example.org