Ask the Expert: Jean-François Méthé, Manager of the LEED Program at Écohabitation talks about the present and future of sustainable housing

Jean-François Méthé, Manager of the LEED Canada for Homes program, Évaluations Écohabatitions of Québec Inc.

1. Tell us a little about your career and how you came to be interested in sustainability/sustainable housing.

The earth has a finite number of resources, and therefore to me it was only natural that I be passionate about sustainability. My interest in sustainable housing goes back almost five years to when Emmanuel Cosgrove, co-founder of Écohabitation, hired me to manage Écohabitation's LEED Canada for Homes program. Everything in sustainability is intrinsically linked, so sustainable housing as an area was something that I took to very quickly. At the same time I feel like it fits in well with the global and interdisciplinary vision of sustainability and development.

2. What does your work entail in your current position with Écohabitation?

I manage the LEED Canada for Homes program for Évaluations Écohabitation of Québec Inc. This involves coordinating projects and evaluations, editing files, promoting the program, writing articles on the most interesting projects (for the Écohabitation news site and Twitter feed) and managing the LEED section of the website, along with company finances. I am also the liaison between the company and the both CaGBC and USGBC. And true to my passion for sustainability, since 2011 I have carried out an annual GHG inventory related to our business, and I take care of our carbon offsets with Carbone Boréal.

3. Are there any green projects you've worked on that stand out in your mind?

Many rural and urban projects have distinguished themselves through their design, durability, exceptional social or environmental aspects, or through simple ingenuity. Here are (in my opinion) some key examples of sustainable housing in Quebec:

4. You coordinate LEED projects for Écohabitation. What are some of the things you've learned working on LEED homes? Any advice you'd give to others?

I learned how much LEED certification can make a difference to energy efficiency, resource consumption, preserving ecosystems and providing a healthier environment. The positive economic/environmental/social impact of LEED buildings is well demonstrated, and at this point I have no doubt about its usefulness. Everyone wins with sustainable green buildings.

Rather than advice I would like to convey a message intended for policy makers: that green and sustainable housing is the way of the future. In the context of climate change, reducing our carbon footprint is the crucial issue of the 21st century. Because of this, it is political will that we need most. Provincial and municipal governments should get involved and support LEED certification and sustainability incentives for all residential construction. If this were to happen, it would make a huge impact and be a triple threat of benefits: our carbon footprint would be drastically reduced (and quickly), it would stimulate the green economy, and we'd have a healthier environment.

5. Do you think that the idea of sustainable homes has caught on? How do you think we could change attitudes toward sustainability amongst the general population?

Certainly LEED housing is gaining in popularity, but right now it fits into a very particular niche. As suggested earlier, without incentives and the support of provincial and municipal governments, growth will remain marginal.

To change the general population's attitude toward sustainability it must come from education and communication. We need to reach and influence the people who mistakenly believe that green building is too expensive or too complicated, but even then it's not enough. Municipal incentives and LEED policies are required. For example, on L' Île de Hull, municipal tax incentives are slightly higher for LEED projects and this helps, but then there was a recent explosion of LEED projects in the Ville St-Laurent in Montreal because LEED became a building requirement.

Sometimes you have to force rather than just educate and inform – especially if we really want to take this into fifth gear. Thanks to places like Ville St-Laurent and its mayor Alan DeSousa, LEED homes have skyrocketed in Quebec between 2011 and 2013. For more information you can view our webpage that talks about this growth.

6. In your opinion, what will be the future of sustainable housing in the immediate or long term?

Over time, we will increasingly reduce the barriers to green construction. This reduction will be accompanied with urban densification. Green builders of the future will use carbon-neutral materials such as wood (provided that there is a balance between reforestation and depletion of the resource). Net-zero buildings will multiply. We will focus more heavily on resources and renewable energy that contributes to a more sustainably built, economically viable and healthy environment. However, for this future to be possible, it will require an interdisciplinary vision, along with innovation, creativity and above all – political will.