Reflecting on 20 years: A conversation with Jon Hobbs

Member Profiles

CAGBC’s 20th anniversary interview series returns with one of the organization’s co-founders. Recognized as a pioneer of sustainable design and education, planner and architect Jon Hobbs was part of a select group that believed in the need for an organization that championed green building in Canada. In this interview, CAGBC’s Jean-Marc Fagelson, Public Policy and Government Affairs Advisor, talks with Jon about how CAGBC came to be and the early vision of how it could help transform the building sector.

You can watch the interview in full on our YouTube channel.

Can you tell me what it was like being on the ground floor of CAGBC, and what you hoped to gain from forming this organization?

It was very exciting and very inspiring to see so many fresh professionals come together with a desire to improve things. The founding really started the at the RAIC (Royal Architectural institute of Canada). At the time I was the executive director and had a committee called the Stainable Buildings Canada Committee. Everybody was so keen to join, and we had all sorts of members, including many non-architects. It was well beyond a professional society just for architects. To make a long story short, it really outgrew its mandate. The best way (forward) was to create the Canada Green Building Council as a not-for-profit.

We ultimately found a space in the RAIC headquarters to house CAGBC. We provided finance, accounting, and administrative support, and it very, very quickly grew. And I think within a couple of years they needed their own space.

And how did the idea of a practice-supporting organization come about? What did it mean, especially for architects such as yourself?

There were many people doing green building design on their own and maybe looking at support at the USGBC or other organizations. There were no really strong standards or anything at the time. But (green building) just seemed to be a great fit for architects because, for the most part, architects are very aware of the environment and the need for creating more sustainable solutions. One of the early things the founders did, and I think this is just before CAGBC was founded, they hired Dr. Ray Cole to look at the LEED standard in the US and sort of Canadianize it. And that was done and quickly was adopted initially when the CAGBC was formed.

Any important lesson learned with CAGBC as a leader and member or a collaborator?

Well, I think the most important lesson was to make (CAGBC) a wide tent, a big umbrella so that everybody in the construction industry, whether it be architects and engineers but also builders, contractors, suppliers, the whole gamut within the construction industry was involved. And I think that big tent was the reason for its success. Everybody bought into it. As you mentioned, it’s different from traditional professional association. So, the CAGBC missions can be endorsed by virtually all these professional association without any mandate interference.

Do you think it’s our biggest strength?

Oh, absolutely. I do think it’s the biggest strength because professional organizations, they have their own sort of set of guidelines, mandates, ethics, and they can be narrow and geared obviously for that particular profession. So, when you look at the design and construction industry, it’s really a broad-based part of the economy, a big part of the economy, and you need to have everybody involved.

And so today, CAGBC’s member network is 1000 corporate members strong. How does that compare to what you envisioned?
Well, I was always amazed because the architectural profession is very small in Canada. But I was amazed at how quickly CAGBC grew. And I I’m still amazed, but that having been said, you know, there’s many sectors that are still ignorant of green building principles, particularly the housing sector. There’s a long way to go, but I’m still amazed at what’s taken place in 20 years.

And what do you think CAGBC should focus on over the next 20 years?

Well, I think the way things are going with respect to standards and decarbonization, that’s excellent. But advocacy remains a really big component because the public needs to be educated. Policy-makers need to be educated. All levels of government need to be educated.

I just completed a house, and it has a solar electricity with net metering and a year and a half later, I’m still fighting with the provincial government. With respect to net metering, they are not at all ready for this and I think given the need to move away from fossil fuels and the need for growth in electricity and electricity generation, that should be a priority with all electrical utilities across Canada.

My pet peeve is plastic and plastic pollution. Anyone who’s traveled widely to remote areas, it’s pervasive. It’s toxic and only 9 to 10 percent is recycled and the building industries responsible for some of that – polyethylene wraps, plastic straps around lumber and other supplies. It’s endless. So, I really think part of the advocacy should be directed at building manufacturers to eliminate plastic packaging.

I think we also must deal with embodied energy and supply chain. We should start to probably change the economy to have many more things made in Canada and reduce transportation. We’re importing building materials, appliances, machinery, everything from all over the world. Canada is a big enough country to start manufacturing some of these things.

This interview was edited; watch the full interview here.