TreeHugger: You are sort of the green face of CMHC these days?
Mark Salerno: I have a strong interest in sustainability as an architect, and it is part of our mandate as an organization (we first built the healthy house in 1996, the sustainable condo and now are building a series of houses across the country) so my interest is both professional and personal.
TH: What has motivated you to be interested in sustainable design?
MS: Lets start from a pure design perspective; many things are just not well designed at all, so you have glasses that break the first time you put them in the dishwasher, or buildings that are incredibly inefficient even if they have a nice chandelier of staircase. So the issue for me is to bring design to bear on the issue of sustainability and find elegant solutions that use materials in an efficient way. There is also the issue of the quality of indoor environments. My kids have asthma and I know that the air quality in my home affects their health.
From a design point of view, there is a lot more interest in energy use, and also density is becoming more of an issue. If we are going to have more multi-unit living we are going to have smaller spaces, how do you design them so that they are multi-purpose? There is a whole series of embedded issues but sustainability weaves them together in a way that is comprehensible.
zero-energy condo in Montreal from EQuilibrium Competition
TH: How do we take the message about sustainability beyond the issue of energy that seems to be so dominant in the discussion?
MS: Definitely energy alone is not an end in itself. However it is a very good starting point. If you get them into that space where they are saving money then they get motivated, and one thing leads to another. For instance, one of the best ways to save energy is to seal and caulk and tighten up your building envelope. This is great, but it means that if you use cleaners and chemicals with VOC's you are really going to feel it as with less air infiltration it gets toxic pretty quickly, and it leads to purchasing decisions like buying greener products. So what started with energy leads in different directions, but you have to give people the information to put the pieces together.