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Lighthouse showcases BC green tech sector

Vancouver might be heralded as the launching point for green building technology in Canada, but this sector is supported by innovative green companies from all around the province, says Helen Goodland, executive director of the Lighthouse Sustainable Building Centre.

Lighthouse is hosting tours, special events and speakers for the duration of the Olympics. Most international visitors so far, says Goodland, have been business people focused on trade and investment -- and they're been surprised at the number of made-in-B.C. products on the green building market.

Goodland estimates that 80 per cent of the products that Lighthouse features are made in Canada, and 80 per cent of those are made in British Columbia. A demonstration kitchen at Lighthouse features recycled concrete and glass countertops from Victoria-based Szolyd. Flooring in one corridor is made from recycled rubber, by Dinoflex in Salmon Arm.

While the actual composition of building materials is a huge factor in the amount of carbon emissions they rack up, so too is the distance they must travel. But, while marketing the proximity of a product may have worked for the local food movement, the same can't be said for the green building industry.

"We've got these great local technologies and they're all being shipped to Italy and the United States," Goodland says.

Why isn't there more uptake here at home? For one thing, they are more expensive than conventional building materials, says Goodland, and they're also not available at mega-stores like Rona or Home Depot.

Goodland, who is from the UK, says that the European approach emphasizes doomsday scenarios of climate change to scare people into sustainable lifestyles. North Americans tend to be more concerned with health, comfort and livability. A product's design and non-toxic properties are more important than its carbon footprint, she says. And energy efficiency is an extremely tough sell in British Columbia, where electricity costs mere pennies a kilowatt hour.

A sleek, energy-efficient fridge might be great for saving space in the kitchen, but it would take about 450 years to recoup its cost through your electricity bill, she points out.

The point of Lighthouse is to offer resources, support and showcase the non-conventional options, says Goodland. "We want to show people what's available. We leave the scolding to David Suzuki."

Colleen Kimmett reports for The Tyee.

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