Sustainability Defined

A Closer Look at One of Our Core Values

September 16, 2019 by Rob

When I got to sit down with Len and talk about site sustainability as it pertains to both single family homes as well as communities he made a great observation that there isn’t a universal understanding of what “Sustainability” means. We recognize there has been a band wagon and not everyone touting ideas and initiatives in the name of “Sustainability” really get it. He had a very diplomatic approach of not judging others, but simply saying as individuals and communities it’s important for us to define what “Sustainability” means to us. So I wanted to write a blog (and made a short video) explaining what my views are.

My view starts with a quote:

“There are just two things on this material earth – people and natural resources.” ~ Gifford Pinchot

To me sustainability looks like an equilibrium that allows us to exist in an environment in a balance that does not deplete our natural resources. This is a challenge in modern life because that environment then becomes anywhere we draw upon resources, which extends to China for some of my clothing, and to England for my morning tea. The more we globalize the harder it is to really gauge are we a good steward. I feel we also have to remember that the environment includes people. When this topic gets politicized it often becomes the economy (people) vs. the environment (the trees and stuff), like the human race is a scourge on the planet.

The scourge paradigm might have a bit of truth in it which is why it’s frequently accepted, but ultimately it’s a pretty low resolution look at the situation. The simple fact of the mater is there have been periods where we have not done a good job living in an equilibrium with nature, but when you look at what has been accomplished in the last 50 years through an increased understanding of natural systems, technological developments in many industries, I think there is sufficient evidence that we are moving in the right direction.

I could go on and on about how a sustainable mindset influences my decisions, but it’s probably best to bring it back to the sustainable focuses Selkirk Country has, and expand on what was covered in the video.

All Electric Vehicles

The first quarter of next year to purchase an all electric vehicle. Historically, with the office being so close to my home we put very few miles on our vehicles. But with starting home inspections this year, and with such a broad service area, I could start racking up miles pretty quick.

The electric vehicle is great in the inland northwest because thanks to Avista we have clean, affordable power. I’ve calculated for every $100 I would have spent in fuel, my electric bill will go up $25. This, like many environmentally informed decisions, is not only going to be better for the environment, but it’s also going to be better for me. The fuel savings is great, but another factor is the on going maintenance for all electric vehicles in a fraction of a traditional vehicle, no more oil changes!

Material Choices

When it comes to being a general contractor my focus is “renovation”, so I primarily focus on older properties. That means I default to working with more natural materials, than overly processed ones. Although even on newer homes I’m an advocate for natural materials, again because it’s better for us, and the environment.

Natural materials require a little more maintenance, but the service life is generally much longer. If you keep your wood siding painted it can still look great after 50 years. Vinyl siding isn’t going to last half that long, and it wont decompose so it will end up in a landfill or incinerated, neither of which seam like a good solution. It’s bad for the environment, and if you break your cost down by the service life it isn’t even beneficial from a cost perspective. I probably need to write a blog just focused on that. Stop putting vinyl siding on your homes people!

I also like wood, real wood, on interior components. I think fiberboard and mdf product are better than poly based products. Environmentally, we’re making the most of a renewable resource by turning the sawdust and remains of milled products into a product, which is brilliant. But they can still de-laminate, when it comes to longevity I invest real wood.

Shop Local

I still get some materials from the big box stores, I work late and they are sometimes the best (only) solution if you want to finish a project at 9:30pm. There are also times when it makes sense to import materials if there isn’t a suitable local solution. For example, the wood on our commercial building is an imported hardwood, because the local softwoods would not have held up with the impact from being on an arterial corridor.

That said, whenever there is a local option for sourcing local materials I’m going to go that route. The closer we source materials the less we as a community will need to invest in infrastructure. There was an impressive study done by SNAP a few years ago that should the indirect cost of supporting big box stores, while the price was cheaper for the product, we’re paying indirectly more in taxes to create the structures that allow those entities to exist. As I look at sustainability I feel the closer to my home I can get something produced the better, which is why we have backyard chickens and a garden.

Carring for People

As I mentioned in the video for me sustainability isn’t just about a love of the natural landscape, it’s also about people. I’m working to make some connections with local nonprofits that are supporting first time home buyers, or home owners that through circumstances have become economically disadvantaged.

I also feel a connection with the environment is beneficial to both our physical and mental well-being, so I will certainly be involved with organizations that facilitate those connection to nature, like Spokane City Parks (which has an amazing outdoor rec program). The outdoor feel of the brand for Selkirk Country is very much predicated on that belief, that a tie to nature is critical for our health. And ultimately my primary objective through the work I do, to reduce stress centered on the home, allowing people more time to focus on the things that are really important.

B Corp Certification

There is a new corporation designation called “B Corporations” that recognize a balance in profit and purpose. There are a lot of certification requirements, but the “B Corp Declaration of Interdepencence” gives some insight into the B Economy.

As B Corporations and leaders of this emerging economy, we believe:

  • That we must be the change we seek in the world.
  • That all business ought to be conducted as if people and place mattered.
  • That, through their products, practices, and profits, businesses should aspire to do no harm and benefit all.
  • To do so requires that we act with the understanding that we are each dependent upon another and thus responsible for each other and future generations.

At our current size it doesn’t make sense but from the beginning I’ve been planning on working toward this certification. Maybe by the second quarter of 2020? I’ll keep you posted. I’m sure this will be shared on Linkedin & Facebook, feel free to continue the conversation there, what does sustainability look like to you?


Written By Rob

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Selkirk Country offers a range of home inspection and general contracting services. We are uniquely adept to serving clients with turn-of-the-century or mid-century homes. We have a sound understanding of building science and embrace historic preservation. Through the inspetion process we're also able to support with additional services like radon detection and sew scope, eliminating the need to call out several specialist and saving our clients time and money.

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