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Study author David Hendrickson outside Burnaby’s Cranberry Gardens, one of only a handful of cohousing developments in the Lower Mainland.

Cohousing condo owners consume less

January 21, 2010

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The subtitle of a new study by researchers at SFU’s Centre for Sustainable Community Development asks the question: "Do ‘Green’ Residential Developments Reduce Post-Occupancy Consumption Levels?"

The answer, according to Green Buildings, Green Consumption co-author David Hendrickson, is "it depends on how you define ‘green’. "We found that the people living in these green buildings, their consumption has not changed," says the PhD grad student, who conducted the study in collaboration with academic advisor and centre director Mark Roseland.

The problem, says Hendrickson, is that environmentally sustainable building efforts are not focused on how residents are organized. "We focus on the science and technology of green buildings." The researchers surveyed 433 owner-occupants in four conventional condominium complexes, two "green" developments with features such as locally sourced building materials and green roofs, and two cohousing developments.

Cohousing, relatively new in North America, consists of individually owned housing units arranged around a variety of common facilities like courtyards, multi-purpose meeting rooms, laundry areas and Internet connections.

The authors performed follow-up interviews with 42 respondents on their consumption patterns in seven categories: housing, mobility, food, solid waste, social capital, consumption behaviours and livability.

"What we found is that people in cohousing are able to do a lot of sustainable things individual households or even multi-unit residential households can’t do on their own." That’s because cohousing residents typically participate in the design and operation of their complexes and share events such as monthly neighbourhood barbecues, he says.

The result is that "all of a sudden they have a higher level of trust with their neighbours. And this has been associated with things like an increase in carpooling, sharing childcare, community gardening, bulk purchasing of organic food, you name it."

The report concludes with a number of recommendations to encourage reduced consumption and promote more cohousing. "Denmark with all of eight million people has more than 200 cohousing developments," says Hendrickson. "Here in Metro Vancouver you can count the number of developments on one hand in a population of three million."

Green Buildings, Green Consumption can be downloaded at realestatefoundation.com.

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