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Building Toward Water Efficiency: Innovation and Policy in New Residential Home Construction

Congress: 2008
Author(s): Elizabeth Hendrik
Sarah Wolfe, Ph.D. Post- Doctoral Fellow ES2-271 519-888-4567 X38189 Department of Environment and Resource Studies University of Waterloo Waterloo, ON N2L 3G1 Canada

Keyword(s): Builders, Canada, Efficiency, Innovation, Knowledge, Residential, Tacit-Knowledge, Water-Demand -Management,
AbstractINTRODUCTION: As communities grow, the strain upon existing water and wastewater infrastructure increases and will quickly become unsustainable. Pressure to expand the infrastructure means that capital costs threaten to overwhelm municipal budgets. A water efficiency strategy can maintain or reduce consumption and may defer some capital investment and infrastructure expansion. But reliance solely on municipal governments to ensure policies are implemented, and enforced, is risky. Government priorities and responsibilities change, citizen interests evolve and funding programs can be cut. The private sector’s ability to undertake a greater role in promoting and sustaining water efficiency initiatives is an untapped reservoir. This paper presents the new research investigating builders and discusses the methodology and preliminary results from cases in Ontario and British Columbia, Canada. OBJECTIVES: Residential builders have been neglected in the water efficiency and governance research. Conventional explanations are that the private sector has been slow to embrace efficiency innovations because they are not economically viable. Most of the water efficiency research has focused on the public’s consumption rates and the tools – e.g., pricing – designed to decrease demand. Yet residential builders are a highly influential group, and there are some exciting examples of innovation. METHODS and RESULTS: This research explores builders’ ‘tacit knowledge’. Tacit knowledge consists of deep beliefs and values about the way the world works and what is considered important. Usually grounded in practical experience, tacit knowledge is informal (not written down), unspoken, and sometimes almost impossible to articulate. People are often not even consciously aware of their tacit knowledge; rather, their deepest beliefs and values operate as a kind of implicit and unquestioned background understanding that shapes the way they see the world and act within it. For efficiency-minded builders, tacit knowledge shapes why they are concerned about water conservation, how they act on that concern in their day-to- day business practice, and what they say to their peers. To the extent that tacit knowledge can be explicitly articulated at all, it is conveyed using ambiguous language that must be carefully interpreted. For builders pursuing water efficiency, evidence of their tacit knowledge can be found in their stories about personal experiences with the natural environment and water; their stated reasons for caring about efficiency in their building trade; the specific efficiency innovations they implement in the buildings they construct; and the network of professional and trade relationships in which they work and exchange information. CONCLUSION: Understanding builders and their tacit knowledge, and its potential application, can be tremendously valuable for the day-to-day practices in growing municipalities, and for provincial and federal governments who are responsible for infrastructure and sustainable development. But just talking to builders won’t be sufficient. The legislative environment, as well as the builders’ organizational cultures, must also be assessed to generate new and proactive policy for residential water efficiency. By understanding builders’ learning processes, their rationale for action, and the organizational cultures in which they operate, it will be possible to make more informed policy recommendations at the national, provincial, and municipal levels.
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