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Recognition for green efforts

When Carpenter founded Enermodal Engineering in 1981, there was virtually no “green movement” to enter into. In the decades since, his company’s work designing green buildings has been regarded as ahead of the curve.

Carpenter was named a Member of the Order of Canada on December 30 “for his visionary leadership in the development and stewardship of Canada’s green building industry.” For the retired engineer, his career rose parallel with Canada’s own environmental consciousness.

Stephen Carpenter founded Enermodal Engineering in 1981, specializing in green building projects long before the modern environmental movement.[Will Sloan / The Observer]
Stephen Carpenter founded Enermodal Engineering in 1981, specializing in green building projects long before the modern environmental movement. [Will Sloan / The Observer]
“I saw that people’s interests in those sorts of issues changed depending on what the price of energy was,” said Carpenter in his Conestogo home. That could mean big business if the country was reeling from an energy crisis, and lean times in prosperity.

“If the price of energy was high, it was, ‘The sky is falling, we have to do something,’ and when the price came back down it was, ‘Okay, let me go back to my old ways.’

“My conclusion from all of that was, we’re not going to get the change we want, and people are going to be driven to act, strictly on price – price is too fickle. I saw that it was more important that people were doing it for the right reason, and hey, if you save some money at the same time, what a bonus.”

In a capitalist society, wouldn’t “the right reason” be a tough sell? “It actually turned out to be an easier sell,” said Carpenter.

He points to the five-cent fee on grocery bags, which have noticeably decreased their use. “Five cents isn’t going to break anybody, right? I view it more as peer pressure than anything else. I know if I go to the grocery store and forget to take my bags or my bin, I feel really bad and awkward and hope nobody is there seeing me carrying an evil plastic garbage bag.”

Carpenter saw a similar cultural shift when he helped bring the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) green building rating system to Canada in the early 2000s. When he chaired the LEED Canada technical committee and co-authored the reference guide, he saw companies from Fortune 500 to small startups wanting their buildings green certified.

“There are some companies, like Mountain Equipment Co-op, who do it just because that’s who they are,” Carpenter said. “I don’t want to sound cynical or facetious about it, I think [some] companies want to have a good community relationship and so they do it, and that’s all great.

“Most of those companies are large enough that they have a corporate sustainability plan and this green rating system fits right into that. I think they’re always concerned about their corporate image, and so this is a good way to help with that corporate image.”

The explosion of the green movement after the turn of the millennium also expanded Enermodal. The Waterloo-based business, which employed a dozen people in the ‘80s, now has more than 100 staff members specialized in energy-efficient building design.

“I still think there’s a perception of, ‘Oh, well, it’s going to cost a lot of money, I can’t really afford it, I’m trying to do it as cheaply as possible.’ That’s not really the case. There’s a small premium, but it’s pretty small, and you get a return on investment in savings on energy and water and all these other benefits.”

Carpenter sold Enermodal to the MMM Group in 2010, and retired from his position as president in 2013. He takes satisfaction in the rare privilege of the Order of Canada.

“It’s a bit humbling when I think of all the great people that have gotten this,” he said. “I’m a professional engineer, and a lot of the other people who have gotten it have been in sort of the arts and entertainment or the news business or politics or something like that. That’s one thing I was pleased about, that they actually recognized contributions in other fields than the traditional ones that have been rewarded.”

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