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Le Groupe Maurice’s social impact: Interview with Patrice Bonin

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Le Groupe Maurice is conscious of the fact that the state of our planet is one of the major challenges facing society today. All over the world, environmental movements are coming together with an ambitious commitment to creating a positive social impact. So what can a company do to create a positive impact for the community?

The Luc Maurice Foundation, the company’s involvement in the communities where its residences are located, its promotion of volunteering among residents and its openness to new environmental practices all demonstrate that we are well aware of the importance of taking action to make our world a better place. But how do we adopt more sustainable development practices in our operations at a time when construction costs and constraints are increasing? As Patrice Bonin, Director of Asset Management at Le Groupe Maurice, would say, “What’s important is that you start somewhere.” Since we’ve already started, what’s the next step?

 

Patrice Bonin, first of all, what is sustainable development?

The term is relatively recent. It first appeared in a 1987 report by the UN’s World Commission on
Environment and Development. The report defines sustainable development as development that “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” In other words, it is economic growth which takes environmental and social issues into consideration.

 

An ambitious goal

It’s no less than that (laughs)! Sustainable development should be seen as a process or path rather than a destination. Twenty years ago, no one recycled. Today, it’s part of our daily routine. This path begins with a mission. For us, it is a commitment supported by the senior management team. An amazing thing about this vision is that it’s multi-faceted. It isn’t just for the head office. It will be reflected in the company’s policies and practices.

 

How did the topic of sustainable development arise within Le Groupe Maurice?

When I arrived two years ago, sustainable development was not one of the priorities. Since then, we’ve had to deal with growing concerns about the global environment. The company already had some related concerns when I arrived: for example, energy expenses (electricity and natural gas) for all the buildings. These expenses totalled several millions of dollars annually. The members of the executive management committee therefore decided to adopt an action plan to keep these costs under control. The timing is right since our new financial partner has asked us to provide data on our energy usage for its own social responsibility report. This partner is also open to supporting us with the launch of future sustainable development initiatives. So the stars appear to be aligned and it’s very encouraging!

 

What made you want to join Le Groupe Maurice?

I was drawn by the company’s people-centred values. And I knew that I’d be joining a company that has strong growth in addition to strong values. In just 20 years, Le Groupe Maurice has become a world-class player. It’s remarkable! I could see the company’s potential and the even greater impact that it could have on the industry. And I wasn’t wrong! Since I arrived here two years ago, Le Groupe Maurice has greatly evolved. I knew that sooner or later, I’d be able to put my knowledge of sustainable development to good use.

 

But that wasn’t your initial role here. Can you explain how you became the company’s go-to person for sustainable development?

Sometimes things just fall perfectly into place. It’s true that Le Groupe Maurice didn’t hire me to be
their sustainable development specialist. My role is director of asset management, a position I’ve also held at other companies. I’ve always worked in the real estate sector. I’ve also always been very interested in sustainable development, an area I’ve always been involved with, including on a voluntary basis. Over the course of my career, I’ve had the opportunity to combine these two areas of expertise. And with the environment being one of the major challenges facing society today, it was inevitable that the topic would arise one day at Le Groupe Maurice.

 

Where did your passion for environmental issues come from?

When I finished my studies at Polytechnique Montréal and completed mechanical engineering training, I worked 10 years for a major American equipment manufacturer. That enabled me to participate actively in projects aimed at designing buildings that were more energy-efficient. That was 25 years ago, when environmental issues were just starting to get attention.

Over time, thanks to my extensive professional experience, I became a specialist on the topic. The LEED movement took off in the mid-2000s. When I became a certified LEED Professional in 2007, there were only a handful of us throughout all of Quebec. The project was still in its infancy but we believed in it. Today, LEED certification, like other environmental certification programs, is accepted as a benchmark in the real estate industry. We can be proud of obtaining the LEED certification for our Caléo residence in Boucherville.

The building has many technical specifications related to sustainable development. For example, water and waste management and the availability of alternative means of transport must be taken into consideration. Energy use plays a prominent role. When you realize that the real estate sector (residential, commercial and institutional combined) is responsible for 30% of energy use and greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, you realize that there’s plenty of work to do. As I gained experience, energy efficiency became my passion. This happened for two main reasons. First, it’s a great way to have a positive environmental impact. Second, it’s good for business! Profitability is key to the success of any project and this factor should never be overlooked. It should be a win-win situation. So I’ve made it my mission to make decision-makers realize that it’s worth improving energy efficiency from both an environmental and financial standpoint.

 

What specific actions can Le Groupe Maurice take to reduce its energy use?

Our goal is to achieve tangible results. Therefore, we established a plan outlining a series of energy saving improvements that we want to implement at current and future residences. However, no actions will be taken that could compromise the comfort of our residents. That’s our golden rule. We’ll need to follow a roadmap and make progress gradually. That will require patience and trust, since we won’t be able to transform our buildings overnight. Therefore, we need to have realistic expectations.

 

What does the plan entail?

Having analyzed our energy expenditures, we are ready to launch the first stage of the plan. Initially, we contracted a company to evaluate the energy performance of our buildings and measure our energy consumption. At the end of this process, we received confirmation that our buildings were, on average, 39% more efficient than the Canadian average for our sector, which is excellent news! One explanation for this is the design of the insulation used in our buildings. So Le Groupe Maurice is already a strong performer in terms of energy efficiency. But there’s always room for improvement. That’s where our plan comes in. Continue reading below to find out all the steps in Le Groupe Maurice’s energy management plan.

 

 

 

Take stock of the current situation

We thoroughly analyzed the energy performance of all Le Groupe Maurice buildings and we categorized them according to various assessment criteria, like cost and gigajoules* per square foot. This analysis enabled us to detect areas for improvement and identify what we could change in the short term without any investments. This led to the creation of Le Groupe Maurice’s guide to energy management best practices, which was released at residences on November 13, 2019. The guide contains easy energy-saving tips that don’t cost anything. One of the simplest examples is remembering to switch off the lights when you exit a room.

 

Identify the factors we can control

The biggest cause of fluctuations in energy use is the weather. Unfortunately, this factor is beyond our control. Therefore, we need to find controllable variables that we can work on. We’ll have to identify a set of initiatives requiring investment which can offer even more significant energy savings. For example, we’ll need to adopt different strategies for reducing energy consumption during peak hours. Once again, uncontrollable factors like weather are involved. When it’s cold out, we always keep all the heat on high to ensure the comfort of residents, and that’s never going to change. I reiterate: we want to reduce energy waste, but never at the expense of our residents’ comfort.

 

Aim for the long term

Focusing on quality rather than quantity pays off in the long term. This is the time for investing in more
energy-efficient equipment to replace systems that reach the end of their useful life. The good news is that we already do this for some facilities. These efforts must be continued.

 

Have experts on board

We have to surround ourselves with experts on the topic and equip ourselves with tools to analyze operations and respond in real time. Down the road, we aim to install a continuous monitoring system that will help us optimize our energy consumption in real time. That’s what lies at the end of the plan’s final step. But there’s still plenty of work to be done before we get there!

 

Is there hope for future generations?

Not so long ago, the ozone depletion crisis seemed impossible to solve. These days, we hardly ever hear about this issue anymore. That’s because response efforts were successfully able to address part of the
problem. Therefore, there is hope because solutions do exist for environmental problems. But we need to take the problem seriously and everyone around the world needs to be involved in the solution. That’s where the true challenge lies. Action by individuals is extremely important, but collective action is needed to achieve major results and counter the negative environmental impacts of human activity.

Only 10 or 12 years ago, all we did was recycle. These days, we do a lot more. It’s encouraging to see that the public is putting more and more pressure on governments to find solutions to sustainable development challenges. Our residents also expect us to do our part as a company. The climate crisis is also getting a lot of media coverage. So there’s growing pressure from today’s society to protect the planet’s future.

These concerns, once the domain of environmental experts, are now shared by the entire population. That’s a clear sign that things are changing. At the end of the day, the spread of environmental consciousness is prompting companies like ours to take action. The timing is right. We must act here and now and keep our end goal in sight.

 

Thank you very much for this interview Patrice Bonin!

 

 

* One gigajoule is equivalent to 1 billion (109) joules. A joule is a unit of energy in the International System of Units used to quantify energy, work and heat quantity.

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