As a civil engineer with over two decades of experience in residential, commercial, and industrial commercial construction, John Clarke is not a self-described environmentalist or a tree-hugger, but a citizen who believes that everyone has a role in environmental stewardship. When he co-founded Niche Development Corp., he didn’t set out to help save the planet or change society. Yet as president of the only development firm in North America that can build zero-emission multifamily buildings, he is doing just that with a company comprised of its own engineering, construction, and development groups all working toward the goal of environmental sustainability. As the leaders in energy efficiency across the continent, they are the designers behind the first zero-emission building—an eight-story affordable housing project heated and cooled geothermally and outfitted with solar rays on the roof and walls, using zero gas. “Trying to convince people to change the way they do things is really hard. When we first started, no one believed us. Now that we’re showing people how it’s done, people believe us, and we can help invoke change in society and change the planet,” John explains.
John founded Edmonton-based Niche Development Corp. with partner Peter Purewal in 2015 as a company inspired by sustainability, durability, and zero-energy innovation. With a focus on green energy and the ability to construct a multifamily building with almost entirely renewable energy, they established a brand-new niche in the construction industry. “We named ourselves Niche because we knew we had a niche market for people. There’s no one else in the business who builds or produces the buildings that we do, and within the timeframe we do. A 69-unit building took us 14 months, and it has the first zero-emission HVAC system. We used geothermal heating and cooling with no gas whatsoever.”
Niche is certainly a different kind of development company. As leaders in tech, and with in-house engineering, they both design their innovative buildings and build them. With these advantages, people get high quality with a low cost, and with construction of almost entirely renewable energy, they get a very comfortable living environment with cleaner, fresher air, and excellent insulation that provides a consistent temperature. “People can’t hear their neighbors, which is huge. You cannot hear the person above. EVER! Not even dropping a hammer on the floor would do it,” John explains. Niche also places tremendous importance on safety, using only pretested concrete and structural steel, unlike most developers who use wood, which can pose a danger to residents. “A lot of people here build with wood, but it burns, rots, and molds, and shouldn’t be used in houses. That is not our model. We like to make sure people know that when they build with us, they’re safe and can sleep well at night.”
John reflects on the early days of his trailblazing development company, and where they are now—as a firm who is changing the face of North America’s construction industry. “To build, you need engineers, and that was the largest hill we had to climb. We had to have our engineers design our buildings in a way no one else has ever done. Now we’re changing the planet and, essentially, society by convincing an industry they’ve been doing it wrong and showing them how to change the way things are done. We do it because it helps people and our planet, and it just makes good buildings.”
John is a proud NAIT graduate with a civil engineering technology diploma, which he has used extensively in his career. In addition to the chartable work on behalf of the company, he also extensively supports the ALS society.
President — Niche Development Corp.
LinkedIn: John Clarke
Download the Top 100 Canadian Professionals magazine and check out John's feature on page 90.