How Canada’s largest city is trying to cut down on its greenhouse gas emissions

The 905 and 416 area codes have come to define the Greater Toronto Area in the past 20 years. Rene Johnston/Toronto Star via Getty Images

TORONTO – In Canada’s largest city, the skyscrapers continue to rise taller and taller, though the city is aiming to bring its energy bill lower and lower.

Cars are often cited as high producers of greenhouse gas, but the reality is that cities are major culprits.

According to the Canadian Green Building Council, there are 68,000 commercial buildings across Canada that account for 28 per cent of all greenhouse gases emitted in the country.

What that means for cities like Toronto — which is home to dozens of skyscrapers and hundreds of office buildings, more than any in Canada — is finding new ways to make buildings greener.

Toronto has been extremely successful in lowering its greenhouse gas emissions. In 2007, the city adopted the Kyoto Protocol to set goals of its own, specifically, reducing emissions to 1990 levels. A recent report from the city stated that Toronto had reduced its emissions in 2012 by 15 per cent — far ahead of its 6 per cent target.

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Mark Bekkering of the City of Toronto’s Environment and Energy Office, said that the level was also helped by provincial standards set to reduce the use of coal, as well as methane capture projects in landfills.

Adopting better ways to build

“A lot of people don’t realize how much energy is used in the workplace,” said Andrew McAllan, Chairman of the Canadian Green Building Council, a not-for-profit organization working toward green buildings and sustainable practices throughout the country.

McAllan is also the Managing Director for Real Estate Management at Oxford Properties Group, one of the largest property developers and managers in Canada. “Unlike cars, which have perhaps a 10-year life and then they’re off the road, these buildings are for 50, 60, 100 years.”

Joe D’Abramo, Director, Zoning and Environmental Planning for the City of Toronto, said that Canada’s largest city knew that it had to re-examine how buildings were constructed.

“We recognized that buildings are probably the single largest source of greenhouse gas emissions for the city, as a grouping,” said D’Abramo. “And what we did was establish performance measures for development for the new builders.”

The city created the Toronto Green Standard, a set of guidelines for buildings that are designed to promote sustainable development.

In January 2010, Toronto put into place the Green Roof Bylaw, where new commercial, institutional and residential development with a minimum of a total floor area of 2,000 square metres had to install green roofs. It was the first city in North America to do so.

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An aerial shot taken from the 51st floor above the Manulife Centre, taken in 2004. (Photo by Tannis Toohey/Toronto Star via Getty Images). Tannis Toohey/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Toronto also uses the Deep Lake Water Cooling system, constructed by EnWave with partial financial backing by the city.

The system uses the cold water of Lake Ontario — which sinks in the summer — to pump water to the Toronto Island Filtration Plant where the water is processed and sent along to EnWave’s Energy Transfer Station at the John Street Pumping Station. There, heat exchangers transfer the energy between the cold lake water and the closed chilled water supply loop. The water then continues to the city’s potable water system. No water is used, only the cold of the water.

The final section of EnWave’s Deep Lake Water Cooling pipe is ready to be placed under water in this photo from August 2003. Dick Loek/Toronto Star via Getty Images

Some buildings that utilize the system include the both new and old City Hall, Mount Sinai Hospital, Air Canada Centre, the TD Centre, Royal Bank Plaza and RBC Centre. According to EnWave’s site, there are a total of 30 buildings across the city that use the unique and energy-efficient system. Tridel’s condominium development at 20 Blue Jays Way, the Element, became the first residential building to use it.

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How businesses can do their part

D’Abramo acknowledged that once the buildings are constructed, occupants can do things like replace energy-efficient light bulbs or run air conditioners as long and as cold as they want, thereby lowering the energy efficiency of a building.

For McAllan, that’s when property managers step in. He said that Oxford is trying to encourage its occupants to take control of the energy they produce. “Half of the energy in modern buildings is controllable by the occupants of the building.”

Though cities can encourage sustainable building development, McAllan said that more can be done on a company-wide or individual basis. It’s not just households where energy-saving tactics are needed — the workplace can be another area where you can practice energy-efficent behaviour, particularly during severe weather events like heat waves.

Ways that buildings can reduce their energy consumption is to have tenants or residents lower blinds during the day, especially in buildings that are mostly glass, something that is clearly prevalent in new building designs for skyscrapers and condominiums.

Individually, employees can turn off their monitors when they’re not using them, or turn off desk lamps. Companies can change dress codes on extremely hot days so that employees aren’t expected to wear suits and jackets in the office. This would allow them to raise the temperature of the office.

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Another method, McAllan said, is to turn off ornamental lighting or floor lights, especially at the end of the day. Adjusting maintenance practices, like having companies “group clean” — where one floor is scheduled to be cleaned at a time, allowing for other floor lights to be turned off when no one is around — is another method.

In an effort to educate some of its occupants about the energy needed to run even basic appliances, Oxford Properties recently held a challenge where exercise bikes were hooked up to various appliances like light bulbs, computers and monitors. People had to peddle the bike to power each item.

“It was wonderful to watch people have the realization that it takes a lot of effort to run a computer screen,” McAllan said.

The biggest drain on energy is most evident during the summer, and it has consequences. This past July, following a severe storm that crossed the GTA, the city was forced to endure rolling blackouts for a few days.

Though Toronto’s efforts have been very successful, Bekkering said that it may be difficult to keep up the pace to reach the goal of a reduction of greenhouse gases by 30 per cent by 2020. “We still have a lot of work to do.”

And that’s why McAllan believes that businesses need to do their part. “We can’t wait until there’s a crisis.”


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