Build­ings are key to un­lock­ing clean growth

The shift to low-car­bon, low-en­ergy build­ings is al­ready hap­pen­ing

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - KAREN CLARKE-WHISTLER AND ED WHIT­TING­HAM Karen Clarke-Whistler is the chief en­vi­ron­ment of­fi­cer of TD Bank Group. Ed Whit­ting­ham is the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Pem­bina In­sti­tute, Canada’s lead­ing clean en­ergy think-tank.

We don’t of­ten think about the build­ings in which we live, work, learn, eat, shop, and play as be­ing ma­jor sources of car­bon emis­sions. How­ever, the en­ergy used for heat­ing, air con­di­tion­ing, hot wa­ter, ap­pli­ances, equip­ment, and light­ing is re­spon­si­ble for 124 mil­lion tonnes of car­bon emis­sions per year in Canada, or 20 per cent of our coun­try’s an­nual to­tal. To put this in per­spec­tive, that’s equiv­a­lent to the an­nual amount of car­bon emit­ted by all the ve­hi­cles on the road in Canada.

Grow­ing aware­ness of the need to re­duce car­bon emis­sions and use en­ergy wisely and ef­fi­ciently in our homes and build­ings rep­re­sents a golden op­por­tu­nity. Seiz­ing this op­por­tu­nity will spur in­no­va­tion and demon­strate the ben­e­fits of clean growth in Canada’s vi­brant real-es­tate sec­tor. We’re con­fi­dent Cana­di­ans are up for the chal­lenge, and lead­er­ship from busi­ness and govern­ment can ac­cel­er­ate the scope and pace of change.

In the Pan-Cana­dian Frame­work on Clean Growth and Cli­mate Change, the fed­eral govern­ment, prov­inces, and ter­ri­to­ries pledged to lower car­bon emis­sions by 50 per cent by 2030, and 80 per cent by 2050 — econ­o­my­wide. Build­ings were iden­ti­fied as a key ve­hi­cle for re­duc­ing car­bon emis­sions while grow­ing the econ­omy.

In­deed, the shift to low-car­bon, low-en­ergy build­ings is al­ready hap­pen­ing and along the way it is gen­er­at­ing growth in goods and ser­vices that has cre­ated al­most 300,000 jobs na­tion­wide. In terms of di­rect jobs, the green build­ing sec­tor em­ploys more Cana­di­ans than oil and gas, min­ing, and forestry com­bined. A re­port pro­duced for Nat­u­ral Re­sources Canada in 2014 points out that in­vest­ing $1 in en­ergy ef­fi­ciency pro­grams re­turns $3 to $5 to the econ­omy. In B.C.’s build­ing sec­tor, we es­ti­mate the work ahead en­tails retrofitting 30,000 houses, hun­dreds of apart­ment build­ings, and nearly 2,000 of­fice tow­ers, hospi­tals, schools, and other com­mer­cial and in­sti­tu­tional build­ings per year.

Mov­ing along­side this trans­for­ma­tion is a grow­ing ap­petite within cap­i­tal mar­kets to sup­port green build­ing projects. A ma­jor area of growth has been green bonds — such as On­tario’s most re­cent is­sue — that sup­port LEED-cer­ti­fi­ca­tion projects. In 2016, nearly 50 per cent of TD’s green bond pro­ceeds were al­lo­cated to green build­ing projects.

Net-zero en­ergy build­ings — which gen­er­ate at least as much re­new­able en­ergy as they use each year — are an emerg­ing area in green build­ing de­sign. With more than 125 lo­ca­tions gen­er­at­ing so­lar en­ergy, in­clud­ing two branches de­signed to be net-zero en­ergy, TD has gained first-hand ex­pe­ri­ence in gen­er­at­ing re­new­able en­ergy on-site. Many build­ings de­signed to be net-zero are pop­ping up around the world.

Build­ing stan­dards have evolved con­sid­er­ably over the years. The num­ber of units con­structed to the world’s most en­ergy-ef­fi­cient build­ing stan­dard, Pas­sive House, has tripled in the past year in North Amer­ica, with a quar­ter of these units built in Van­cou­ver. Ren­o­vat­ing homes and build­ings to meet higher stan­dards of en­ergy ef­fi­ciency is good for busi­ness. A typ­i­cal ex­am­ple is an of­fice tower in Toronto, in which TD Water­house is a ten­ant. In 2009, it un­der­went a ma­jor retro­fit — from bol­ster­ing in­su­la­tion to up­dat­ing heat­ing equip­ment — that re­sulted in nearly half a mil­lion dol­lars in lower an­nual op­er­at­ing costs and 36 per cent en­ergy sav­ings.

Global cities such as Brus­sels and New York have put in place pro­gres­sive ac­tion plans to move to­ward low car­bon, low en­ergy build­ings. In Canada, the City of Van­cou­ver has brought in a Zero Emis­sions Build­ing Plan, which will see all build­ings be­come emis­sions-free by 2030. Van­cou­ver is re­quir­ing city-owned build­ings to meet this stan­dard im­me­di­ately. On­tario’s Cli­mate Change Ac­tion Plan em­pha­sizes retrofitting ex­ist­ing build­ings, in­clud­ing pub­lic build­ings, and in­stalling re­new­able heat­ing sources.

Scal­ing-up these ef­forts across Canada calls for a long-term vi­sion and com­mit­ment from the govern­ment and ad­e­quate re­sourc­ing of de­part­ments to im­ple­ment pro­grams. This also re­quires a ro­bust ac­count­abil­ity sys­tem to en­sure that the dol­lars in­vested are re­sult­ing in real car­bon re­duc­tions that put us on track to meet­ing our 2030 and 2050 cli­mate tar­gets.

We look for­ward to see­ing the com­mit­ments in the Pan-Cana­dian Frame­work be­ing turned into ac­tion this sum­mer. Specif­i­cally, we ex­pect a sub­stan­tive an­nounce­ment on the next steps at the En­ergy and Mines Min­is­ters’ Con­fer­ence in Au­gust.

Much lead­er­ship on build­ing en­ergy ef­fi­ciency has been demon­strated to date, and what is seen as niche now is des­tined to be­come the norm. Busi­nesses and gov­ern­ments on the cut­ting edge of clean growth cre­ate im­por­tant labs and learn­ing grounds for trades and pro­fes­sion­als to innovate, eval­u­ate, and adapt. These lead­ers’ ef­forts prove to in­dus­try and leg­is­la­tors that these poli­cies are prac­ti­cal and prof­itable. They also give all stake­hold­ers the con­fi­dence to align be­hind a com­mon goal — se­cur­ing a strong econ­omy and pros­per­ous fu­ture for Cana­di­ans.


Vol­un­teers help out with sand­bag­ging in Kelowna: Cli­mate change is a key rea­son that Canada must adopt higher emis­sion stan­dards around build­ings, the au­thors ar­gue.

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