GTA site showcases stormwater management

Calstone Inc.'s business sense and sustainable initiatives make it an industry frontrunner
Thursday, January 22, 2015
By Rebecca Melnyk

About fifteen years ago, Jim Ecclestone found an old, 2000-gallon stainless steel water tank lying in a farmer’s field. The president and chief executive officer of Calstone, Inc., an Ontario-based steel furniture company, transported it to his factory in Scarborough, filled it with city water and attached a pump.

“All of a sudden we were using the roof rainwater in the tank to flush toilets and cool our equipment,” says Ecclestone, in a phone interview years later.

That process evolved into harvesting more rain from the building’s 42,000-square-foot roof and purchasing another tank with a $5,000 grant received in May 2014 from the Earth Day Hometown Heroes Program—awarded by the City of Toronto—to pursue an on-site rainwater harvesting tank installation.

Ecclestone’s intention was to use this tank to water new raspberry bushes and enjoy the seasonal produce. However, the project became much more elaborate—a property with proactive business acumen, a model of sustainability.

By the end of November 2014, Calstone had installed innovative stormwater management infrastructure, including three stormwater infiltration ponds, infiltration trenches and two rainwater harvesting tanks, with the ultimate goal to soon capture all the roof rainwater, divert it to the water table and use it for drinking purposes. And within the next two years, Ecclestone says they hope to live completely off-grid, independent of the municipal water system.

Such feats help companies save long-term costs, create sustainable partnerships and relieve the Greater Toronto Area’s (GTA) aging stormwater infrastructure; yet, some commercial building owners don’t fully understand the value of such projects or become burdened by the process.

Collaborative partnerships

Calstone’s process involved Partners in Project Green (PPG), a collaboration between the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority and the Greater Toronto Airports Authority (GTAA). PPG, of which Calstone is a member, endeavors to provide access for the development of private and public partnerships through sustainable initiatives. When PPG’s Water Stewardship team, specifically project manager Eric Meliton, heard about Ecclestone’s plan to buy a tank with his award money, Meliton saw it as an opportunity that aligned with his team’s pilot program for collective infrastructure—one that was, and still, searches for sites interested in a collaborative water project.

Although Calstone is situated outside the GTAA’s Pearson Eco-Business zone, where PPG pursues projects and gathers funding, Meliton says the group’s mandate—“to reduce the water footprint and the impact of stormwater management and wastewater treatment”—took precedence.

“We don’t close the doors on existing members who are outside the area and who really want to do something sustainable,” he says. “Calstone is the quintessential sustainable client; they get full credit for taking the lead.”

Still, PPG was able to leverage $45,000 from end funding, with Calstone generating the remaining money for the project, which, up to now, totals almost $100,000.

Calstone’s stormwater management system is one of many installations that Meliton hopes will “build a watershed of the future network.” “When you start to aggregate all these installations across the GTA, you actually create a large network of infiltration sites or footprint-reduction sites focused solely on improving the way water is used in operations,” he says. “If you take this whole network and bring it to an urban centre in the U.S., or globally, the approach can be replicated.”

As other large municipalities attempt to solve stormwater issues, PPG is trying to solve them through what Meliton calls a “slow incremental build.” He believes five to ten years from now, there will be 35 to 70 projects in the ground. PPG worked with three in 2014 during the pilot phase and hopes to help lead another six or seven this year as the program fully launches. This number is expected to double in 2016, amplifying the vendor and end-user network.

Sustainable value

Given the city’s expansion and the demands placed on aging infrastructure, projects like this offer multiple benefits that address this big issue in Toronto. If stormwater management wasn’t already on the public radar, it became evident when almost 120 millimetres of rain fell upon the streets of Toronto within a few hours in July 2013. The rain gushed through the city’s old water infrastructure, which struggled to cope under pressure, resulting in the priciest flood Toronto ever recorded.

In response to various storms such as this, cities like Mississauga are implementing stormwater management surcharge rate changes to fund new infrastructure. A new fee structure is set for 2016, with Brampton and Toronto likely following suit in the next couple of years.

These rate changes are ways to recoup costs, after years of taking water infrastructure for granted. And these cities are charging commercial property owners to pay for that increase.

Yet, Meliton says this rate change will motivate early adopters. “If companies implement some of these installations in the short-term,” he says, “they will actually get a rate rebate in perpetuity long term.”

Instead of a 25-year payback period, companies could see a 10 – 15-year payback because of these rate savings. PPG is currently working with municipal partners who can outline an idea of what these rates might be.

Such proactive business knowledge is certainly a priority for Calstone. Ecclestone says many companies and customers with whom they work are also interested in sustainable practices. “The greening of Calstone helps us with our marketing and cements our relationship with our customers,” he says. “All clients have a tremendous interest in what we’re trying to achieve with sustainability.”

At one point, Ecclestone was conducting a facility tour every other week, with different companies visiting, from suppliers to new customers. “When other businesses come to me, I say, trust me; your customers are going to love what you’re doing,” he says. “It’s extra value you can add to your product when you’re selling.”

And before Calstone even began its stormwater project, it had already won two big contracts with high-end online companies— being one—to sell their furniture through those channels, doubling their business.

“The reason they were selected from the competition was the sustainability aspect,” adds Meliton. “They truly understand that it’s profitable to be sustainable.”

Since 2006, the manufacturing company has been holistically converting all of its operations to sustainable practices, from energy efficiency to recycling.

“There’s all kinds of little things you can do in your organization,” says Ecclestone, but he suggests building owners interested in installing similar water infrastructure contact supportive organizations such as PPG, which he calls a “tremendous group to get ahold of,” since they screen vendors, offer expertise and initiate funding at no cost.

From business to environmental benefits, the stormwater project is also lessening the burden on the nearby Highland Creek Watershed—a heightened area of concern as urbanization has affected the area’s water quality and caused erosion from high storm flows and the decline of natural heritage.

During a tour of Calstone’s property, which WaterTAP, Ontario’s “water technology champion,” arranged last year, Ecclestone walked keenly through what was previously a barren space. There’s little nature in commercial parks, but come spring, Ecclestone will spark the beautification process around the infrastructure, planting an array of bushes, flowers and 40 trees, one for each employee who will use the green space as a place to relax and eat lunch.

A gazebo will face three active ponds, possibly filled with Koi fish, and a waterfall. The gazebo will also serve as an information centre, with pictures of the project’s evolution and all partners who participated. As part of phase two, Calstone will construct a permeable parking lot, inviting different vendors and end users to visit.

“We’re manufacturing steel products,” says Ecclestone, “but we’re also trying to make a difference on our own footprint, trying to protect our own environment.”

Rebecca Melnyk is online editor of Building Strategies & Sustainability and Canadian Property Management.

Photo by Partners in Project Green