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Toronto’s Green Standard sets the bar in Ontario

Bryan Purcell, Manager of Climate Solutions, Toronto Atmospheric Fund
Monday, July 15, 2013

All new buildings in Ontario have to meet minimum energy efficiency levels laid out by the province. But not all municipalities stick to the bare minimum. Toronto has a history of requiring developers to go above and beyond the provincial government’s requirements.

Here, Bryan Purcell of the Toronto Atmospheric Fund – an arm’s length municipal agency that focuses on reducing greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution – explains why Toronto’s Green Standard asks more from developers working in the city, and how Toronto compares to other municipalities around the world.

Toronto’s Green Standard is being updated for 2014. Why are the proposed changes for minimum energy efficiency requirements higher than those outlined in the Ontario Building Code?

The Ontario Building Code energy standards are set with the entire province in mind, from small towns to major cities. Some municipalities are struggling to attract development and have limited local access to architects, engineers and tradespeople with green building experience. The provincial government has to be careful not to set the bar so high as to deter development in these municipalities.

Meanwhile, Toronto has more highrise buildings under construction than the rest of the province combined. It also has access to some of the best green building professionals in the world. The development industry in Toronto has the capability to outperform the minimum building code requirements, as numerous projects have proven in recent years.

The City of Toronto has its own targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are significantly more ambitious than the provincial goals (30 per cent below 1990 levels by 2020, as opposed to 15 per cent). If Toronto is to stay on track for its 2020 targets, the city needs standards that go beyond the province-wide standards.

Finally, Toronto has its own unique constraints in terms of energy transmission and distribution infrastructure, which obviously aren’t taken into account in the building code standards. In order to make sure Toronto has room to continue to grow without major investments in energy infrastructure, the city needs higher-performance buildings.

Toronto’s planning and growth management committee passed new Green Standard requirements this past June. How do these proposed energy performance standards compare to those found in other cities around the world?

It is very difficult to compare building energy performance standards across jurisdictions, especially in North America, because they all use different methods and reference points. However, the performance standards recommended by the planning and growth management committee (tier one is 15 per cent better than the 2012 Ontario Building Code; tier two is 25 per cent better than the building code) would put Toronto on par with the leading jurisdictions in North America.

Vancouver is considering updated standards for 2014 that would be approximately equal to Toronto’s proposed new tier one standard. However, Toronto still lags far behind leading jurisdictions globally such as Sweden and Denmark.

What is the purpose of having two tiers of energy performance standards? What incentives or benefits are there for developers to aim for the higher tier?

The City of Toronto wants to ensure all new buildings meet certain minimum standards, while also encouraging industry leaders to exceed those minimum standards.

Tier two of the Toronto Green Standard, which is optional, challenges builders to really push the envelope in terms of green building technology and design practice. The hope is that today’s innovations will become tomorrow’s standard practices. The City rewards developers who meet the tier two requirements with a 20 per cent refund of their development charges, which can add up to $500,000 or more on a major project. When that rebate is combined with incentives available through local electric utility providers (such as the high-performance new construction program), there is a compelling value proposition for developers who want to build to the tier two standards.

Can Toronto just ramp up its requirements to match the world’s ‘greenest’ cities in the next Green Standard review?

Toronto needs to be careful about how fast it raises the standards because the industry needs time to adapt. New standards require new equipment, approaches and ideas, all of which have added costs. However, once builders have adapted and found the lowest cost way to meet the requirements, those incremental costs fall quickly. Then it is time for the City to think about raising the standards again.

One of the recommendations the Toronto Atmospheric Fund made (which the planning and growth management committee adopted) is that Toronto should undertake a review of global best practices in energy efficiency standards for new construction. This review should encompass the level the standards are set at, the way in which they are developed, the frequency with which they are updated and the enforcement mechanisms.

Over the medium term, Toronto should aim to catch-up with the leading jurisdictions internationally; however, it will take a few years to get there.

Bryan Purcell is the manager of climate solutions at Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF), where he oversees programs and research related to low carbon buildings. Since joining TAF in 2009, Bryan has coordinated the LightSavers program, including a series of LED lighting pilot projects across the Greater Toronto Area, and the ongoing TowerWise program. 

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