Toronto’s new Green Standard raises concerns

Some developers unhappy with energy efficiency requirements
Monday, October 7, 2013
By Daniel Viola

As Toronto prepares to phase in updates to its Green Standard, some building industry members have concerns about how the changes will affect development in the city.

Updates to the original standard, which was first implemented in 2010, will come into effect this January. New developments of all types – lowrise, mid-rise and highrise commercial, industrial and residential properties – will need to meet the new base tier 1 level of their corresponding standards.

According to Joe D’Abramo, acting director of zoning bylaw and environmental planning for the City of Toronto, the most noteworthy change to the Toronto Green Standard is the increase in energy efficiency targets for building operations. New mid-rise and highrise tier 1 buildings must have 15 per cent higher energy efficiency than the current Ontario Building Code. Buildings that aim for the optional tier 2 must be 25 per cent better than code.

But not all Toronto developers are embracing this change.

According to Leona Savoie, co-chair of the Toronto chapter of the Building Industry and Land Development Association (BILD) and vice-president of development at Hullmark, the introduction of energy-saving requirements for both tiers came as a surprise.

“This proposed increase is coming at us too quickly and is not rooted in fulsome consultation and/or thought for implementation,” she says. “The industry is still playing catch-up on the recent (Ontario Building) Code changes.”

However, D’Abramo says that in preparation for the update, the City worked with stakeholders, energy consultants and industry members through workshops.

“We looked at how the development industry is coping with the approach of having environmental performance measures,” he says. “(The industry) has been well aware of our attempts to improve and the direction we want to go.”

Incentivizing sustainable practices
Once a prospective tier 2 project (or what D’Abramo calls, a “super green building”) is completed, third party consultants inspect it on behalf of the City. If they are satisfied the requirements have been met, the developers then receive a 20 per cent refund on their development charges.

Despite this incentive, the number of buildings that reach this level still remain few. The City is hoping that, in the future, 10 per cent of new buildings reach this standard.

“We want them to achieve an even higher level with the hopes that these buildings will be on the leading edge and push the market towards even better buildings,” he says.

However, Savoie contends the standard may have had the opposite effect.

She says the industry was already pushing the bar through voluntary measures.

“Once it became a mandatory requirement, it perhaps stifled the competitive edge that could have propelled innovations in this area.”

She adds the costs associated with achieving the higher standard currently far outweigh the benefits.

“At this time, it is an ineffective incentive program,” she says.

The transition process
Savoie adds that while the industry is supportive of sustainable building practices in principle, the requirements outlined in the Toronto Green Standard have been difficult to carry out.

She explains that some developers had implementation and interpretation issues with the original standard. Some of the wording was prescriptive “must have” language, which, she says, would or could not apply in some development proposals. She adds there were other issues in the practicality of providing certain features, like at-grade bike parking, which could conflict with other City rules concerning building entrances and loading requirements.

That said, Savoie hopes the differences in the 2014 standard will result in smoother implementation of the requirements and clarity for developers. However, she says “only time will tell” if this is actually the case.

Daniel Viola is the online editor of  Building Strategies & Sustainability and Canadian Property Management magazines. He is also the editor of Property Management Report.

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