New buildings in Toronto to face tougher green standards on May 1

Buildings largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Toronto, city says

Clara Pasieka · CBC News · Posted: Apr 22, 2022 5:00 AM ET | Last Updated: April 22

Marianne Touchie, a building science professor at the University Toronto. says she thinks the city’s tiered approach to green standards is the right way to go. (Submitted by Marianne Touchie)

Tougher rules on greenhouse gas emissions for new buildings will kick in on May 1 in Toronto as part of the city’s battle against climate change.

Under the changes to the Toronto Green Standard (TGS) — the city’s sustainable design requirements —  city-owned buildings will face a higher environmental standard than privately-owned structures.

“It’s certainly a challenge, but I think it’s absolutely necessary,” said Marianne Touchie, a building science professor at the University Toronto.

“I think the tiered approach is the right way to go.”

Energy use in buildings accounts for more than half of Toronto’s greenhouse gas output, making them the city’s largest single source of emissions, according to the City of Toronto’s website. Under the new standards, all new city-owned buildings will have to meet a net-zero emissions target. The city will offer financial incentives to encourage privately owned buildings to meet similar standards voluntarily. 

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The city hopes the changes will push developers to move away from power sources like natural gas and toward more green options like solar power, as well as more efficient heating and cooling systems. All new buildings will now face requirements like tougher emission standards, facilities for electric vehicles and more green features like grass and trees. The rules are part of Toronto’s goal of becoming a net-zero city by 2040.

In Scarborough, one city-owned building is ahead of the game in meeting the new rules.

Construction began last week on the North East Scarborough Community Recreation & Child Care Centre. When it opens in 2024  it’s expected to be the city’s first net-zero community centre. 

The idea is to offset, or “net-to-zero,” the climate impacts of a project, says Zeina Elali, the senior sustainability adviser with Perkins&Will, the firm that designed the building. That means if something in the structure does produce greenhouse gas emissions, the builder will need to do something else to counter it.

To be truly a sustainable building, it is important to consider both “operational carbon” — the emissions needed to heat a building and keep it operating — and “embodied carbon” — the amount of energy used in construction and the materials the building is made of, she says.

The North East Scarborough Community Recreation & Child Care Centre, which broke ground last week and is expected to open in 2024, will be the city’s first net-zero community centre. (Submitted by Perkins&Will)

Elali says that’s exactly what this project is doing: considering operational carbon but also factoring in embodied carbon — something all city-owned projects will need to account for in this next phase of the Toronto Green Standard.

Perkins&Will was already exploring working in this way but putting it into the Toronto Green Standard is creating a catalyst for the development and construction industry, says Elali.

“It’s forcing companies to finally pick up the right skill sets,” she said.

“If they wish to keep engaging with the City of Toronto projects, they have to learn how to quantify embodied carbon, they have to learn how to decarbonize the operations of buildings. I don’t think that there’s going to be a choice anymore.”

The new community centre, located near Rouge National Urban Park will make considerable use of renewable energy sources like solar panels. The city says the building will also have special pumps that use the outdoor air to both heat and cool it and air handling units that will improve heat recovery efficiency by 85 per cent.

Will financial incentives work?

Toronto’s local government is trying to lead by example, says Lisa King, a senior policy planner for the city

“We’ve had the bar set higher for all city buildings to show leadership and demonstrate that this can be done,” she told CBC News.

Mike Singleton, executive director of Sustainable Buildings Canada, calls it one of the most progressive standards in North America and says it has “created a sort of a pathway to high performance,” while leaving some flexibility.

The new community centre will make considerable use of renewable energy tools like solar panels. (Submitted by Perkins&Will)

But some experts doubt whether voluntary financial incentives are enough to get the private sector onboard fast enough.

“I think the profit motive is still stronger than the need to create a sustainable world,” said Ted Kesik, a building science professor at the University of Toronto. He says the city has faced a similar problem trying to entice owners to retrofit older buildings.

Kesik also says the Toronto Green Standard lacks the legal teeth of the Ontario Building Code, adding that since the city’s standard’s are higher than the province’s, encouraging people to meet a higher threshold will be difficult.

Figures from the city would appear to back up Kesik’s assertion. As of 2021, more than 2,500 development projects were required to meet the city’s minimum sustainability standards. Only 150 of those projects participated in a program that offers financial incentives to meet a higher threshold. 

“There’s people who are still wanting to exploit nature and to do so at the cost of the environment in order to become wealthy. And that motivation is still stronger than the motivation to do the right thing,” he said.


Clara Pasieka

Clara Pasieka is a CBC journalist and associate producer in Toronto. She has also worked in CBC’s national bureau and as a reporter in the Northwest Territories, Ontario and New Brunswick. She holds a Masters degree in Public Policy, Law and Public Administration from York University.

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Natalia Ortiz Moreno

Natalia Ortiz, student of Project Management Environmental (PME) program in Seneca Polytechnic, has an Environmental Engineering background completed at Universidad El Bosque in Colombia. She has always been involved in sustainability roles and projects that included Environmental Management Systems implementation, Water Treatment Systems’ design and operation, Hazardous and Conventional Waste management and minimization practices, as well as Ecosystem’s Conservation and Energy
Efficiency programs.

For the PME – Applied Project Management Course, Natalia developed a Green Roof Assessment Tool for Seneca Polytechnic’s Office of Sustainability, with the aim to provide green roof technology recommendations best suited to a particular scenario, taking into consideration multiple aspects of green roofs and buildings; infrastructure, design, materials, environmental factors, and costs, as well as the Toronto Municipal Code – Green Roof bylaw. Natalia also has a scientific journal publication as the main author of the project “Selection and sizing of industrial wastewater treatment units required at the
new maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) aircraft facility owned by Avianca S.A. in Rionegro Antioquia” in the El Bosque University Journal of Technology.

Natalia strongly believes there are several research topics left to be developed, and the importance of
working towards Sustainability from different backgrounds, knowledge, and cultures to build strong, productive, and resilient communities.
With the vision of growing cities and infrastructure along with nature, always preserving and respecting the ecosystems’ attributes and services, Natalia would like to keep researching and acquiring more experience in Sustainability roles.

Emily Smit

Emily is a second-year PhD student in Geography at the University of Toronto, and a co-operator of a small home renovation company, Magnus Home Improvements. Her research seeks to determine how single-family homes can quickly and best be retrofit to achieve Toronto’s emissions reductions targets – including net-zero by 2040 – as part of the TransformTO climate action plan. Specifically, she will assess the impact of municipal home energy reporting and disclosure programs, as well as produce recommendations for growing the retrofit labour force in ways that attend to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. Further, her research seeks to understand how home retrofit activities can be regenerative and produce net-positive impacts for humans and the environment towards transformative, place-based sustainability. When not at her computer, Emily can be found cycling with her kids to and from school or making funky sounds on her analog synthesizer.

Bofa Udisi

Bofa is a sustainability professional with over seven years in the energy and environment industry. He has a Bachelor of Science in Energy and Petroleum Studies from Novena University in Nigeria and graduate certificates in Energy Management and Environmental Project Management from Seneca College in Toronto. In 2020, he graduated from the University of Waterloo with a Master of Environment and Business degree. He is currently a Ph.D. Candidate in the Building Science program at Toronto Metropolitan University, researching whole-life carbon reduction in new construction and building renovations.

Bofa‘s work experience is primarily in the built environment, working in the private and public sectors in roles that involve structural and environmental assessment of building structures, HVAC engineering design and sales, and facilities management. Bofa is a member of several industry associations, such as the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE), the American Society for Heating Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE), and the Project Management Institute (PMI). SBC’s bursary will go a long way in supporting Bofa‘s research and his desire to learn.