With a few relatively simple steps, Ottawa has the potential to improve air and water quality while becoming a green model for Canada’s building industry says a grassroots environmental group.
Since buildings are responsible for most of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions (58 per cent) – more than transportation (36 per cent) and waste (six per cent) – developers should be given more incentives to incorporate green features into new buildings, according to a new report by Ecology Ottawa called Building Ottawa’s Energy Revolution.
“This seems to be a really key issue that isn’t on the city’s agenda,” says Lori Waller, environmental research associate with Ecology Ottawa. “We tend to focus a fair bit on climate change because it’s a very pressing issue. We only have a number of years to really change course.”
Building Ottawa’s Energy Revolution suggests that the city offer developers incentives like property tax exemptions, building permit rebates, lower development charges, priority processing and conditional rezoning in an effort to get them to build green.
The idea’s not that far fetched.
Cities like Calgary and Victoria already offer rebates of up to 30 per cent on building permit fees for building projects meeting various green certification standards.
Even Ottawa is considering a Green Pathway pilot project to give priority processing and $25,000 funding for design, registration and certification to three developments seeking LEED silver certification.
Council deferred the program in January, pending additional consultation with stakeholders.
Ecology Ottawa believes now is the time to act in the construction industry, as Ontario’s already overloaded power grid is only likely to worsen in the years to come.
“Energy consumption will likely skyrocket over the next few decades, if developers continue to build to the low standards set by current building codes,” reads the report.
According to the North American Commission for Environmental Co-operation, energy consumption in the commercial sector is set to increase by 39 per cent by 2030 if buildings aren’t built to be more efficient.
Upgrades can be simple from making better use of natural lighting to improving insulation but every change has the potential to significantly reduce pollution through the building’s lifecycle, according to Waller.
Green upgrades can also yield big lifetime savings. A landmark study by the Capital E group showed that initial investments in 40 California government agencies ended up paying for themselves 10 times over.
The problem, says Waller, is that builders and financers aren’t always the ones paying the energy bills. The city needs to make them a little more accountable for the buildings they erect for everyone else, she says.
Green building standards are quickly growing in Canada but still only represent about two per cent of all new buildings.
20 PER CENT REDUCTION
In 2003, the City of Ottawa committed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 20 percent below 1990 levels by 2012.
Considering total emissions are still on the rise, the city still has a long way to go, says Ecology Ottawa.
“If the city is to finally deliver on its promise to cut emissions, it must promptly and decisively target the energy inefficiency of our buildings,” reads the report.
To lead the way, the environmental group thinks the city should take a closer look at its own buildings.
Since 2005, the city has required all new municipal buildings (bigger than 500 square metres) meet LEED basic certification standards. Ecology Ottawa sees room for improvement, suggesting the city ramp up environmental efforts by aiming to meet LEED gold standards instead – something already being done in Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton.
The city could go one step further, requiring developers to get green certification as a condition of sale for certain municipal lands, according to the report.
Building Ottawa’s Energy Revolution can be viewed at www.ecologyottawa.ca.