Embodied carbon is responsible for about a third of all emissions in the construction industry.
The study identified the most carbon-intensive materials Minto uses: concrete in all its projects, followed by aluminum window frames and rebar in high-rises, then insulation and cladding in low-rise developments.
The focus for the Ottawa-based Minto is now on reducing the usage of these materials or finding alternatives.
“I think we have quite a unique opportunity with having both the operative buildings and the new construction side,” said Joanna Jackson, Minto’s director of sustainability and innovation. “We can test out a lot of the technologies on the existing building side, see what works and what doesn’t work and then use that on the new construction side.”
Founded in 1955, Minto has overseen the construction of over 95,000 homes and manages 14,725 suites as well as 2.3 million square feet of commercial space. Its investment management portfolio stands at $5.2 billion. The company employs approximately 1,300 people across Canada and the U.S.
“The geographic diversity that we have allows for us to learn from Ottawa, Calgary or American operations, and then we can really share information between all of those groups,” said Carl Pawlowski, sustainability project manager at Minto. “Because as we’ve seen, in some areas, something might be more cost-effective or more readily available.”
In December 2021, the firm’s affiliate Minto Apartment REIT released its first ESG report which included 18 goals. As SustainableBiz reported at the time, those initiatives were voted on by a wide range of stakeholders including residents, employees and investors.
According to Jackson and Pawlowski, the goals outlined in the REIT report are largely the same for Minto as a whole.
Minto’s sustainability successes
The report outlines a number of initiatives and updates, among them a partnership with the City of Toronto. Together, they have begun work on 100 affordable units for seniors at 610 Martin Grove Rd.
On waste diversion, which it has tracked since 2009, Minto has maintained rates in excess of its 80 per cent target. It 2021, the diversion rate dipped one per cent to 81.9 per cent.
One aspect of the company’s progress Jackson was most proud of involves the interest in energy efficient homes by Minto customers. Thirty-five per cent of the company’s homebuyers opted for one of three sustainable upgrades to their residences:
– one with enhanced insulation, high-performance windows and air tightness;
– a net-zero-ready home;
– a carbon-neutral home.
“Our philosophy internally is that we always want to be at least a step ahead. The City of Toronto had their 2030 net-zero target (for new developments). Last year, they pushed that up to 2028,” Pawlowski said.
Over the course of the year, 956 homes in Minto’s portfolio achieved green building certifications such as HERS, EnerGuide’s Rating System, ENERGY STAR for New Homes, Fitwel and/or LEED.
“We’re already looking at how to design our buildings to meet that target so that would put us a couple steps ahead. Obviously, there are all kinds of considerations with the current market conditions and construction costs, as part of impacts from the pandemic and all those things,” he continued. “But I think we always want to be at least a step ahead.”
“It gives us that competitive advantage,” he added.
Minto consumed 711,123 cubic metres of water in absolute terms in 2021, down from 750,573 cubic metres in 2020.
Its carbon emissions totalled 21,225,000 kgs of CO2 in absolute terms, which translates to 3.63 kgs of CO2 per square foot — down 10 per cent from 2019 levels. The company used 93,813,000 equivalent KWh in energy consumption, which was seven per cent less than in 2019.
Additionally, 45 per cent to 55 per cent of incentive compensation have been tied to achieving ESG targets.
The geo-exchange and future sustainability
The major project Minto undertook in 2021 was — together with system operator Creative Energy — the Greater Toronto Area’s first geoexchange community energy system at North Oak Towers, a five-tower block in a planned 38-hectare Oakville community.
It involved drilling 800-foot deep, closed-loop boreholes to access thermal ground energy. Systems like this can reduce the use of fossil fuels by up to 95 per cent, while costing 25 to 50 per cent less to operate and eliminating the need for boiler rooms.
“We’ve been looking at that technology for five, six years, at least in a serious capacity… Then there’s changes in in the industry, there’s more stringent energy requirements from programs like the Toronto Green Standard, there’s new financial models that third parties are coming forward with around these types of technologies,” Poslowski said.
“With North Oak, everything just aligned. That was a large site, so economies of scale seem to help us quite a bit there.”
The Town of Oakville declared a climate emergency in 2019 and established community-wide targets to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 per cent by 2041.
The company is also working on its own internal sustainability. For example, Minto Place in downtown Ottawa recently received a LEED operations and maintenance platinum certification.
In next year’s report, Jackson hopes to be able to discuss Minto breaking ground on its first deep retrofit project for one of its existing buildings. She also mentioned some “pretty cool” water-saving technologies the company has been testing.
“A lot of the studies that Carl has done pinpoint different areas where we really need to work on getting things down. Ventilation is one that’s come up recently. Traditionally, we’ve over-ventilated the buildings to try to make sure that we don’t have odours going from from suite to suite,” Jackson said.
“But that uses a lot of energy. Now on our existing building sites, what can we do with our buildings right now and test out different things to try to get that ventilation rate lower?”
Pawlowski hopes for “solid evidence” the company is lowering embodied carbon emissions; the assurance that the net-zero upgrades will be considered standard as opposed to optional; and more integration of technologies like geoexchange.