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T.O.’s Exhibition Place signs Net-Zero Carbon Events Pledge

Toronto’s Exhibition Place has signed on to the Net-Zero Carbon Events Pledge, the latest step in...

IMAGE: The Exhibition Place's Enercare Centre

The LEED Platinum-certified Enercare Centre. (Courtesy Exhibition Place)

Toronto’s Exhibition Place has signed on to the Net-Zero Carbon Events Pledge, the latest step in its commitment to meet targets laid out in the Paris Climate Accord.

The downtown Toronto site is home to the LEED platinum Enercare Centre, built in 1997, a million-square-foot facility which is the country’s largest exhibition and convention centre and the sixth-largest in North America. Since 2004, Exhibition Place has undertaken an environmental stewardship initiative, entitled GREENSmart, which includes the promotion of sustainable development, environmental initiatives and green technologies and practices across the site.

It is also 3RCertified silver, a program from the Recycling Council of Ontario designed for properties in the industrial, commercial and institutional sectors which assesses and verifies operational solid waste reduction and diversion.

Sustainability at Exhibition Place

In addition, the geothermal plant installed onsite saves 110,000 kilowatt-hours per year of electricity and over 15,000 cubic meters of natural gas, resulting in a combined savings of approximately $18,000 and a reduction of carbon emissions by 34 tonnes.

“We’ve got a strong, rich history of environmental stewardship,” said Don Boyle, Exhibition Place’s CEO. “One of the lenses we always look from is an environmental lens, because it’s good for business. We want to be a leader.”

“When conventions are looking for locations, that’s actually one of the criteria that they’re looking for now, is they want to make sure that they’re teaming up with an organization that is environmentally conscious.”

The Ex is also home to the first urban wind turbine in North America, installed in 2002 under an initiative by the Toronto Renewable Energy Cooperative and Toronto Hydro Energy Services. It can generate up to one million kilowatt-hours of power per year, which results in annual savings of approximately $120,000 and 226 tonnes of GHG reductions.

Moving forward, Boyle said the Ex plans to green its vehicle fleet and equipment over the next three years. An official strategic plan will be completed in the spring.

He also said the Ex has signed an agreement with transportation services in Toronto to test several sustainable pilot projects on its grounds, and is working with Toronto Hydro on other ventures.

No carbon credit purchases

Boyle is open to many different initiatives or technologies, but said the Ex is unlikely to purchase carbon credits; he considers himself “not a fan.” One thing he is a fan of is its plan to add to the 3,045 trees onsite around the Ex property.

There are also two green roof pilot projects to reduce HVAC costs in underlying structures, improve stormwater management and encourage vegetation growth.

Although the pandemic has caused major disruptions, it has led to other innovations at the Ex.

Regarding the on-again, off-again 50-per-cent capacity limits that have taken place due to government regulations to slow the spread of COVID-19, Boyle said there has been a “full-on plan” to reduce utility usage. It continues to implement LED lighting on the Ex’s streets and automated technology means lighting operates only when particular areas are in use.

He said this sort of technological update is doubly important for historical buildings like the Horticulture Building, which houses the Toronto Event Centre and is over 100 years old.

A convention centre’s ESG approach

The Ex’s relatively unique position as a venue and convention centre means it requires an innovative approach to sustainability efforts. It hosts 5.5 million visitors each year, “More than the Ontario Science Centre, the ROM, the CN Tower and the Toronto Maple Leafs combined,” according to Boyle.

At the same time, the Ex works with numerous partners on its grounds like Medieval Times, BMO Field, the Liberty Grand Entertainment Complex and the Coca-Cola Coliseum in these efforts.

“The ESG is really playing a prominent role in where meeting convention planners are choosing locations,” Boyle said. “It not only is a good corporate governance – and that is good business – it’s vital in the convention and meeting business.”

“In fact Exhibition Place kind of replicates what a typical city would be, with a whole street grid network, parkland facilities and buildings with pedestrian and vehicle movement. So it’s a great place to be able to test (pilot projects and sustainability efforts).”

The Ex will report its net-zero progress every two years.

The Net-Zero Carbon Events Pledge was developed via global collaboration throughout the events industry over recent months, facilitated by the Joint Meetings Industry Council, with the support of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change Secretariat.

There are over 185 signatories worldwide.

Exhibition Place, first established in 1879, is a 192-acre location in Toronto, home to many venues and historical sites, as well as the annual Canadian National Exhibition. Also onsite is the Beanfield Centre conference venue, the first in Canada to be certified LEED Silver.

More of the Ex’s green initiatives can be found here.

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