July 31, 2006

Study suggests steps for creating a green development standard for Toronto

A report recently presented to Toronto's Roundtables on Environment and on a Beautiful City recommends a series of steps for establishing a "made-in-Toronto" green development standard. The standard would foster environmental sustainability in site and building design through an integrated set of targets, principles, and practices to guide the development of city-owned facilities and to encourage green development in the private sector.

The city has committed itself to creating a green development standard for new building construction, and existing building retrofit in Toronto. The Phase 1 report, Making a Sustainable City Happen: The Toronto Green Development Standard 2006, reviews what has been done in this regard by other cities and evaluates the actions that have proved successful.

A literature review revealed more than 100 cities on five continents where green development initiatives had been undertaken. The consultants, Halsall Associates and GHK International (Canada), narrowed this field down to 12 cities and regions whose efforts were deemed most relevant to Toronto. Among them were Vancouver, Tokyo, Chicago, New York City, Portland (Oregon), Santa Monica, Berlin, Malm¿ (Sweden) and Kalundborg (Denmark).

As part of the project, discussions were held with city staff and representatives of the two Roundtables to define Toronto's key environmental drivers. These include water quality, air quality, solid waste, greenhouse gas emissions, urban forest health, quality of wildlife habitat and light pollution. The study also listed several related factors that should be considered in creating a green development standard: energy cost and security; climate change impacts; housing affordability; urban sprawl; water infrastructure capacity; and the goal of a clean and beautiful city.

The study found that the agencies responsible for promoting green development in each region used various combinations of the following strategies:

*incentives, including cash, expedited approvals or zoning variances such as increased densities;

*education, including permanent information centres, on-line resources, help lines and seminars;

*public sector leadership, demonstrated through measures such as mandatory green requirements for all public buildings or publicly funded green demonstration projects; and

*mandatory requirements, including modified building code and bylaw requirements and mandatory green development standards.

Very few agencies, however, were found to be measuring the impact of their programs on the environmental drivers they said were important for their region, although a number of the 12 cities/regions evaluated in detail as case studies were measuring and reporting on key indicators related to their environmental drivers. The report notes that energy efficiency was the single most common driver among the jurisdictions (except Chicago), followed by waste management and water quality in second place. Only Berlin and Tokyo were attempting to track, or estimate, the direct effects of their green development initiatives on their indicators.

Measuring the degree of success is essential for ensuring that a green development standard is positively affecting the selected indicators. Data collected as part of this process can be used to conduct cost-benefit analyses which in turn will enable high-impact, low-cost initiatives to be ranked.

The report points out that the work of the Toronto Atmospheric Fund and the Better Building Partnership has help Toronto build a culture of (and reputation for) tracking the impacts of their actions on environmental indicators. The city's green development standard will be broader in scope than either of these initiatives, but it should follow their lead by according the same level of attention to quantifiable improvement.

From their review of the 12 case study cities, the consultants have arrived at a number of key lessons for Toronto:

*Use pilot projects (these function as small, incremental steps that will test ideas and build awareness and comfort in the industry)

*Engage stakeholders (involvement, particularly by developers, will promote greater acceptance of the standard)

*Provide education (particularly for consumers)

*Streamline green development approvals (as an incentive to green building, this is widely preferred over cash)

*Monitor achievement (to provide feedback and help set priorities)

*Use competitions (this can yield marketing and educational benefits, potentially leading to political change)

*Train city staff (to help them understand the value of green development, particularly in negotiating rezoning agreements)

*Implement highly visible initiatives (this will generate public support and recognition)

*Show commitment (publicly owned buildings present opportunities for increasing building performance requirements without having to make regulatory changes).

Some specific ideas related to funding that are probably applicable to Toronto include using a surcharge on new landfill tipping fees to fund a green development initiative, and working with banks to provide better financing rates for green buildings. The latter action could help dispel the perception that green building costs more, and Toronto, as home to the headquarters of Canada's major banks, seems well suited for exploring such an opportunity, says the report.

The consultants recommend that the city undertake a process that clarifies which decisions or choices made during a typical building development process have the greatest impact on Toronto's environmental drivers. Simply put, the process should consist of:

1. creating a model standard that sets targets for change to key choices;

2. testing the proposed model, first through analysis of existing buildings, then through implementation of pilot projects;

3. formatting the refined targets as a development standard and develop a plan for implementation; and, finally

4. rolling out the standard.

The full report may be viewed on Toronto's Web site, www.toronto.ca/environment/greendevelopment.htm. More information is also available from deputy Mayor Joe Pantalone, Chair of the Roundtable on the Environment, 416/392-4009.

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