Q&A: Toronto’s Net Zero Program Manager on Why Communication is Key

The City of Toronto is targeting net-zero community emissions by 2040—a decade sooner than most major North American cities with climate action plans.

“It is a long-term vision,” said Sophie Plottel, who leads the team responsible for the development of Toronto’s TransformTO Net Zero Strategy, which aims to unite City divisions and the community at large around a cohesive, vision for accelerated climate action in Toronto, she explained.

The Net Zero Strategy, for which SSG modelled the decarbonization pathway, was  adopted by Toronto City Council in December 2021. Earlier this month, the American Planning Association recognized the City and SSG’s work on the strategy with an Award for Excellence in Sustainability in the Environment, Climate, & Energy category.

We caught up with Plottel to discuss how the City plans to reverse the general trend of rising emissions and what other communities can learn from Toronto’s experience.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

 

The public square outside of Toronto’s City Hall. Photo by Rachael Annabelle on Unsplash.

 

SSG: It’s been just over four months since Toronto passed the Net-Zero Strategy. How are things going? 

SP: We’ve had lots of community interest. We’ve leveraged the passing of the report to launch new programs. Just last month, the City announced a Deep Retrofit Challenge to accelerate emissions reductions from buildings and identify pathways for other buildings to replicate.  The launch of the strategy was an opportunity to advance and sharpen our focus on immediate actions to get us on the emissions trajectory needed to hit our 2030 goals and reach net zero by 2040. Some City Agencies, such as the Toronto Transportation Commission (TTC) and Toronto Hydro, are accelerating climate action and increasing their ambitions based on our strategy.

SSG: The Net-Zero Strategy is exciting, but emissions in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area are rising. How does the strategy tackle this challenge? 

SP: The Strategy contains 2030 interim targets which were developed to stimulate and measure progress on the way towards net zero. These include designing 100% of new buildings to be near zero emissions, cutting GHG emissions from existing buildings in half, and sourcing 50% of community-wide energy from renewable sources. The Strategy contains City commitments to demonstrate carbon accountability via a carbon budget, accelerate a rapid reduction in natural gas use via new building standards, establish performance targets for existing buildings, and increase access to low-carbon transportation options.

The City will play a big role in communicating the challenge and uniting people around a single goal. Everyone, including city residents and businesses, needs to know what they can do and how they can contribute.

The City of Toronto is also focused on demonstrating leadership—showing what’s possible for City-owned buildings, vehicles and waste. Once people understand what they can do and what’s possible, with appropriate information and support, then we can get there.

 

Net-zero pathways modelled for the City of Toronto, relative to a Do Nothing Scenario and a Business as Planning Scenario, which projects emissions based on policies already in place. Toronto selected the Net Zero by 2040 pathway (dark blue) for its TransformTO Net Zero Strategy. Image from the TransformTO Net Zero Strategy.

 

SSG: Can you tell me more about how decision making is changing at the City? 

SP: Climate is an increasingly important factor in decision making at the City. For instance, we’re working on a carbon budget to track climate actions against annual emissions limits and drive accountability. We’re also developing a ‘climate lens’ and process that staff will follow to evaluate and consider the climate implications of all major City of Toronto decisions.

And we’re putting in place structures for accountability and management of climate action, and to make climate action a visible issue in our work across all City divisions and agencies.

A key piece is an accountability and management framework that will go to Council soon. The framework will see the City create three advisory bodies, including an external Climate Advisory Group to advise on strategy implementation, to draw on the knowledge of staff, stakeholders and residents. We will also establish a Senior Leadership Table comprised of senior city staff to discuss the challenges and opportunities at the highest level, as well as a Joint Implementation Committee made up of City management and unionized staff to understand how City facilities and operations can work to achieve our goals.

SSG: How do you hope Toronto will be transformed by this strategy? 

SP: Reducing emissions to net zero will require significant changes in how we live, build, commute, manage waste, and more. I hope people understand that taking climate action can improve their lives and create a better future for our city. If we live our lives in a way that’s kind to the planet, it also means that we’re being kind to ourselves and to one another and it can permeate other areas of our lives. So by walking an extra three or four minutes, or taking your bike instead of driving, you might have a better day. People are going to have to retrofit their homes to reduce emissions, but that’s also going to make their homes more comfortable.

We have learned and continue to learn from the First Nations, Inuit, Métis, and urban Indigenous communities in Toronto. A learning I’ve taken from them is to treat others the way that you would like to be treated—and that includes plants, animals, the earth, the air, water. We’re considering that as we implement the strategy.

 

A view of downtown Toronto from Riverdale Park. Photo by James Thomas on Unsplash.

 

SSG: What insights do you have for other cities? 

SP: If I were speaking to a colleague from another city, I’d tell them communication is the biggest piece. You have to understand the priorities of your senior leadership team and speak that language. You have to understand the priorities in other City divisions and speak their language as well. You have to include and understand the priorities of residents and stakeholders, and speak their language as well.

People have different priorities, so taking a step back and tying climate action to the City of Toronto’s strategic priorities was important. These include priorities to maintain and create affordable housing, keep Toronto moving, invest in people and neighbourhoods, and tackle climate change and build resilience.

We made sure we were speaking to staff across the City about their priorities as well. So, if we were talking to someone in Transportation and they had goals to build out cycling routes, we’d learn about their constraints and challenges and support them through the climate strategy by working with them to align their actions with our action plan.

Early involvement was also important. We got other divisions involved when SSG was modelling decarbonization pathways so staff could provide input on and understand what actions we were including in the climate modelling, the challenges that lay ahead, and how they could contribute. Now we have colleagues across the City that are environmental champions. It helped that senior management is focused on achieving net zero and communicated this as a priority.

It’s also important to be clear about what you’ve heard from the community and to reflect that in your climate strategy. Toronto has an active climate action community. We needed to demonstrate that the work that we were doing was in response to community need and desires. And then, finally, express that back out to the community—that we were putting forward a plan that reflected their input.

A public streetcar in downtown Toronto. Photo by Marcin Skalij on Unsplash.

 

SSG: What are you looking forward to about climate action in Toronto?

SP: Some new and important programs are being developed, especially related to reducing emissions from transportation and buildings. Buildings are the largest source of Toronto’s emissions, so these programs will be critical.

The latest Toronto Green Standard came into force this month. New buildings will have to adhere to even stronger environmental performance. In the future, the City will be looking to incorporate the embodied carbon impacts of new construction into the standard, as well.

To reduce emissions from existing buildings, we have the City’s Net Zero Existing Building Strategy. Homeowners and building owners can take advantage of many existing and new programs, including low-interest loans, to help get our buildings to net zero as soon as possible.

And the City’s Electric Vehicle Strategy is in place to support the transition to electric vehicles, while the TTC is set to expand transit service and the further electrification of its vehicles. Decarbonizing the transportation sector is important, as vehicles are the second largest source of emissions in Toronto today. And, we have a big focus on reducing waste as well and moving towards a circular economy.

I’m looking forward to projects getting underway and showing people what’s possible. We’re on the cusp of transformative change.

 

The TransformTO Net-Zero Strategy can be found here. To get in touch with us about how we can help your municipality reach net zero while contributing to the economy, contact us here.

SSG, Toronto, and Edmonton Win APA Awards For Climate Action Work

On May 2, SSG’s cutting-edge climate planning work was recognized with two awards from the American Planning Association Sustainable Communities Division!

With the City of Toronto, we won the Environment, Climate, & Energy Award for the TransformTO Net-Zero Strategy, attaining a near-perfect score from the jurors. The strategy sets a target of net-zero community emissions by 2040—a decade sooner than most major North American Cities with climate action plans.

Our team modelled emissions reduction pathways to explore how the city could reach net-zero emissions by 2040 and 2050. As our Principal Julia Meyer-Macleod explains on our blog, pursuing net-zero emission by 2040 is feasible, costs less, and results in fewer overall emissions than pursuing net-zero by 2050.

With the City of Edmonton, we won the Policy, Law, or Tool Award for Edmonton’s carbon budget. Jurors were impressed by its status as the first carbon budget in North America, the comprehensive set of strategies backing the budget, and the focus on accountability.

As our Principal Yuill Herbert writes in the National Observer, we believe that every city needs a carbon budget to stay on track with their climate goals. Carbon budgets ensure accountability for municipal decisions by setting a cap on how much a community can emit annually and for all time.

In Edmonton, the carbon budgeting process is being integrated into the financial budgeting process for the 2023-2026 budget cycle. That means that every investment the City makes will be evaluated in terms of emissions as well as finances.

We’re humbled by these awards and hope more communities will be inspired to undertake similar climate action work.

Halton Hills Adopts Most Ambitious Climate Action Strategy in Canada

On November 15, 2021, the Halton Hills Town Council did something no Canadian community has done before: it unanimously approved a strategy for the community to achieve net-zero emissions by 2030.

Located on the northwestern edge of the Greater Toronto Area with a population of about 60,000 people, Halton Hills is a fast-growing town with big climate ambition. In 2019, Halton Hills Town Council challenged themselves to a target of net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030, joining the ranks of global climate leaders like Glasgow, Scotland; Bristol, England; and Ithaca, NY. In 2020, they hired SSG to help them develop an evidence-based and community-informed pathway to get there.

The Town’s Low-Carbon Transition Strategy is the result of over a year of technical analysis and engagement with a Multi-Stakeholder Governance Committee and the public. The committee—with membership from the Town corporation, utilities, institutions, businesses, industry, environmental nonprofits, and the community—played a critical role in strategy development. It dedicated over a dozen hours to learning about the planning process and provided detailed input on what measures would work for the community.

Like many other community decarbonization plans, this one features:

  1. Deep energy retrofits and electrification of homes and businesses;
  2. Net-zero emissions new buildings;
  3. Increased walking and cycling trips, and electric transit;
  4. Switching from combustion engine to electric vehicles;
  5. Diversion of organic waste away from landfill; and
  6. Increased renewable energy generation.

The plan’s timeline is unique: it shrinks into eight years what other communities are planning to accomplish over 28.

A major challenge in achieving the 2030 net-zero goal is vehicle emissions. Even with ambitious goals to shift vehicle trips to be made by active transportation and transit trips instead, some gas and diesel vehicles will still be on the road in 2030. One potential strategy to reach the net-zero goal despite remaining vehicle emissions is to purchase carbon offsets. The Town continues to explore options like this and is committed to moving forward in other areas they can effectively decarbonize.

To get in touch with us about how we can help your municipality reach net zero, contact us here.

Join Us For Our Summit: Cities Taking Rapid Climate Action Now

Enough talk! It’s time to act. Join us on Wednesday, November 3, on the sidelines of COP in Glasgow to explore how cities are quickly and effectively moving from planning to implementing climate action. Our Summit—Cities Taking Rapid Climate Action Now—will bring together urban climate action leaders to explore what more municipalities and local governments can do to accelerate climate action. To register to join us in-person or virtually, sign up for a ticket on eventbrite. More details about the event, including the speakers and schedule, are provided below.

Lunch and snacks will be provided to those attending in Glasgow. The event will end with a reception featuring special musical guests.

The link to the online livestream can be found here.

All attendees must provide proof of vaccination or a negative COVID test taken within 48 hours of the event.

Summit Overview

As the impacts of climate change accelerate, cities must urgently move from declaring climate emergencies to taking climate action. Join us for a series of panel discussions and participatory problem-solving sessions in which we will hear from cities that have effectively moved from planning to implementation, as well as urban climate action experts from Sustainability Solutions Group and beyond. We will explore transformational moves, as well as creative and scalable solutions, including carbon budgets, rapid multi-building retrofits, andclean air zones. We will learn about what is effective and working, and discuss how to create an accelerated response to climate change at the local level.

A special focus of the Cities Taking Rapid Climate Action Now Summit will be 1,000 Cities for Carbon Freedom, a project and report focused on climate action best practices from UK Cities.

Summit Schedule and Speakers

Panel 1: Carbon Budgets: Accounting for A Net-Zero Future

Time and format: 11:00am UK time, in-person and live broadcast

Overview: This panel will explore how cities are using carbon budgets as an accountability mechanism and tool to align municipal and community actions with climate action goals. Come and gather insights into how you can implement a carbon budget in your community!

Speakers:

Andrea Fernandez, Director of Climate Planning, Finance, and Partnerships, C40

Andrea Fernández serves as C40’s Director of Climate Planning, Finance and Partnerships. Andrea is responsible for overseeing C40’s climate planning, finance programmes and driving new strategic priorities and partnerships. Before joining C40, Andrea worked as a consultant at Arup for 11 years. In this role, she led high-profile engagements related to sustainability and climate change in the urban environment, with a focus on policy, funding, governance and delivery strategies.

Yuill HerbertYuill Herbert, Principal, SSG

Yuill Herbert is a co-founder and principal of the Sustainability Solutions Group, a climate planning consultancy that has designed climate action plans and conduction emissions analyses for more than 80 municipalities, ranging from City of Toronto and City of Vancouver. Yuill led the development of some of the first carbon budgets in North America for the City of Edmonton, the Region of Durham, and the Town of Whitby.

 

Panel 2: Creative Solutions for Decarbonizing Transportation

Time and format: 12:00pm UK time, in-person and live broadcast

Overview: How can cities quickly and effectively decarbonize transportation? This session will explore novel solutions beyond electric vehicles and transit planning, such as Clean Air Zones, car shares, and decreasing last mile shipping emissions with electric cargo bikes.

Speakers:

Stephen Arnold, Head of Clean Air Zone, Birmingham City Council

Stephen is Birmingham City Council’s Head of Clean Air Zone and is responsible for its delivery and operation.  The introduction of the zone is just one of the measures that the Council is taking to improve air quality across the whole of the city as part of its Brum Breathes initiative.  Importantly, the Clean Air Zone is seen as an enabler of a number of other changes in the city which include encouraging more people to adopt active modes of travel and public transport, especially for shorter journeys.

 

Jack Skillen, Placeshaping Director, Team London Bridge

Jack has worked for 15 years in fields of urban regeneration and sustainable transport since completing his MSc in Cities, Space and Society. He is focused on achieving the placeshaping strategy for the London Bridge BID, including a vision for cycling, the ‘Low Line’–London’s new walking destination–and a sustainability strategy to make London Bridge one of the greenest and most civic minded business districts in the world.

 

Ben Knowles, CEO of Pedal Me

Ben Knowles is currently Rider and CEO of Pedal Me – the world leading cargo bike operator, transporting people and their goods around London, outcompeting motor vehicle based logistics for the vast majority of urban movements.  Before this he was a transport planner and worked on a variety of projects – including leading on introducing School Streets to London.

 

Panel 3: Taking Retrofits to Scale

Time and format: 1:30pm UK time, in-person and live broadcast

Overview: In order to achieve net zero, cities must retrofit virtually all existing buildings for energy efficiency. This panel will explore novel approaches to retrofitting en masse and at scale, while keeping equity in mind.

Speakers:

Marianne Heaslip, Associate Principal, URBED

Marianne is an architect and Associate Principal at URBED with interests in urban design, sustainability and participative design. She holds an MSc in Advanced Environment and Energy Studies from the Centre for Alternative Technology, and is a Certified Passive House Designer. Marianne has more than a decade of experience on live retrofit projects and is also involved in the development of policy and tools to support better retrofit. Much of this work is carried out in collaboration with Carbon Coop, through the development of tools like Home Retrofit Planner and projects like the Community Green Deal. This wealth of experience now informs the People Powered Retrofit service, designed to support individuals in the retrofit of their homes. She also delivers training, development work and design work for a variety of community energy and community-led housing organisations, whilst working on scaling up retrofit in social housing – from TSB Retrofit for the Future, through work with housing associations and local authorities across the country to achieve real world decarbonisation and user-friendly outcomes.

Michael McLaughlin, Digital Lead, HACT

Michael joined HACT in January 2020, having previously accrued 16 years’ experience in various social housing roles, much of which has involved developing and managing Digital strategy and policy.  Having lead a programme on measuring impact of social housing for Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA), which uses the wellbeing approach to social value aligned to the UN Sustainable Development goals, Michael has a keen interest on the the ways in which this can be increased within communities. He currently leads HACT’s sector-leading UK Housing Data Standards initiative environmental module to create a common dictionary, model, and process of data exchanges, and recently co-authored a paper on The Impact of Social Housing: Economic, Social, Health and Wellbeing.

Panel 4: Mobilizing Communities for a Just Transition

Time and format: 2:30pm UK time, in-person and live broadcast

Overview: Broad public support is key to climate action. In addition, local communities can invest in and help cities advance climate action. This session will examine how communities can get involved with climate action from planning through to implementation.

Speakers:

Dirk Vansintjan, President, European Federation of Citizen Energy Co-operatives, REScoop.eu

Dirk Vansintjan is an expert on community energy who has been working in the renewable energy sector since 1985. He is the Co-founder and President of REScoop.eu, the European renewable energy cooperative federation. He is also the Co-founder and a board member of REScoop Vlaanderen, the Flemish federation for renewable energy cooperatives and the Co-founder and Vice-president of REScoop.be, the Belgian federation for renewable energy cooperatives. He has also co-founded Molenforum-Vlaanderen, a federation of mill conservation societies in Flanders, as well as ODE-Vlaanderen and Ecopower, a renewable energy cooperative in Flanders that has 60 000 members and supplies 1.6% of Flemish households with green electricity.

 

Jonathan Atkinson, Co-founder, Carbon Co-op

Since completing a degree in Environmental Biology, Jonathan Atkinson’s career has crossed boundaries and disciplines. He worked at two research co-ops, Ethical Consumer Magazine and Corporate Watch and in 2002  co-founded UHC Collective, a multidisciplinary art and design project. Jonathan’s interests lie at the point where urban development, art, community and politics meet. Throughout his career he has explored the potential for co-operative and collective action to create change. He is a co-founder of Carbon Co-op, a board member and staff member,  developing and project managing innovative, new low-carbon projects.

Sal Wilson, Stokey Energy

Sal worked as an architect for 10 years before training as an environmental designer at Atelier Ten, where she gained experience in a wide range of sustainability strategies. She tutors sustainable design in London at the Bartlett and the Architectural Association, and has been involved in editing the recently launched LETI Retrofit guide. Sal has been working with Stokey Energy, a local community energy group based in Hackney in London, as the group works to establish its presence in the community and seek out opportunities to reduce carbon at multiple scale across the neighbourhood.

Session 5: Open Space – Participatory Discussion on Accelerating Climate Action

Time and format: 2:30pm UK time, in-person only

Overview: What is the best way for cities to rapidly decarbonize with the resources they have at hand? How can cities and local governments accelerate climate action in the climate emergency? Summit participants will be invited to propose topics for discussion in breakout sessions facilitated by the summit organizations. The outcome of this session will inform the development of a City Climate Action Handbook that documents the insights from the summit.

Closing Reception With Bill McKibben and Tenzin Choegyal

Time and format: 5:15pm – 7:00pm UK time, in-person only

Overview: We will wrap up the Cities Taking Rapid Climate Action Now Summit with an evening reception, featuring a keynote speech by renowned climate activist Bill McKibben and tunes by the award-winning musician Tenzin Choegyal. If you would like to only attend the reception, sign up here.

Featured guests: 

Bill McKibben, Founder, 350.org

A man who needs no introduction: Bill has been a part of the climate movement for decades, writing multiple books since The End of Nature in 1989, and going on to found 350.org. He is an environmentalist, author, activist, and journalist who was awarded the Gandhi Peace Award in 2013, is the Schumann Distinguished Scholar at Middlebury College, and has been named one of the most influential people by Foreign Policy magazine, MSN, the Boston Globe, and many others.

 

Tenzin Choegyal, Grammy-nominated Tibetan/Australian Artist

Tenzin is a Tibetan/Australian artist, composer, activist, musical director and cultural ambassador. While proudly continuing the unbroken nomadic lineage which is central to his music, Tenzin also embraces opportunities to take his music into more contemporary, uncharted territory, both in the studio and on stage.

Tenzin has nine independent albums, three of them with his fusion band Tibet2Timbuk2, and regularly performs with Camerata Brisbane’s acclaimed Chamber Orchestra. His collaborative albums include The Last Dalai Lama? with Philip Glass and the 2021 Grammy-nominated Songs from the Bardo with Laurie Anderson and Jesse Paris Smith – a moving interpretation of the Tibetan Book of the Dead.

 

Powerful Free Tool Helps Accelerate Climate Action

October 19, 2021 [Press Release] — As local-government leaders from across Canada gather online today for the annual FCM Sustainable Communities Conference, a national climate planning co-operative is offering them the information they need to kickstart climate action without paying consultants tens of thousands of dollars and waiting for many months.

As of today, every one of Canada’s 4,000+ cities, towns, and villages can access the Municipal Energy and Emissions Database (MEED) for a free community carbon-pollution profile that shows them where their greenhouse gas emissions originate and what they amount to. Once equipped with this critical info, a local government can apply for funding, or get straight to rolling out programs to regulate and/or incentivize climate solutions—such as building public EV charging stations or creating programs for building energy retrofits.

MEED is available at https://meed.info.

“Canada’s communities are on the front lines of the climate emergency, and while many of them are now responding with effective policy, many more don’t know where to start,” said Yuill Herbert, Co-founder and Principal of Sustainability Solutions Group (SSG), which developed MEED in partnership with whatIf? Technologies. “MEED is their ticket to ride. It shows them how much climate pollution their community is producing, so they can move straight to the critical work of reducing it.”

Though the lead sources of climate pollution are well known, local governments can’t design effective policy without knowing how much of it comes from where. To get those details, a municipality would typically hire a consultant to produce a custom comprehensive GHG inventory, which could cost up to $40,000 and take many months to complete.

MEED helps them cut to the chase, explains Marcus Williams, Senior Model Analyst and Principal of WhatIf? Technologies.

“Local governments have finite amounts of time, money, and expertise, and constituents and stakeholders are calling for action,” said Williams. “MEED gives them a decent snapshot of their climate pollution—it’s not meticulous but it is the crucial first step.”

Backgrounder: Questions and Answers About MEED

What is MEED?

MEED is an open-access database that provides a free climate-pollution profile for every community in Canada. Each profile includes a greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions inventory, a list of where the pollution is coming from, and what it adds up to.

Why is it a big deal?

MEED is revolutionary. For the first time, with a couple of keystrokes, any one of Canada’s local governments can download an accurate summary of their community’s total climate pollution and a detailed breakdown of where it is coming from.

In this respect, it puts all Canadian communities—from the biggest cities to the smallest villages—on a level playing field. A climate pollution profile would otherwise cost a local government as much as $40,000 and could take up to a year to complete. This is a barrier for some communities and a bottleneck for others. MEED gives every government what it needs to get its climate response underway.

How would a community use it?

Local governments need a greenhouse gas emissions inventory as a first step to apply for funding for incentive programs, or launch them. Three things make a MEED inventory different:

  • It’s Free: MEED’s version is free, and a local government can use it to report to and/or apply for funding from, for example, the Global Covenant of Mayors, CDP, and/or the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Partners for Climate Protection program.
  • It’s Credible: It uses a globally recognized standard—the Global Protocol for Community-Scale Greenhouse Gas Emission Inventories (GPC).
  • It’s Transparent: A local government can compare its emissions with those of a similar sized community elsewhere, and do so knowing it is comparing apples to apples.

How Does it Work?

MEED pulls publicly accessible data on population, households, dwelling units, employment, weather, and known large emitters. It then compiles the data and compares it with published federal energy and emissions reports. When MEED identifies a difference between the two, it refines its calculations until the results match.

What’s the catch?

With respect to limitations, the tool currently tabulates climate pollution by sector or fuel source, and includes transportation, buildings, and stationary energy sources. (Industry and agriculture, forestry, and land use emissions are coming soon.) The tool can’t access a community’s actual measured energy consumption, so it uses estimates. In most cases, the estimates are reasonable and “ballpark good enough” to start climate action.

How One City De-Polarized Climate Action

Since Mayor Don Iveson’s election in 2013, Edmonton has developed one of the most ambitious climate action plans in Canada. The City plans to double its population while achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 and, to our knowledge, is the first municipality in North America to integrate a carbon budget into its official plan, setting a cap on how much the community can emit, ever.

Edmonton has also taken steps to galvanize global climate action. In 2018, Iveson had a summit with mayors from around the world that led to the Edmonton Declaration, a call-to-action for mayors to take urgent action to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. Thousands of cities and authorities, including Indigenous groups, signed on.

“It’s recognition that we’re part of an international movement of local governments who’ve been leading on this for decades,” Iveson said.

Earlier this year, SSG had a chance to sit down with Edmonton Mayor Don Iveson and talk about his climate action legacy (Iveson steps down after the municipal election on October 18). We spoke to him about what motivates him to take action, why Edmonton developed a carbon budget, and how the City built public support for climate action.

“Public engagement is the most important dimension of this,” he told us, noting that the City invited young people to speak at meetings on climate change and help decrease divisions. Their presence “makes it hard for decision makers to play the division of wedge politics in front of kids who will suffer for that,” Iveson explained.

The City also created a citizens’ advisory committee of locals with relevant expertise who gave advice to the City and Council on their climate action plan, in addition to bringing together a Citizens’ Panel made up of a diverse and representative group of Edmontonians. The panel deliberated on how the City should respond to energy and climate challenges, and provided recommendations to the City.

Most of those skeptical of the science came around to supporting climate action, noting the economic and health benefits of climate action, such as stable electricity prices and cleaner air, Iveson explained. “We need to be anti-polarizers.”

Watch the full interview above.

How We Can Reduce Emissions by Changing How We Work 

Getting to net-zero requires changes in how we work and move. In organizations where the bulk of commuting takes place by car, transportation emissions can account for a significant portion of GHG emissions. This point was underscored by the impact of COVID-19 lockdowns in early  2020: by April 2020, daily emissions had dropped 17%, partly due to a decline in car use as many stopped travelling to and from work.

In the case of the Canadian government’s operations in the national capital, commuting by its 150,000 employees is the second largest contributor to operations emissions, totalling 138 kt CO2e in 2016. Most of these emissions result from employees driving to work.

 

Baseline emissions for the Government of Canada’s operations in the NCR, by sector and fuel. (Designer: Naomi Devine/SSG)

 

In a study for the Government of Canada, SSG, Rocky Mountain Institute, and whatIf? Technologies explored solutions to reduce commuting emissions in the National Capital Region (NCR) to net-zero by 2050. The project, Roadmap to Low-Carbon Operations in the National Capital Region, considered how the government could decrease commutes and make commuting less-fossil fuel intensive with public transit, cycling and walking infrastructure, and zero-emissions vehicles.

The impact could be significant. By 2050, transforming how government offices manage space and making it easy for employees to work from home could reduce emissions by 45 percent.

We found a policy enabling employees to work from home two days per week can make a significant dent in commuting emissions at little additional cost. Implementing an effective teleworking policy requires robust IT communications infrastructure to connect employees remotely. But the Government of Canada, like many organizations, already has an initiative underway to provide this infrastructure.

 

The influence of teleworking on commuting emissions tied to the Government of Canada’s operations in the National Capital Region. (Designer: Naomi Devine/SSG)

 

When combined with space modernization to enable employees to share desks or access co-working spaces, teleworking can reduce the floor area required by the workforce and, therefore, building emissions. At the same time, by offering employees access to co-working spaces in a variety of locations, the government can help reduce long-distance travel by enabling employees to work closer to where they live.

 

Possible future space needs for the Government of Canada’s operations in the NCR after modernization and teleworking, including a 12% buffer for the minimum required floor space. (Designer: Naomi Devine/SSG)

 

The number of employees who drive to work is influenced by the location of offices. For example, in comparison to a single-use campus in Kanata, an Ottawa suburb, a federal building in downtown Ottawa has higher rates of transit, walking, and cycling commuting.

The Roadmap recommends the government locate new developments in areas with good transit, walking, and cycling access or design multi-use, transit-based developments where employees and residents live, work, eat, and access services and recreation within their immediate neighborhood.

Of course, even with all these changes, some employees would have to drive. Parking incentives, such as eliminating all free-parking except for zero-emissions vehicles, as well as promoting carpooling could help drive those emissions down.

Changes to working life during the pandemic have demonstrated that the transformations recommended in the Roadmap are viable. As organizations look to bring employees back to the office or redevelop or create new office space, transforming the way employees use space and offering them the flexibility to work from home can push down workplace emissions.

For more insights on how to build a carbon-free future, sign up for the monthly SSG Newswire and updates from the Rocky Mountain Institute’s Carbon-Free Buildings Team.

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Yuill Herbert is a co-founder and principal of the Sustainability Solutions Group, a climate planning consultancy that has designed climate action plans and community energy and emissions plans for more than 60 municipalities, encompassing over 30% of the Canadian population. He led the development of the Roadmap for Low-Carbon Operations in the National Capital Region. 

Erik Frenette has worked on energy models since 2011, with a focus on providing solutions to Canadian specific energy and climate change issues. He is a model analyst at whatIf? Technologies.

 

We Need to Accelerate Canada’s Green Recovery

What would happen if Canada’s major cities prioritized a green recovery in response to COVID-19? Their investments could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by two thirds by 2030, create over 2.9 million jobs, and reduce air pollution by 32%, preventing 3,950 premature deaths over the next decade. Read more

The Art and Science of City Carbon Budgets

In 2017, the City of Oslo pioneered a game-changing approach to fighting climate change: the carbon budget. The budget sets a cap on how much the city can emit before 2030, when Oslo plans to become carbon neutral, and divides that amount into annual budgets. The City’s finance department considers the budget alongside its finances when making decisions. The City describes it as the “most important management tool” for achieving its ambitious goal of net-zero emissions by 2030.  We couldn’t agree more.  Read more