Updated Net-zero strategy for Greening Canadian government operations includes work from home provision

The Treasury Board of Canada released a statement on November 26, updating the Greening Government Strategy  which governs operations and procurement by the federal government. Because the government is the largest owner of real property in Canada and the largest public purchaser of goods and services (more than $20 billion in 2019), the strategy promises to make an actual impact on GHG emissions, as well as provide a model strategy for Crown Corporations and other employers.  According to the press release, “the new strategy includes, for the first time, commitments to achieve net-zero emissions from national safety and security (NSS) fleet, green procurement and employee commuting. In addition, Crown Corporations are being encouraged to adopt the Greening Government Strategy or an equivalent strategy of their own that includes a net-zero by 2050 target.”

The full Green Government Strategy is here , and includes goals for buildings and retrofits, clean energy, waste management, water, as well as employee engagement and transparent reporting of GHG emissions reductions. Highlighted changes below come under the heading “Mobility”, and  will impact employee commuting, work-from-home, and business travel:

  • The Centre will encourage employees to use low-carbon forms of transportation to reduce emissions from employee commuting and will track these emissions by the 2021 to 2022 fiscal year.
  • The government will facilitate opportunities for flexible work arrangements, such as remote work, by enabling remote computing telecommunications and by supporting information technology (IT) solutions.
  • The government will promote and incentivize lower-carbon alternatives to work-related air travel. Departments will contribute to the Greening Government Fund (GGF) based on their air travel emissions.  The GGF aims to incentivize lower-carbon alternatives to government operations by providing project funding to federal government departments and agencies to reduce GHG emissions in their operations.
  • Emissions from other travel related to operations, such as major events hosted and ministerial travel, may be offset by departments.
  • Purchase of carbon offsets for events, conferences and travel may also be used as an eligible expense for grants and contribution program recipients.
  • Regarding vehicle fleets, 75% per cent of new light-duty unmodified fleet vehicle purchases will be zero-emission vehicles (ZEVs) or hybrids, with the objective that the government’s light-duty fleet comprises at least 80% ZEVs by 2030. Priority is to be given to purchasing ZEVs.
  • All new executive vehicle purchases will be ZEVs or hybrids.

An update of the Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory of emissions from federal operations was also released, showing a decrease of 34% from 2005 levels from real property and conventional fleet operations.  The details from the Inventory are here .

More detailed information about each of the priorities is available from the Greening Government Centre website. 

 

Working from home: health and safety concerns but no clear environmental benefit

Working from home has become a necessity for many during the pandemic, and the popular press has documented many examples of the trend  – recently, for example “Twitter’s plans to work from home indefinitely have prompted a wave of copycats.” (Washington Post , October 1) . It is a complex issue which raises questions about the climate change potential of a permanent shift in working arrangements for knowledge workers, as well as the equity impacts and the health and safety impacts .

Researchers study the complexities and trade-offs, find little improvement in GHG’s

An October article by engineering professors O’Brien and Yazdani Aliabadi of Carleton University in Ottawa updates the state of research about:  “Does telecommuting save energy? A critical review of quantitative studies and their research methods” (published in Energy and Buildings in October) .The authors consider the complexity of simultaneous analysis of “home office energy use, the Internet, long-term consumer choices, and other so-called rebound effects” on GHG emissions.  They conclude that: “current datasets and methods are generally inadequate for fully answering the research question. While most studies indicate some benefit, several suggest teleworking increases energy use – even for the domain that is thought to benefit most: transportation.” The authors point to the need for future research which considers the impact of energy-saving trends already under way, including urban design, building energy efficiency,  and electric vehicles for community.

Unions see workplace impacts, including lack of health and safety protections

In July, Canada’s National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) published Working from Home: Considerations for Unions, a 23-page overview to make unions aware of the important issues, including climate change impacts: using these headings: Use of technology ; Impacts on productivity ; Work-life balance ; Accessibility and equity ; Cost savings ; Environmental impact ; Health and safety ; Worker and community solidarity. The report, which uses the acronym “WFH” throughout, includes a useful bibliography of Canadian-focused articles. In October, NUPGE followed up with a detailed report,  Workers’ Health and Safety Protections and Working from Home , which “ considers how OHS and Workers’ Compensation (WC) laws apply to WFH and identifies potential legal gaps. By surveying Canadian legislation, case law, government guidelines, and analogous examples, this paper seeks to help workers and unions identify potential areas of concern for workers’ health and safety protection in WFH arrangements.”  It highlights the situation in Ontario, where section 3(1) of the  Occupational Health and Safety Act (OHSA) specifically excludes telework, and contrasts Ontario with British Columbia, which offers more protection in its Workers’ Compensation Act by  defining “workplace” broadly,  as “any place where a worker is or is likely to be engaged in any work and include[s] any vessel, vehicle or mobile equipment used by a worker in work.”  NUPGE’s report also includes a thorough bibliography, and concludes by referring to the recommendations of the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety online Fact Sheet, which recommends “the employer and the teleworker should have a written agreement to avoid complications, to ensure that both parties know who is responsible for what, and to ensure that the worker’s health and safety protections are not reduced.”

Another union-led discussion of this issue appeared on October 1, when the International Trade Union Confederation  (ITUC) published a Legal Guide to Telework which briefly outlines the threats, and states: “To guarantee that such arrangements reconcile the need for flexibility (for both workers and employers) and safeguarding of labour rights and protections, the introduction and implementation of teleworking arrangements should be accompanied by key principles outlined in this discussion guide.” Regulation and collective bargaining protections are seen as key. Specifically, the Guide calls for voluntary arrangements for employees, with an option of a physical space for workers who prefer it; regulation of working hours and  the “right to disconnect” (already legislated in France and Italy) ; work equipment and costs should be the responsibility of the employer; safeguards for worker privacy; and respect for the rights to freedom of association and collective bargaining for teleworkers.

Related articles: Work and Climate Change Report previously reported on articles related to the workers’ perspective in “Canadians report mixed feelings about working from home – but is it good for the environment? for workers?” . Tanguay and Lachapelle from Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) provide the Canadian context using data from the 2017 Statistics Canada General Social Survey in “Remote work worsens inequality by mostly helping high-income earners”  (The Conversation, May 10 ), and a U.S. update appears in  “Telework mostly benefits white, affluent Americans – and offers few climate benefits”  ( The Conversation, July 2020) .   In  Working from Home: Post-Coronavirus Will Give Bosses Greater Control of Workers’ Lives ( Jacobin,  June 4) author Luke Savage cites examples of Canadian workplace policies from the Bank of Montreal and Shopify, and sums up the dangers of a permanent shift to working from home:   “With every home an office and every office a home, the residual boundaries between work and private life will be gone for good. Still worse, the whole or even partial demise of the physical office space could become a catalyst for a deeper precarization of work wherein many workers are effectively remote contractors, their homes operating like quasi-franchises over which employers can exercise discretionary control with minimal restriction…. Socialists have long argued that bosses and markets exert far too much power and control over our time, our private lives, and our individual autonomy. Unless we resist the burgeoning shift to remote work, both are about to devour an even bigger share of all three.”

Returning to work after Covid-19 – by transit or by cycling?

The Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) in Canada reported on May 12 that a Probe Research poll found that 78% of Canadian respondents support $5 billion in emergency government funding for public transit services, and 91% agree that governments have a responsibility to ensure access to safe, reliable, and affordable public transit.  Yet when asked whether they would use public transport after Covid-19, city-dwellers in France, Germany, Italy, Spain, the U.K. and the Brussels metropolitan area, expressed “lukewarm enthusiasm for public transport, due to a fear of the risk of infection”. The European survey also was conducted in mid-May,  by YouGov poll, and according to an article in Politico Europe,  preference was for “active transportation” such as walking and cycling, with a majority supporting new zero-emissions zones, banning cars from urban areas,  and maintaining the gains in  road space dedicated to bikes and pedestrians that were implemented during the Covid-19 crisis.

In Canada, the cycling issue is explored in “Bike lanes installed on urgent basis across Canada during COVID-19 pandemic”  by CBC (June 7), highlighting a movement to establish permanent, protected cycling lanes – which is one of the demands of the 2020 Declaration for Resilience in Canadian Cities, a statement championed by Jennifer Keesmaat, former City of Toronto Chief Planner. (a list of over 100 signatories is here ). Other proposals from the Declaration include a moratorium on the construction and reconstruction of urban expressways; congestion pricing policies, with 100% of the revenues dedicated to public transportation expansion, and electrification of the public transit fleet.

Catching the Bus : How Smart Policy Can Accelerate Electric Buses Across Canada   is a policy report released by Clean Energy Canada on June 11,  but unfortunately researched before the transformational impacts of Covid-19.  In an updated introduction, Clean Energy Canada argues that emergency financial relief for transit agencies should be the government’s top priority, but points out that transit procurement cycles run approximately 12 to 18 years, so that “investment decisions today will last for decades.” According to a blog by the Amalgamated Transit Union , the pandemic has resulted in a 75-85% decrease in ridership, with over 3,000 layoffs announced by mid-May and more expected.  The ATU has called on the federal government to provide a $5 billion stimulus investment just to stave off the bankruptcy of transit agencies  – the ATU position on electrification is stated in a February blog here .

Clearing the Air: How electric vehicles and cleaner trucks can reduce pollution, improve health and save lives in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area was released on June 3, a joint project by Environmental Defence ,  the Ontario Public Health Association,  and the University of Toronto’s Transportation and Air Quality Research Group. The report considers the impact of electrification of passenger cars, urban buses, and freight trucks, with the main purpose of demonstrating the considerable health effects of lower pollution.  Policy prescriptions for buses are scanty, though the report estimates that  electrifying all public transit buses in Canada would provide social benefits of up to $1.1 billion per year.  The report and a series of interactive maps of the region are here .

Of these recent reports, only the 2020 Declaration for Resilience in Canadian Cities addresses the issue of transit equity, so evident in the pandemic world as low-wage and essential workers may not have the luxury of replacing their transit commute with a passenger car. Work and Climate Change Report summarized Canadian initiatives pre-Covid in “Transit Equity and Free Transit: addressing social justice, climate justice and workplace justice (Feb.10) . Also pre-Covid in November 2019, an interview with University of Toronto professor Steven Farber discusses how transit policy is a social justice issue.  Farber also spoke at the ATU  Transit Equity Summit in December 2019  .

Working from home may not save as much energy as we think

“A systematic review of the energy and climate impacts of teleworking”  appeared as an “accepted manuscript” for Environmental Research Letters in April.  Written by four academics from the University of Sussex, the article aims to identify the conditions under which teleworking can lead to a net reduction in overall energy consumption, and the circumstances where the benefits from teleworking are outweighed by the unintended impacts” (rebound effects)-  such as greater private travel or increased non-work energy consumption by home workers.  It does not consider the large research about other impacts of telecommuting or homework – such as gender effects, or health and mental health impacts.

The authors identified and examined the results of 39 academic studies from around the world, some dating back to the 1990’s. Of those, 26 suggest that teleworking reduces energy use, and 8  suggest that teleworking  has a neutral impact, or even possibly causes an increase  in energy use.  The authors provide a thorough discussion of the topic, and note great variation in methodology and scope. They also note that most research focusses on the U.S., with some from the EU and only three from the Global South. From Canada, only 2 studies were included:  (1.  Bussière and Lewis (2002) . “Impact of telework and flexitime on reducing future urban travel demand: the case of Montreal and Quebec (Canada), 1996-2016, and 2.  Lachapelle, Tanguay, and Neumark-Gaudet. (2018). “Telecommuting and sustainable travel: Reduction of overall travel time, increases in non-motorised travel and congestion relief?”) .

Both Canadian studies were part of the group which was ranked as average or poor in methodology, and which found neutral or mixed impacts. Relying on the  “more rigorous studies that include a wider range of impacts”  the authors conclude that, despite a widely-held positive verdict on teleworking as an energy-saving practice, “the available evidence suggests that economy-wide energy savings are typically modest, and in many circumstances could be negative or non-existent.”

Ontario investing in transit, vehicle R & D

GO transit stationOn March 31, the Government of Ontario announced  that it will invest  $13.5 billion in the GO Regional Express Rail  project – expanding the existing GO commuter rail system in the Toronto-Hamilton area by building 12 new stations and  increasing  the frequency of service. This expansion will also include  creating a “transportation hub” at  the western terminus of the Toronto subway, according to a subsequent announcement on April 3 .  The goal is to increase the number of weekly trips across the GO train network from 1,500 today to roughly 6,000 by 2025.   The federal government will also contribute more than $1.8 billion to the GO Transit Regional Express rail project, using  funds from the Harper-era  New Building Canada Fund – Provincial-Territorial Infrastructure Component.   A further $200 million has been committed to 312 projects across Ontario through the Public Transit Infrastructure Fund  . Click here  for a list of Ontario projects. Click here for the corporate explanation of the Regional Express Rail project.

Newmarket – a bedroom community of the Toronto area – announced  on March 27 that it will be part of  the Pan-Ontario Electric Bus Demonstration and Integration Trial, joining another GTA suburb, Brampton, already enrolled.  Newmarket will purchase six electric powered heavy-duty transit buses – four  from New Flyer Industries of Winnipeg, Manitoba and two more from Nova Bus, of St. Eustache, Quebec. Overhead-charging stations will be designed and manufactured by Siemens and ABBGroup. The local utility,  Newmarket-TayPower Distribution Limited, will  purchase and operate an on-route charging station.  The initiative is the result of a partnership between the municipality, the utility, and the Canadian Urban Transit Research and Innovation Consortium (CUTRIC)  , incorporated in August 2014 to support industry-academic collaborations to develop next generation technologies for Canadian transit and transportation systems.

In another press release , the government of Ontario announced a joint partnership with the federal government and Ford Motor Company of Canada, providing Ford with a conditional grant of up to $102.4 million to establish an advanced manufacturing program at its Windsor plant. According to the press release, “the investment will create 300 new jobs at Ford operations in Ontario and protect hundreds more.”  Ford will also establish a Research and Engineering Centre in Ottawa, employing engineers and scientists  to focus on infotainment, in-vehicle modems, gateway modules, driver-assist features and autonomous vehicles.