Retrofitting Canadian buildings could bring 200,000 jobs, along with healthier spaces

Canada’s Renovation Wave: A plan for jobs and climate was released by the Pembina Institute on July 14. Borrowing a term originated in a 2020 European Commission report, the authors present a simplified scenario outlining how we could convert the 63% of Canadian buildings currently heated with natural gas or oil to electricity.  This, combined with the rapid decarbonization of the electricity grid, would result in significantly lower carbon emissions while generating more than $48 billion in economic development and creating up to 200,000 jobs .  Drawing on a 2018 report from Clean Energy Canada, Canada’s Renovation Wave asserts that energy efficiency jobs are inherently labour intensive and create a higher number of jobs than other industries – for example, whole building retrofits are estimated to create an average of 9.5 gross direct and indirect jobs for every $1 million invested.

The authors estimate that “priming the pump for this transformation” will require public investments of about $10 to $15 billion per year, from now until 2040 (or until appropriate regulatory drivers are in place). Much of this sum is directed to subsidies and incentive programs, but it also includes a recommendation for $300 million per year to be spent on skill development, capacity building and recruitment to grow and diversify the energy efficiency and green building workforce.

Related reading: “If heat waves become the new normal, how will our buildings have to change?” (The National Observer, July 2) quotes Pembina author Tom-Pierre Frappé-Sénéclauze who  relates the need for retrofitting to the health impacts of  the recent B.C. heatwave.

Aalso, Canada’s Climate Retrofit Mission emphasizes the urgency of the task and outlines market and policy innovations to speed up the process and achieve economies of scale to reduce costs.  Authors Brendan Haley and Ralph Torrie state that, at the current pace,  it will take 142 years to retrofit all low-rise residential buildings and 71 years to retrofit all commercial floor area  in Canada. The report was published by  Efficiency Canada in June 2021.  

Toronto passes new standards for new buildings, retrofits

55% of GHG emissions in the city of Toronto are attributed to homes and buildings ( 60% of that from residential buildings and 40% from commercial and institutional buildings).  On July 14, Toronto City Council took one more step to address those emissions, by approving new building policies. As described in the City’s press release, the policies include a “Net Zero Existing Buildings Strategy to decarbonize all existing residential, commercial and institutional buildings within the next 30 years; a Net Zero Carbon Plan to reduce emissions in City-owned buildings; and an update to the Toronto Green Standard to achieve net zero emissions in new development by 2030.”  

The Net Zero Existing Buildings Strategy: is expected to increase local building retrofit economic activity by 87 per cent over the next 30 years, and nearly double annual investment in existing buildings. It is also expected to create an additional 7,000 direct, full-time jobs in local construction, energy services and supportive work over 30 years. Further,

  • it will begin with voluntary emissions performance measures and targets, transitioning to mandatory requirements in 2025, at which time it will require annual emissions performance reporting and public disclosure;
  • Expand and enhance retrofit financing;
  • Support workforce development and training;
  • City Council will lead by example with a plan to retrofit all City-owned buildings to net zero emissions by 2040.   

The Green Standard for New Buildings: Emissions reductions in new buildings will be regulated by the newly approved the Toronto Green Standard Version 4.  The original Toronto Green Standard was introduced in 2010 and has been updated approximately every 4 years.  The latest Version 4 addresses requirements for “building energy and GHG reduction and electric vehicle parking, and introduces tracking of embodied emissions in building materials used in construction. It addresses resilience through enhanced green infrastructure to manage stormwater runoff, reduce urban heat island impacts and promote biodiversity, including extensive and higher performance green roofs, bioswales, rain gardens, native pollinator species plantings and a new requirement for ”green streets” (roads or streets that incorporate green infrastructure).”

Version 4 will apply to new development applications beginning on May 1, 2022.

According to Mayor John Tory: “Implementing this strategy will also be essential to public health and resilience in the face of a changing climate. Extreme heat is already causing an average of 120 premature deaths annually, and this number is expected to double by 2050 without strong action. Retrofit measures such as improving building envelopes and installing heat pumps greatly reduce exposure to extreme heat and will ensure Torontonians are safe during increasingly frequent and severe heat waves.”  

 Related reading:

“TAF congratulates the City of Toronto on passing two landmark low-carbon building policies”  reaction by the Toronto Atmospheric Fund to Council’s new policies.

“‘No Vaccine for Climate Change’, Departing Toronto Energy Director Warns, in Critique of City’s Climate Performance” (The Energy Mix, April 2021) offers an overview of Toronto’s recent climate initiatives

Canada’s Climate Retrofit Mission, published by Efficiency Canada in June 2021. Authors Brendan Haley and Ralph Torrie state that, at the current pace, it will take 142 years to retrofit all low-rise residential buildings and 71 years to retrofit all commercial floor area in Canada. The report emphasizes the urgency of the task and outlines market and policy innovations to speed up the process and achieve economies of scale to reduce costs.

Efficiency Canada also recently released Codes4Climate: A Building Code Advocacy Toolkit,  to encourage net-zero energy performance through improvements to building codes across Canada.

Workforce 2030 website offers reports and information about the labour market aspects of green building skills for Ontario.

Future skills for the energy efficient building workforce

A recent report from ECO Canada,  Assessment of Occupational and Skills Needs and Gaps for the Energy Efficient Buildings Workforce, focuses on the occupations and skills needed for designing, constructing, managing, and retrofitting energy efficient commercial and institutional buildings and multi-unit residential buildings.  The report states that much of the technology, materials, and processes are in place, but workforce skills still need to be developed – for example, under a “building-as-a-system” approach,  workers are increasingly called upon to function within multi-disciplinary teams, requiring soft skills such as collaboration and facilitation. Such a system also requires a workforce culture shift. A section called “ Future-Proofing the Energy Efficient Building Sector”  provides a summary of core and growing occupations and skills related to design, construction, operation, and retrofitting of energy efficient buildings. The report assesses specific occupation skills and gaps, and recommends ways to connect with workers– and includes unions amongst the stakeholder groups which can support skills acquisition. The 73-page report is available for free download from this link (registration required).

Massachusetts climate legislation almost derailed by opposition to greener building code provisions

An Act creating a next-generation roadmap for Massachusetts climate policy was signed into law on March 26, summarized in Governor Charlie Baker’s press release, here . It is a sweeping and ambitious bill which sets emissions reduction targets, including six sectoral goals, culminating in net-zero emissions for the state by 2050; sets appliance efficiency standards; incentivizes electric vehicles; includes environmental justice protections; and orders funding for a clean energy equity workforce and market development program to support employment opportunities for certified minority- and women-owned small business and individuals living in environmental justice communities. 

And as described in “What You Need To Know About The New Mass. Climate Law”  (NPR, WBUR, March 26) ,the Roadmap legislation also authorizes the development of stretch energy codes for net-zero energy buildings. The Department of Energy Resources will announce the final version after public consultations for the next 18 months, after which municipalities can choose to adopt the model codes.  The building code provisions were the major sticking point in the political battle over this legislation, and triggered a Governor’s veto in 2020, thanks to organized opposition from the natural gas industry and real estate industry, both of whom see a potential threat of natural gas bans.  

This Massachusetts example is explained in “Sweeping Mass. climate law revives gas ban battle” (Mar. 29). The broader battle which is forming across the U.S.is described in “Developers clash with  U.S. Cities on vote for greener building codes” in The Energy Mix, and in “A Texas city had a bold new climate plan – until a gas company got involved” in The Guardian (March 1).   The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) describes how this conflict is playing out at the International Code Council (ICC), which sets model building code standards, and which “just threw out the elections process by which state and local government officials recently overcame powerful commercial interests to secure large energy savings.”

Electric vehicle, retrofitting incentives announced by new Nova Scotia government

Nova Scotia’s new government under Premier Iain Rankin was sworn in on February 23, and immediately sent a message that it was committed to climate change action.  A press release titled Province Invests in Climate Change Action, Supports Jobs and Commits to Renewable Future announced a rebate program for new and used electric vehicles, plug-in hybrids and e-bikes, ranging from $3,000 per new vehicle to $500 for electric bikes. An additional $9.5 million will be directed to support energy efficiency improvements through retrofitting for low-income families. Further, the Department of Energy and Mines will release a new Renewable Electricity Standard in March, aiming to achieve 80% renewable energy by 2030. Symbolically, the former Department of the Environment was renamed to the Department of Environment and Climate Change .  Environmental advocacy group Ecology Action expressed optimism in this press release (Feb. 25). The CBC also reported on the new government here .