New centre for Vancouver to spur urban climate action, especially building retrofits

Retrofitting is a priority for the newly-announced  Metro Vancouver Zero Emission Innovation Centre, to be administered through the Renewable Cities program at Simon Fraser University, Vancouver. According to the SFU press release of January 12, the Metro Vancouver Zero Emission Innovation Centre “will be seeded by a generous $21.7 million endowment from the federal government to identify, finance and scale up local climate solutions, such as building retrofits and electrification of transportation.”  The top priorities stated include “ “Identifying and initiating programmatic priorities, and integrating the Zero Emission Building Exchange to support building sector capacity building”.  For now, though, “the new centre’s work will start modestly. It is expected to grow steadily through partnership, programming investment, leveraging and innovative financing”.  The launch of the Centre is scheduled for  September 2021, after input is gathered “from a range of stakeholders, including local and provincial government, industry, non-profit organizations and the finance sector.”

The Vancouver Centre will be modelled on The Atmospheric Fund – originally known as the Toronto Atmospheric Fund when it was established in 1991 through the advocacy of then-Toronto City Councillors Jack Layton and Dan Leckie.  The Atmospheric Fund now serves Canada’s largest urban area, the Greater Toronto/Hamilton region of approximately 7 million people, and is part of  the  Low Carbon Cities Canada (LC3), a  partnership which also includes Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa, Montreal and Halifax, as well as  the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

In What does Canada’s new $15 billion plan mean for urban climate action?” (Dec. 15), The Atmospheric Fund reviews the federal government’s latest climate plan and discusses the two sectors most relevant to municipalities: buildings and transportation. The Atmospheric Fund states that its own priorities for 2021, include: “Partnering with housing providers to initiate deep retrofits in 3,000 housing units this year; Mobilizing $150 million in investment to leverage public funding and attract more capital into low-carbon activity;  Supporting municipalities to adopt green development standards for new buildings and performance standards for existing ones; Providing grants and investment capital to enable even more low-carbon activity like workforce development (clean jobs!) and EV charger installations; and Publishing new research on growing challenges like fugitive methane emissions and embodied carbon in new construction.” 

The governance of climate action in Toronto and Vancouver is summarized in a new article by three academics from the Universities of Waterloo and Toronto, “Strategies and Governance for Implementing Deep Decarbonization Plans at the Local Level, published in the latest issue of the journal Sustainability. It offers case studies of the best practices in climate action governance in Toronto and Vancouver, along with Bridgewater, Nova Scotia; Guelph, Ontario; Park City and New York City in the U.S., Lahti in Finland and Oslo in Norway. These cities range in size from 8,400 people to 9.6 million, but were chosen as “leading and ambitious” cities. The authors identify the importance of transnational networks in city decarbonization planning, and highlight their efforts “to expand their green economies and the capacity of their workforces to meet the future demand for skilled workers, especially in the buildings and construction sectors.”

And briefly:  A recent article in the New York Times also noted the importance of retrofitting: “New York’s real climate challenge: Fixing its aging buildings” (Dec. 29, New York Times). Stating that  “Nearly 70 percent of the city’s total carbon emissions come from buildings. A project to retrofit nine buildings with green technology is pioneering a new solution”.   The article describes the Casa Pasiva retrofitting project , one of a number of  RetrofitNY projects funded by the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority.

European Journal of Industrial Relations Special Issue on Climate Change and Just Transition

“Trade Unions, Climate Change and Just Transition” is the theme of the December 2020 special issue of  the European Journal of Industrial Relations (Volume 26 #4).  In the introduction, EJIR editor Guglielmo Meardi acknowledges the paucity of academic industrial relations research on the issues of climate change, and states: “This Special Issue, edited with passion and experience by Linda Clarke and Carla Lipsig-Mummé, helps to fill the void. Its articles map the dilemmas of trade unions with regard to climate change and disentangle the issues raised by the idea of a Just Transition to a carbon-neutral economy. They show evidence of variation and influence in trade union actions on climate change and will certainly inspire more research on the complex problems they present.” 

All article abstracts are available here ; access to the full articles is restricted to subscribers. The following list links to the authors’ abstracts: “Future conditional: From just transition to radical transformation?” by Linda Clarke and Carla Lipsig-Mummé; “Just Transition on the ground: Challenges and opportunities for social dialogue”,  by Béla Galgóczi;  “Trade union strategies on climate change mitigation: Between opposition, hedging and support”, by Adrien Thomas and  Nadja Doerflinger; “Unions and the green transition in construction in Europe: Contrasting visions”, by Linda Clarke and Melahat Sahin-Dikmen; “Innovating for energy efficiency: Digital gamification in the European steel industry”, by Dean Stroud, Claire Evans and Martin Weinel; and “From Treadmill of Production to Just Transition and Beyond” by Paolo Tomassetti.

Energy efficiency policies could create 1.3 million job years in the U.S.; jobs require skills standards

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) released three reports in September. Growing a Greener Economy: Job and Climate Impacts from Energy Efficiency Investments considers policy proposals for investments in homes and commercial buildings, electric vehicles (EVs), transportation infrastructure, manufacturing plants, small businesses, states, and cities. Those investments are projected to achieve 660,000 added job-years in the U.S. until 2023, and 1.3 million added job-years over the lifetime of the investments and savings. In addition, the proposed programs would result in 910 million tons of lifetime reduced carbon dioxide emissions and $120 billion in lifetime energy bill savings for consumers.  A 3-page Fact Sheet summarizes findings.

A second  ACEEE report released in September identifies the skills required to ensure a workforce prepared to build and maintain highly energy efficient buildings.  Training the Workforce for High-Performance Buildings: Enhancing Skills for Operations and Maintenance is summarized in this blog . The report includes a literature review and responses to a survey of 111 building owners/managers, operators, tradespeople, technicians, and service providers. 92% of survey respondents ranked operations and maintenance (O&M) skills as most critical. The report provides an insight into the job duties and tasks, as well as an overview of the state of education and training in the U.S., and case studies of exemplary training programs . The main recommendation: utilities, program administrators, and policymakers should establish skill and credentialing standards .  Training the Workforce for High-Performance Buildings: Enhancing Skills for Operations and Maintenance is available from this link  (registration required).

Finally, Programs to Promote Zero-Energy New Homes and Buildings identifies and analyzes twenty programs in British Columbia, Washington, D.C., and 12 other U.S. states. British Columbia’s Zero Energy Challenge is briefly highlighted-  an incentive program and juried design competition for buildings built to the highest standard of the B.C. Building Energy Step Code .  (Much more detail is available at the Net-Zero Ready Energy Challenge website and the BC Energy Step Code website, which includes case studies). The ACEEE report highlights as “particularly notable” the Energy Trust of Oregon commercial program, NYSERDA multifamily and commercial programs, and Efficiency Vermont programs addressing single-family housing, multifamily housing, modular housing, and commercial buildings.  

Green skills training for recovery

Many green recovery proposals have recognized the importance of energy efficiency and retrofitting. Below, some examples from voices within the Canadian building sector itself, focusing on green skills training:

Workforce 2030 is a practical initiative launched in Toronto on July 23 –  a cross-sectoral coalition of employers, educators, and workers in Ontario’s  building sector, coordinated by by The Atmospheric Fund (TAF) and Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC).  John Cartwright, President of Toronto and York Region Labour Council, and a member of the 14-person Advisory Council states:  “Workforce 2030 is a collaboration that will increase the capacity of the skilled trades to meet the low-carbon standards required in the built form of tomorrow. We need to continuously improve low-carbon skills for the entire sector, deepen our commitment to high-quality training, and grow our workforce through equity and inclusion.”  The Statement of Principles outlines values of collaboration, accountability, and equity.  More details are here.  

Canada’s Green Building Council published Ready, Set, Grow: How the green building industry can re-ignite Canada’s economy in May 2020.  Some of its proposals are endorsed in Efficiency Canada’s Pre-budget submission to the Government of Canada (August 5)  – specifically, a call to allocate $500 million ($1000 per employee) to access existing training programs, and a further investment of $1 billion to attract and train new people to create energy efficient and green building careers. The pre-Budget submission states:  “The multiple benefits of energy efficiency can help Canada manage both demand and supply shocks from COVID-19 while improving the operation of our buildings to reduce virus transmission.”   Its recommendations also include $1.5 billion in government funding to expand green building workforce training.  

In September, Efficiency Canada released Tiered Energy Codes: Best Practices for Code Compliance , which “explores the evolution of energy codes, reviews compliance regimes, and provides high-level recommendations to assist in the compliant expansion of advanced tiered energy codes nationwide.” As the paper explains, codes and practices vary widely across jurisdictions in Canada. The report points to the British Columbia Step Code, B.C. Hydro projects, and Toronto Ontario as best practice models. Regarding training, it focuses on  the training needs of builders and  building inspectors, rather than on the skilled trades.

The Pembina Institute published recommendations for British Columbia, in Accelerating B.C.’s economic recovery through building retrofits Submission to the Government of British Columbia (July 28). One of its Guiding Principles is : “Build the workforce: Partner with public and private organizations to deliver subsidized training programs, develop design guides, conduct integrated design sessions (charrettes), create data tools (e.g. remote energy audits), etc. Provide retraining support for impacted economic sectors to join the retrofit economy workforce.”

Much more detail is provided by Pembina in Training up for deep retrofits (July), which enumerates what green skills are needed, how governments can help, and where existing training opportunities are currently available in Canada.  The Pembina Institute is one of the partners in the Reframed Initiative, which works with designers, builders, owners, financiers, and policy-makers to scale up deep retrofits.

The  Toronto Atmospheric Fund, partner in Workforce 2030, submitted a formal Presentation to the federal Pre-Budget Consultations, calling for the federal government to invest at least $50 billion over five years in climate-focused clean stimulus measures, including at least $27 billion in climate resilient and energy efficient buildings, with at least $2 billion over 5 years to support deep retrofits that maximize carbon reduction and community benefits.

On July 22,  the Task Force for a Resilient Recovery released  its Interim Report ,  costing out five key policy directions for the next five years, with a total price tag of just under $50 billion.  The Task Force lists key actions and actors to achieve five broad goals:  “Invest in climate resilient and energy efficient buildings; Jumpstart Canada’s production and adoption of zero-emission vehicles; Go big on growing Canada’s clean energy sectors; Invest in the nature that protects and sustains us; Grow clean competitiveness and jobs across the Canadian economy .  As part of #1, investment in climate resilient and energy efficient buildings, the Task Force calls for “investing $1.25 billion in workforce development for energy efficiency and climate resiliency, including for enhancing access to training programs and for developing new approaches.”  The Task Force Final Report is scheduled for release on September 16 at their website .

Seven renewable energy co-ops send a 9-page Letter to federal ministers on June 24 , titled  “Federal Post COVID 19 Recovery Stimulus to Unlock Community Investment in Clean Energy”.  While their suggestions focused on clean community power , they also called for incentive grants of $100 million over 5 years for community- financed mass, deep retrofits of community, institutional, and multi-residential buildings.  Participating co-ops include the Ottawa Renewable Energy Co-op (OREC)/CoEnergy, SES Solar Co-operative Ltd. in Saskatoon, Bow Valley Green Energy Cooperative in Calgary area, Colchester-Cumberland Wind Field Inc. in Tatamagouche, Nova Scotia, the Solar Power Investment Co-operative of Edmonton, Wascana Solar Co-op in Regina, and SolarShare in Toronto. 

Workforce 2030 coalition launches to encourage low-carbon skills training for Ontario building sector

Workforce 2030 was launched in Toronto on July 23 –  a cross-sectoral coalition of employers, educators, and workers in Ontario’s building sector. The press release states: “Workforce 2030’s goal is to accelerate workforce capacity by collectively impacting government policy, business practices, and education.”   The Statement of Principles is here, outlining values of collaboration and accountability, and equity.

From John Cartwright, member of the Advisory Council and President of the Toronto and York Region Labour Council: “Workforce 2030 is a collaboration that will increase the capacity of the skilled trades to meet the low-carbon standards required in the built form of tomorrow. We need to continuously improve low-carbon skills for the entire sector, deepen our commitment to high-quality training, and grow our workforce through equity and inclusion.”  

The Coalition is “catalyzed” by The Atmospheric Fund (TAF) and Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC), which hosts the Workforce 2030 website and whose research reports are highlighted there. The coalition will be organized into working groups, with the following themes:  Green Recovery Stimulus: Advocating for Workforce Capacity Investments; Workforce Capacity for Tall Timber Residential New Construction; Low-carbon Workforce Readiness: In-depth skills gaps assessment and industry co-developed action plan; Equitable and Inclusive Recruitment and Training; and Workforce Capacity for Retrofits.

The  14-person Advisory Board includes Julia Langer, (CEO, The Atmospheric Fund (TAF)); Akua Schatz,  Canada Green Building Council;  John Cartwright, President, Toronto and York Region Labour Council; Sandro Perruzza, CEO of Ontario Society of Professional Engineers; Rosemarie Powell, Executive Director, Toronto Community Benefits Network; Steven Martin, Business Manager, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 353; Mike Yorke, President, Carpenters District Council of Ontario;  and Corey Diamond, Executive Director, Efficiency Canada , among others.