Vancouver commits to green building with ambitious action plan
Vancouver’s green building sector is getting a major boost, thanks to an initiative from the municipal government that intends to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in existing buildings 20% below 2007 levels and require buildings constructed from 2020 henceforward to be carbon neutral in operations.
The “Greenest City 2020 Action Plan” will catapult a city with one of the cleanest building codes in North America to the summit and create an abundance of jobs in its green building sector.
“Vancouver’s next challenge is to improve the environmental performance of existing building stock by focusing on retrofits such as insulation, heating and lighting system upgrades and energy-efficient appliances, as well as on how people operate buildings,” read the city’s Action Plan. “In British Columbia, we continue to have access to relatively inexpensive energy sources. In addition, the landlords and developers who make decisions about new designs or retrofits don’t often pay the utility bills and don’t immediately benefit from efficiency savings that can take time to show return on initial investments.”
Lane Theriault, president of Subterra Renewables, commends the City of Vancouver for both its lofty ambitions and being proactive, but noted that the last mile is always the most difficult to traverse. Where Vancouver’s building regulations are about three years ahead of Toronto’s, with respect to mitigating environmental impact, it could hit a snag unless certain green building principles are adhered to.
“The city has a progressive building code, which is admirable, but the last mile of GHG reductions is always hard to do,” he said. “Personally, I’d like to see a ban on natural gas, or at least make it a premium and use it for things like cooking, but it shouldn’t be used for hot water. Without eliminating on-site GHG production, you won’t get that last piece done.”
However, the onus cannot solely be on developers, added Theriault. The faster consumers adopt an eco-conscious mindset, the quicker the cost reduction.
“Developers constantly face a trade-off where they have to spend more money or reduce the marketability of their developments by having smaller windows to make buildings more energy-efficient. Consumers have to choose to live in places that are green, or buy developments from builders who build green. Ask questions about whether this building uses renewable energy or burns gas. It’s a great way to let developers know the customer cares and they will have more of a desire to green their buildings.”
Vancouver has Canada’s most expensive residential real estate prices, so buying green isn’t likely to top buyers’ lists of priorities. But the Action Plan makes mentions of financing tools and incentives as ways to offset exorbitant pricing schemes.
“Financing tools and incentives provide ways to address concerns of affordability and fairness, and increase the pace of change towards green developments and retrofits,” continued the Action Plan. “One example of this strategy is the development of the Home Energy Loan Program, which provides homeowners with affordable financing for energy efficiency upgrades. The money saved on energy bills can significantly offset the loan payments. Capacity building The City is in a unique position to bring together different groups and build partnerships that ensure there are enough skilled workers to meet the needs of a rapidly growing green building sector. This will make a significant contribution to new green jobs in Vancouver.”