Resilient buildings – not just about adaptation

By Jonathan Morier, TAF’s Indoor Environmental Quality Researcher

district energyEarlier this month I attended the Green Building Festival put on by Sustainable Buildings Canada. It was a day packed with interesting presentations and discussions on the topic of urban resilience. While the day started with a reminder from Ontario Environment Commissioner Gordon Miller  of the “doom and gloom” that awaits us if we don’t act soon on climate change, few of the subsequent presentations provided a focus on greenhouse gas reduction, or the fact that there is a lot of crossover between greenhouse gas reduction and resilience.

For example, Robert Thornton, President & CEO of the International District Energy Association gave a passionate presentation about district energy and how it can increase energy efficiency and resilience, noting that Princeton University was minimally affected by Hurricane Sandy while millions of people around the university lost power for days. The university campus was able to maintain power thanks to its microgrid and cogeneration plant, and even became a hub for police, firefighters, and other emergency workers of the area to regroup, warm up, and recharge their equipment.

District energy networks such as Princeton’s not only increase resilience in times of crisis, but also reduce emissions due to their high energy efficiency capabilities. Robert explained that in a typical fossil fuelled power plant, two-thirds of the energy is wasted due to heat loss (see diagram, above). On the other hand, district energy power plants generally achieve 70-80% burning efficiency by capturing waste heat to warm streets and buildings. One Copenhagen district power plant was even able to achieve close to 90% burning efficiency.

In the afternoon session, Paul Dowsett, Principal Architect, SUSTAINABLE.TO, presented his award-winning designs for resilient houses that can withstand severe hurricanes such as Katrina or Sandy. The designs are elevated to adjust for floodplain but they also embrace passive design principles. They are highly insulated, oriented for optimal sunlight exposure, and have passive shading elements to reduce heat during summer months, making them a great choice both for resilience and energy efficiency.

At TAF, we work on making buildings more energy efficient and you can learn more about our program by visiting out TowerWise website.  We are also very interested in your ideas about integrating strategies to reducing greenhouse gas emissions and build up our resilience to climate change.




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Working together – harder than it looks …

John Kania speaks to delegates at the Collective Impact Summit

John Kania speaks to delegates at the Collective Impact Summit

Recently I joined in the Collective Impact Summit hosted in Toronto by  Tamarack. Collective impact is all about different types of groups working together to advance a common goal, and while the practice is really nothing new, the work of Tamarack acknowledges that this type of work is:

a)  essential to addressing the complex problems we face in the world today and

b) very difficult to do well.

The sold-out Summit had 300 delegates from all across Canada, who put in a full five days in workshops and training sessions. I joined as a panellist with people from Calgary, Saint John, and Halton Region, to talk about how we can support our collaboration initiatives as they inevitably morph and change over time.

One observation I had about the conference delegates is that most are working to address poverty and education issues in their communities. The collaboration I was showcasing – Move the GTHA,  an initiative among a group of civic organizations, including TAF, supporting regional transit improvements – was one of the rare collaborations focused on an issue of sustainability. That being said, even Move the GTHA – with all its air pollution and greenhouse gas reduction benefits, is really driven by a much broader set of public concerns, including economic, social, and public health issues.

After the Summit, Evergreen CityWorks’ Robert Plitt and I shared some lessons we have been learning about working in collaboration – 16 insights that are now available for review on Tamarack’s website.

What is at the core of these insights is that there is both power and peril in choosing to align with other organizations – across sectors and areas of interest – to advance a cause or solve a problem. It shouldn’t be entered into lightly, and it takes some professional skill and attention – so thank goodness we have groups like Tamarack doing such a good job on the training front.

Done well, I believe collective impact work is an essential ingredient for addressing many of the complex changes that will continue to confront us, including the challenges of climate change.

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TAF’s flexible financing helps build a company and earns a bonus

Ontario’s Green Energy Act (2009) and Feed-In-Tariff (FIT) got many people excited about installing solar panels on their homes and earning revenues from the electricity generated. But reality set in and many homeowners were daunted by the complicated and time-consuming application process, securing financing, and finding reliable installers. Enter Pure Energies, a new Toronto-based company with a 21st century approach to accelerating uptake of zero-carbon solar generation while minimizing the fuss and muss for their customers.

TAF made a $645,000 investment structured as a seed revolving loan fund.  As the first funder of both construction and long-term financing, TAF used the revenue from the micro-FIT contracts as security. Pure was able to draw on the loan to install 34 rooftop systems, which allowed their revenues, reputation and capacity to grow.  TAF’s 2011 funding model was leveraged to build the business which has now installed over 1,000 residential solar systems in Ontario and now operates throughout the USA.

TAF’s Investment Committee and staff worked closely with Pure to work out the deal which yields a market rate of return that funds TAF’s community climate action work. In addition to interest on the original loan, TAF is now exercising our purchase option on warrants provided to early-stage investors triggered by the purchase of Pure Energies by NRG, a US Fortune 250 company and a leading energy service provider.

This win-win deal underscores how important innovative and flexible financing is to those working hard to create a new green economy, and demonstrates that impact investments can bring significant environmental benefits without sacrificing financial return on investment.

TAF congratulates Pure Energies, and in particular Bernie Li and Zbigniew Barwicz, for their collegiality and dedicated efforts to advance low-carbon solutions.

Contact me to find out more about TAF’s impact investing work or if your company is looking for a way to get a local emissions reduction product or service off the ground.

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Why I joined 400,000 people in demanding climate action

The People's Climate March

The People’s Climate March in New York City attracted nearly 400,000 participants.

Sarah Amelia Sackville McLauchlan is a guest blogger for our 80×50 Blog site. Sarah travelled with to participate in the People’s Climate March in New York City where approximately 400,000 marchers made history with the largest ever demonstration for Climate Action.

From the moment I heard about the People’s Climate March, I knew I wanted to go.  This was going to be an historic moment in the movement for climate action, and I wanted to be part of it.

I also wanted to go so that I could represent my own concerns about the looming climate crisis, and my desire for us to do much more to address that crisis.  As a dis/abled woman (I’m blind) living on a fixed income, I have grave concerns about what climate change (or, as I’ve often heard it called these days, climate destabilization) will do to my future.  And make no mistake, although we talk often about what the future holds for our grandchildren, the crisis is upon us now.

Climate change is already affecting my generation, and I’m in my thirties.  What will our world be like when I reach my mother’s age?  I already have health issues because of increasingly hot and humid summers and volatile winters.  I depend on infrastructure (public transit, sewer systems) as well as health services that are strained by the impacts of global warming. If these are problems now, what is it going to be like if, or rather when, the consequences of what we’ve done to the planet become more extreme?  We now recognize that climate change will hit the poor, the very young, the elderly and the sick hardest. This is true not only in poor nations, but also here in Canada.

For these reasons, I joined the People’s Climate March thanks to (our local network affiliate of who organized the Toronto contingent.

The People’s Climate March was all the organizers had hoped it would be and much, much more. My group, from Toronto350, marched as part of the “holding those responsible accountable” block, which was towards the rear, and we probably got there around 10:00am. Already the streets were packed.  In fact, so many people showed up and the demonstration took up so many blocks, our group didn’t start moving until around 2:00pm.  Had we all started moving at the same time, we would have crushed each other.

Part of what made the march so incredible, apart from the sheer size of the turnout, was the diversity of the people and groups participating.  Families, elderly people, young people, and people from all over North America were there.  We ran into contingents from Ottawa, Halifax, and British Columbia.  We met local New Yorkers, people from up-state New York, and groups from Washington D.C. and California. There were anti-fracking activists, people fighting pipelines, coal mining and coal burning, people campaigning for clean energy, and, of course, people from communities directly affected by climate destablization such as Indigenous/First Nations communities, and survivors of Hurricane Sandy.  I really felt how interconnected we all are.

Many high-profile people showed up as well: Canada’s Elizabeth May, New York State governor Andrew Cuomo, NYC mayor Bill de Blasio, Sting, Neil Young, Leonardo DiCaprio, in addition to giants in the environmental movement such as  Bill McKibben and Naomi Klein. Even U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon marched.

Colourful banners, signs, posters, and stickers, were everywhere.  My favourites included the giant black carbon-bubble balloon, the giant Earth balloon, and the big green balloons that said “disrupt denial.”

Huge screens showed clips of solidarity marches around the world.  We saw the demonstrations in Paris, New Zealand, and elsewhere.

What an amazing day!  I hope that we’ll be able to keep up the momentum., including our Toronto chapter along with other groups that organized the march, are already working on follow-up events and campaigns.  You can be sure that I’ll participate in those as well.

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Climate Week: Financing the climate revolution

bikes on roads

All climate-smart projects need financing.

More than 100 events are taking place September 22 to 28 in New York City for Climate Week. Despite the number of panel discussions, workshops and meetings, there isn’t much in the line-up that speaks to the role of the market place in transitioning to a low-carbon economy, which is kind of surprising given how much we throw around the term “economy.”

We’ve adopted a different approach at Toronto Atmospheric Fund where we explore opportunities to invest much of our endowment in low-carbon projects and also create financial products, not commercially available, to accelerate energy conservation in the building sector.

The fact is, climate solution projects won’t get done without financing. We focus on pushing energy efficiency in the built environment, and there is a lot of opportunity there. Marry the wealth of opportunities to implement energy efficiency projects with financing acumen, and you strike a rich vein of investment possibilities.

The business model makes sense within the existing economic system. Leveraging the market place by investing in energy conservation measures in big buildings is how we’ll realize the low-carbon economy.

TAF offers an Energy Savings Performance Agreement (ESPA), which can be used to finance energy-efficiency retrofits across a broad range of building types such as long-term care facilities, office properties, industrial and multi-unit residential buildings. The result is smaller utility bills (because you’re using less energy) and lower greenhouse gas emissions (because you’re using less energy). The project pays for itself: after TAF recovers its investment from the savings, the owner retains all future cost savings.

We financed a $740,000 energy-efficiency retrofit for Robert Cooke Co-operative Homes, located in Etobicoke. A new heating and cooling system was installed in addition to upgraded energy-efficient appliances – including stoves, fridges and low-flush toilets – and hallway lighting. Energy cost savings are projected to be $71,300 a year. Four months after the completion of the retrofit, savings exceeded that prediction by 15%. The project will also achieve a 27% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions, equivalent to a reduction of 166 tonnes of emissions annually.

Financing can even drive policy. We entered into a Green Condo Loan with Tridel, one of Canada’s leading high rise residential developers, in 2008. The loan paid for the incorporation of energy efficient measures during the construction of Tridel’s 29-storey condominium, resulting in a 41% reduction in energy consumption compared to its conventionally built sister building, and saving $125,000 a year in energy costs – 30% more than the annual loan payments. The tower became one of Toronto’s first LEED Silver condominiums and the drop in its energy use is equivalent to a 550-tonne reduction in yearly greenhouse gas emissions.

This led to the City of Toronto’s adoption of the Toronto Green Standard, which requires that energy efficiencies in new buildings be at least 15% better that the requirements set out in the Ontario Building Code.

Today, investors speculate that there are approximately $50 billion worth of energy efficiency opportunities in North America. This is an enormous, largely untapped, treasure trove in the market place. Energy-efficiency projects meet the triple bottom line: lower operating costs make good business sense for the property owner; green jobs are created as equipment must be produced, installed and monitored – moreover, as more retrofits are undertaken, demand for equipment grows; and greenhouse gas emissions go down.

There are no losers here. It’s win-win-win.

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