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Sustainable homes that care about the homeowner

What makes a good home?

According to Great Gulf Homes, it is a house that is good for the environment, has a good indoor climate for its occupants, and is as comfortable as possible for homeowners.

With homeowners and the environment in mind, Great Gulf President Chris Wein has launched an active house in Toronto’s Centennial Park. An active house is a home that is not only sustainable, but strives to to benefit the people who live in the house as much as possible. In order to study this active house and its benefits for homeowners, a pilot project has been launched that will allow a family to live in a sustainable house for six months to assess how comfortable it is for the average family. The house will then be sold afterwards. The home is a part of Active House Alliance, a worldwide movement based out of Brussels that Great Gulf became involved with several years ago.

Great Gulf active house. Provided by Great Gulf Homes.
Great Gulf active house. Provided by Great Gulf Homes.

“This is the first fully-certified active house in the world. It is a different formula from LEED. LEED doesn’t focus on the quality of life for people who live in the house,” Wein says. “That is why [an] active house is so rare. From a LEED perspective, the standards our houses meet are as just high.”

The new family living in Great Gulf’s active house includes dad and engineer Russell Ibbotson, mom Bethany Foster, and three girls, Eleanor, Lucy and Poppy ranging in age from one and a half to six years old. Wein was looking for a regular middle class family and the Ibbotsons fit the bill.

“We wanted someone who could understanding building science and how to measure air quality and energy efficiency and so on. Russell works in the area of envelope energy, windows and skylights,” Wein says. “We want as much feedback from the kids as Russell.”

The Ibbotson’s oldest daughter, Lucy, also happens to be autistic. Wein saw this to be a benefit in the analysis of the pilot project.

“We didn’t want to get the Beaver Cleaver family. We want a family that has to deal with challenges and school. Looking at this family, including that they have different challenges with their children helps with their review of the house,” Wein says, “The quality of life for a child … is that much more important. This child can give us feedback on how this house performs for her. We are very keen to see how their reviews in testing go.”

Active homes focus strongly on quality of life as well as sustainable building, and the pilot project will look at a series of metrics to assess whether those standards are met. The family will discuss and measure air quality, energy efficiency, sound transmission, energy usage, indoor climate, access to natural light, flexibility of the home, livability, and mood and happiness in the space.

Great Gulf brings its top game to the sustainable design of the house as well. The construction of the house includes triple glazed windows, which helps avoidance of heat loss and heat gain. The house also has Huber zip walls, which have waterproof sheeting and insulation built into the sheeting itself. These materials make the house more energy efficient. The interior of the house has low flow plumbing and energy star appliances. One of the most exciting environmental elements is the Tesla power wall. The power wall has built-in batteries that allow the house to run off the grid in peak times.

Another key element to the sustainable homes is the cost effectiveness. Environmental housing often comes under fire for being too expensive. Wein has a different approach to sustainable housing that not only makes it affordable, but also allows its residents to reduce their carbon footprint.

“The active houses are competitive in their neighbourhood. We built other traditional houses beside it. The price of the house is similar to the houses around them,” Wein says. “The houses on either side are bigger and have a larger footprint, but inside the house you don’t feel the difference because of the open-concept design.”

Great Gulf is focused on designing sustainable homes that use small spaces well. Wein hopes to build more active houses, and even wants to extend the design concept to different types of homes.

“Use every square inch of space to make it more affordable. Every time I build a new one, [the goal] is to build smaller and smaller. I would also like to apply it to apartment condominium complexes,” Wein says. “It is an exciting time to be a developer because there are forces coming that are juxtaposing at the same time. People want to live in large cities now [instead of] suburban style homes. Climate change is a real thing, and subdivisions and office towers contribute heavily. It is our responsibility as leaders in the industry to reduce the impact of carbon and urbanization has on the planet.”

Wein is dedicated to building green and believes that if you aren’t developing sustainable homes, you aren’t one of the best. Building active homes sets a new bar for sustainable building in Toronto, and by emphasizing quality of life as well as environmental factors, Great Gulf is truly creating dream homes.

Sarah Hall: making art out of renewable energy

In an age where technology seems to be getting smaller and sleeker, renewable energy is lagging behind. Even though people are constantly encouraged to live green, no one wants to see giant windmills in their parks or have metal panels on top of their roofs.

Limited resources and cost restraints in North America have created challenges for architects, engineers, and even artists in the design of sustainable buildings.

“Solar in North America often looks ugly, and then people reject renewable energy,” Toronto artist Sarah Hall says. “We have to start using as many renewables as possible, and I thought ‘well, if it’s beautiful, we can change people’s minds and help transform the industry as well’.”

Hall is one of the few innovators  incorporating renewable energy into artwork. One of her most notable pieces is “Waterglass”, a stained glass piece that can be found wrapped around the Enwave Theatre at Harbourfront in Toronto. While seemingly unnoticeable during the day, the piece comes alive at night. LED lights powered by the sun reveal 360 archived photographs of Lake Ontario, all stunningly preserved on di-chroic glass, the most expensive glass in the world at $1,000 per square foot.

The piece will create 1,750 kilowatt hours worth of electricity annually, enough to power the plug outlets within the building, according to Livio Nichilo, an engineering manager at Interenat Energy Solutions Canada. Nichilo consulted on “Waterglass” and analyzed the environmental impact of the project. He said that one of the biggest challenges was not to compromise artistic vision or technical efficiencies.

“The glass we designed for this project is the first of its kind in the world and we had to incorporate many technologies at once,” Nichilo says. “From my knowledge it hasn’t been done yet.”

“Waterglass” is one of six pieces Hall has created in North America using photovoltaic cells, which convert the sun’s rays into electric voltage. Each piece is connected into the power distribution of the building. For example, her piece “Leaves of Light” can be found outside the Life Sciences Building at York University illuminating the entranceway. Solar panels allow energy to be collected from the sun, which powers the LED lights that were placed between two beautifully painted pieces of glass.

Sarah_Hall_york0_d200
“Leaves of Light”, by Sarah Hall, lights up the entranceway of the Life Sciences Building at York.

Hall is also experimenting with bird-friendly glass that, in addition to collecting solar energy, will alter the reflections on large buildings in an effort to decrease the number of bird deaths in Canada.

About 10 million birds die in Toronto because they fly into glass buildings, particularly high-rise condominiums that are reflective and transparent. “I was astounded by that information and thought I may be able to do something in that direction and began thinking of al the technologies I’ve worked in and I knew these organic solar things were being done in the labs and I’ve never thought of using them”

The challenge is to make the glass transparent enough for people to see out of, but still opaque enough that birds won’t be tricked into flying towards it. Hall will be using organic photovoltaic cells used for this project — a relatively new technology developed by Oxford Photovoltaics in London. Once the prototype is complete, it will be tested at the American Bird Conservancy in New York before Hall can start to create proposals; although she has already provided a few sample designs.

A sample design of TD Tower in Toronto, provided by Sarah Hall.
A sample design of TD Tower in Toronto, provided by Sarah Hall.

Hall fell in love with glasswork at the age of nine. She studied in Canada, as well as in the United Kingdom and Jerusalem, and ended up opening a studio in Germany. It was there that an engineer named Christof Erban approached her with a way to integrate photovoltaic cells into glasswork. While other artists in the studio believed this would hinder their artistic abilities, Hall saw it as a challenge.

“All those guys said no. They said it would be an imposition to have a grid on their work, but I liked the idea of trying to work with that grid of technology in art and trying to change people’s mind about solar,” Hall says.

The challenge with using photovoltaic cells in art is that the designs have to be geometrical. Solar cells are square and require the use of wiring, which can hinder creative freedom.

“My artwork for many years was always geometry and organic, naturalistic work. To combine this geometry wasn’t as hard as another artist.”

Before she begins a design, Hall has to consult engineers and ensure that the electrical wires are properly introduced into the building’s systems and that they adhere to city codes. The traveling can also be tedious, as most of the work has to be done overseas. Hall’s main studio is in Germany. She had to move from Toronto because her studio on Dupont St. just wasn’t big enough for the scale of glasswork she wanted to complete.

“Germany and Austria was where the work had to be done,” Nichilo explains. “The biggest challenge was that what we were asking to do in terms of design couldn’t be completed here locally. We didn’t have the skill or equipment needed to do it.”

Unfortunately, it’s been up to artists like Sarah Hall to ensure that the architectural field is aware of its options and doesn’t shy away from using renewable energy for fear it will interfere with the functionality of a building. But at the same time, Hall is simply an artist, and above else she just wants to be creative and

“At first, there was quite a bit of scepticism taking something traditional like stained glass and moving it into an environmental positioning,” Hall says. “I also hope that other companies will get interested and figure this stuff out for themselves. As an artist … the commercial aspect isn’t the reason why I do it, but I hope that others will do it commercially — and I think they will.”

The top 5 most sustainable cities in the world

What does it mean to live in the most sustainable city in the world?

Imagine living in a place that has an urban planning agenda that focuses on the environment while maintaining prosperous development and has a booming economy. This type of city places health as a top priority, and offers recreation activities and high-level education.

To be sustainable means to only use as much as can be naturally replaced in order to sustain and maintain this place all people call home. Existing within our means in large cities can have an incredible impact on the planet, and every city needs to make sustainability a priority. Frankfurt is leading the way as the most sustainable city in the world, according to the Sustainable Cities Index. This internationally-recognized index analyzes three key factors when looking at each city: people, planet, and profit. The first measurement tool, people, includes the quality of life for citizens of that particular region, which includes factors like education, green spaces, and health. Focusing on environmental initiatives, planet measures energy emissions, pollution, renewable energy, air pollution and solid waste management. The profit of a city is measured by how well the business economy is doing as well as its economic performance, which is calculated by using GDP and the cost of doing business.

Here are the top five most sustainable cities in the world:

Frankfurt, Germany.
Frankfurt, Germany.
  1. Frankfurt, Germany

Frankfurt was listed as the most sustainable city in the world because of its dedication to sustainability and helping the environment. “Green City Frankfurt”, as it is popularly dubbed, has its own energy agency and is the founding member of the Climate Alliance of European Cities created in 1990. The city has committed to lowering CO2 emissions by 10 per cent every five years with a 50 per cent cut by 2050. Currently, the city has lowered CO2 emissions by 15 per cent since 1990, while still growing its economic power 50 per cent. Frankfurt is also home to Germany’s largest city forest and is surrounded by a Greenbelt.

London, England. By Jim Trodel.
London, England. By Jim Trodel.
  1. London, England

London falls into second place with high scores on the people and profit measures because of a strong healthcare system and highly-ranked education facilities. The British city is also an international economic center and is the best connected global city alongside New York. The current mayor of London has launched a 2020 vision to make London “the Greatest City on Earth” to become the best city for work, living, investing and doing business. The mayor also set a target to lower carbon emissions by 65 per cent by 2025 from 1990 levels. London isn’t a leader in environmental initiatives, but is still a sustainable city when it comes to its strong economy and high quality of life.

Copenhagen, Denmark.
Copenhagen, Denmark.
  1. Copenhagen, Denmark

Copenhagen city council has created a climate change plan, similar to Frankfurt and is going a step further by preparing for the future effects of climate change now. The city is developing a plan to catch all of the rainwater in the city because of the lowering precipitation that is expected from climate change. Copenhagen also has green roofs, living walls, and pavements that allow water to percolate through. The quality of living is reportedly high in Copenhagen and the city is booming.

Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Amsterdam, Netherlands.
  1. Amsterdam, Netherlands

In Amsterdam, the city takes a leading global role in creating green business. Many enterprises in Amsterdam are creating green products that are being sold worldwide and is also invested in creating highly sustainable buildings in their downtown core. Amsterdam boasts an electric transportation system and is dedicated to using sustainable electricity. It has a goal that by 2020, 92,000 households will be using renewable energy. Amsterdam scored high in all three categories, making it the most balanced city in the world.

Rotterdam, Netherlands.
Rotterdam, Netherlands.
  1. Rotterdam, Netherlands

Rotterdam has the highest quality of life for its people out of any city in the world because of its high literacy rate and good work-life balance. The city has also launched green programs, but scores lower in these categories than other cities. The Rotterdam Sustainability Programme is a plan that wants to make a clean and green city, and reduce carbon emissions in half. Rotterdam also claims the world’s largest carbon capture program known as the Rotterdam Capture and Storage Demonstration Project (ROAD) that will be stored in an empty gas reservoir in the North Sea. The government committed to spending $31 million towards the green program.

Sustainability is the way of the future if we want to save our planet. Many cities are taking initiative and Europe is definitely leading the way. In October, the United Nations Conference on Housing and Sustainable Urban Development (Habitat III) will bring together cities across the world to discuss how to reach a sustainable standard similar to Frankfurt or London. Toronto is ranked at number 12, and if the city attends Habitat III and adopts new strategies of more sustainable cities, the “six” could climb into the top ten.

In the midst of global distrust due to isolated acts of terrorism in Europe and other parts of the world, Habitat III will be an opportunity for cities to unite and work together towards creating a sustainable and healthy world. I look forward to seeing which concepts and ideas are adopted in Canadian cities and to see positive impacts of global communication for a change.

 

B.C implements foreign tax on housing in Vancouver

Buying an affordable house in Vancouver is often compared to living in the land of unicorns and leprechauns, but B.C’s new legislation may help make this far-away dream a reality once again.

British Columbia Premier Christy Clark announced a one-time 15 per cent tax on Monday, July 25 in Vancouver that would apply to foreign investors who are neither Canadian citizens, nor permanent residents, in an effort to cool the housing market. The new legislation applies to residential real estate in Metro Vancouver, from Bowen Island to Maple Ridge and Langley, and begins on Aug. 2.

With the new foreign tax, a $2 million home in Vancouver would accumulate an additional $300,000 if purchased by a foreign buyer. If a foreign buyer purchased a home for $10 million, this tax would raise to $1.5 million. On the other hand, if a foreign buyer tried to avoid the tax, “anti-avoidance” measures would be put in place that include $100,000 for individuals and $200,000 for corporations that don’t comply to the legislation.

The funds raised by the new tax will be put towards a new housing priority initiatives fund for provincial housing and rental programs that is set to be launched in the near future. This fund will receive an initial investment of $75 million from the government and then begin to accumulate revenues from the tax on foreign buyers.

In order to obtain the necessary information on buyers in Vancouver, Clark also announced the Real Estate Services Act, which officially ends the real estate board’s self-regulation or ability to govern itself. The government’s involvement in the industry will allow them to access information on buyers to see what homes will be charged the foreign tax. Finally, the province will also introduce a vacancy tax that targets empty rental homes of foreign investors to increase the number of available rentals.

There are possible issues with the foreign tax, though the response from B.C home buyers has been overwhelmingly positive. Investors could potentially avoid the tax by getting family members to purchase properties, highlighting a loophole in the legislation that relies on buyers reporting their nationality honestly. The tax may also hurt international recruitment because new immigrants won’t be able to purchase property tax-free until they are permanent residents or Canadian citizens.

Toronto’s housing market has skyrocketed and a foreign tax in Canada’s largest city would cool the hottest housing market in the east as well. Ontario Financial Minister Charles Souza reported he is looking at implementing a similar law in Toronto. Hopefully Toronto will follow Vancouver’s lead and take necessary steps to implement a foreign tax and cool the housing market for local buyers. The outcome of the foreign tax remains to be seen, but any effort to lower housing prices and give people access to homes is a step is a good move.

 

Concrete has potential to be the greenest building materials

When I walk downtown, I am always slightly in awe of the construction of these magnificent concrete buildings looming over me. How can people build to such heights? Then my environmental brain kicks in, and I wonder if these concrete edifices are the result of years of planetary destruction. As it turns out, concrete has more potential to be green than I originally thought. If all concrete companies made sustainable production their priority, I dare say it could become the most environmentally-promising building material currently available.

Concrete is versatile, low maintenance, strong, diverse, and affordable. It is also one of the oldest building materials in the world, dating back to both the Roman and Egyptian times. It is a reliable thermal insulator and retains heat inside of the home, but it also cools buildings in the hot summer months. Concrete is also recyclable and can be broken down and used as aggregate when a building is torn down. A 2015 study by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology discovered that concrete saves 20 per cent of the energy consumed by buildings made of wood.

That being said, concrete is still responsible for five per cent of carbon emissions. In order to become the greenest building material on the market, companies have to modify the way they produce their building blocks. Holcim, who recently joined forces with Lafarge, is one of the top ranking concrete company to use sustainable building practices on a global basis.

It takes a large amount of thermal energy to create concrete and that strongly contributes to its large carbon footprint. Holcim and Lafarge are sourcing their fuel from renewable energy resources such as waste and biomass. This production change will help Holcium meet global goals of reducing greenhouse gas emissions to pre-1990 levels, or 40 per cent by 2030. To date, they are on track with a 26 per cent reduction. Using carbon capture mechanisms to prevent high levels of carbon from being released also creates a more sustainable product.

It appears that concrete has potential to be one of the most sustainable building materials, but how do other building materials compare?

Tree sequestration is a popular construction material, and a lot of people think it’s sustainable because forests absorb carbon dioxide while they are growing. However, it is only sustainable if there is a larger plan to replace the wood cut for construction. Even if a company replants the trees and leaves portions of the forest untouched, it is still impossible to replace the natural biological diversity that existed before harvesting. It also takes time to regrow the trees that are used, which reduces the sustainability of this building material.

Another popular building material is glass, but there are arguments to be made that concrete is still the better choice. Glass is a sustainable building material because it is 100 per cent recyclable. Though glass is environmentally-friendly, it is not very durable and requires high maintenance and care. It is also not an efficient thermal insulator in comparison to concrete.

The highest polluting building materials are aluminum and steel, because these products need several materials. It takes six pounds of bauxite ore to yield one pound of aluminum, and the bauxite is strip-mined from tropical rainforests. Aluminum also requires 270 GJ/t of production energy as compared to concrete that only uses 1.4 GJ/t. Obviously, aluminum and steel are not sustainable building options and builders should avoid using them at all cost.

Compared to other options, concrete is clearly one of the best environmentally-friendly building materials available. The next step now lies in the companies themselves. If every concrete company embraced carbon capture and used biofuels, it would help reduce the global carbon footprint and the world would still have a truly reliable type of construction.

NOW ANNOUNCING: Sustainable Living E-Newsletter

Sustainable living is our future. Without it, our natural resources will die out. The reality of climate change is hitting us all hard — wildfires, droughts, and floods, not to mention the amount of greenhouse gasses people breathe in on a regular basis.

You may ask: What does it mean to live sustainably?

It means you are producing as much as you are consuming. Whether that means you are growing your own food or installing solar panels on to your house — each small step will protect this planet and the life forms that preside in it.

If you couldn’t tell, I’m leading up to something gastronomic! Women’s Post now has a sustainability section on its website and will be featuring content about green living, low-carbon innovation, and city building. We will also be starting an e-newsletter in September.

This is exciting news and we want you to be part of it! First of all, let us know what you would like to read about in the comments below. Second of all, sign up for our e-newsletter! Let’s all play our part!

Sign up for the sustainability e-newsletter below:

 

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Inflated Toronto housing market prevents buyers from going green

High housing prices in Toronto are affecting homebuyer’s pockets and effectively preventing them from investing money in building sustainably instead.

The real estate market has skyrocketed, with expensive homes and low availability for people looking to buy. A detached single-family home in the GTA costing between $2 million and $4 million rose 77 per cent compared to 2015. Single detached homes in the GTA between $1 million and $2 million rose 64 per cent compared to the prior year. Homes have become unaffordable and are causing homebuyers to pool all of their available funds into buying a house at an extremely inflated price.

When homebuyers use every penny to invest in their home and begin paying their mortgage, much needed sustainable building practices such as solar panels or geothermal energy are cast by the wayside. Homebuyers often view sustainable practices as expensive and not worthy in the long-term. Though sustainable energy can be expensive initially, the long term investment is actually less expensive. However, many people aren’t even considering green energy investment because of current astronomical costs of housing.

Solutions are being discussed though to remedy the inflated real estate market and assuage the housing issues at hand. The federal government is discussing a speculative tax targeted at foreign investors. Many properties in Toronto and Vancouver — the two Canadian housing markets that have increased — are owned by absentee owners. The Canadian government has made it fairly easy for foreign investors to purchase property without paying taxes as a local citizen and it has helped inflate the market significantly.

One idea that has been presented to help Vancouver’s housing market is the B.C Housing Affordability fund. House owners would be charged a 1.5 per cent property surcharge on residential real estate, which would amount to $15,000 on a $1 million property. If the homeowner paid over $15,000 in income taxes though, they would be exempt from the surcharge.

Another issue that is driving housing prices upwards is a loophole in the real estate board that allows investors to flip properties without being taxed, which drives up the property value at a fast rate without repercussions. In Vancouver, the provincial government has promised to intervene in the real estate board to ensure they are following fair practices, but Toronto has not moved forward with any commitments of their own.

The federal government is also discussing forcibly cooling the housing market by increasing the mandatory down payment for houses under $1 million to 10 per cent. This would dissuade most first-time buyers from purchasing a house and decrease competition in the Toronto and Vancouver markets. At the same time, measures need to be taken to ensure that the rental market doesn’t accidentally drive prices up. There is also a fear that cooling the market would harm Calgary and Montreal’s housing markets, which aren’t doing as well as Toronto and Vancouver.

Preventing first-time buyers from purchasing homes to cool the market has been criticized as an unfair practice, and another option might be more profitable for everyone. Creating affordable housing in key areas would allow first-time buyers to purchase homes and wouldn’t continue to increase current house prices. Calgary launched a program called “Attainable Homes” that allowed buyers to purchase a home for $2000 as long as they could manage the mortgage. These homeowners were required to take financial training to properly understand the market and to pay the organization a certain amount of the property value increase when they sold the house. People are also prevented from flipping their house because if they try to sell too quickly, they would owe “Attainable Homes” a higher percentage of their property value increase.

The housing market has been a popular topic of conversation at the dinner table and the chosen solutions don’t seems to be working. It will be interesting to see how government intervention will cool the market, and if affordable housing becomes a priority. No matter what, cheaper housing prices will allow people to focus on sustainable building practices and invest in the future of green living.

Cap and trade details released in 2016 budget

For all of the Ontarians that were muddled by the lack of information in the cap and trade proposal, many of those questions have been resolved in the 2016 Ontario budget.

The Ontario Liberal government has released specific details about the cap and trade program, which is set to begin in January 2017 under the new Climate Change Mitigation and Low Carbon Economy Act. The cap and trade program will enforce a “cap” on the amount of greenhouse gases that each company can produce. Companies will be able to then “trade” unused carbon credits by selling them to companies that exceed their “cap”.

This enables companies that use clean energy to create financial gains and penalizes companies that have high levels of carbon emissions. The cap and trade program is expected to raise $428 million in 2016-2017 and is then projected to raise up to $1.8 to $1.9 billion in 2017-2018.  Cap and trade is one of the many initiatives the provincial government has enacted to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 per cent below 1990 emissions by 2050.

All of the proceeds from the cap and trade program will go to projects and funds in the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Account, which will then support other green projects. The Ontario government has promised the money raised will be transparent, with results of the funds available for the public. Possible green projects include public transit, electric vehicle incentives, social housing retrofits including geothermal infrastructure, and clean-technology incentives for industries.

Ontario’s cap and trade program is mandatory for industries and institutions that emit 25,000 tonnes or more of greenhouse gases annually. It also includes suppliers and distributors of fuel that distribute 200 litres of fuel or more per annum. Companies that import electricity and fuels into Ontario would also be included in the cap and trade. The businesses mandatorily included within the program are representative of 83 per cent of the total greenhouse gas emissions produced in the province.

Initially, Ontario will give free permits to industries that are especially vulnerable to the cap and trade program, including steel or cement manufacturing, to avoid “carbon leakage”, the feared result of companies leaving Ontario to go to other jurisdictions where the carbon cap wouldn’t apply.

Companies and organizations that produce over 25,000 tones of greenhouse gases due to it’s size — like university campuses, hospitals, and electricity generators — will have to purchase carbon permits, which is how the government will make substantial profit in the coming years. If these industries apply clean technologies, they will be able to then “trade” their extra credits and make money from carbon-emitting industries.

Free credits will also be provided on a one-time basis to industries that have voluntarily lowered emissions targets earlier then the January 2017 deadline. Companies with between 10,000 and 25,000 tonnes of greenhouse gases will also have the choice to participate in the cap and trade program, but won’t be forced to.

The “cap” is also set to decline annually to meet 2020 carbon emissions targets and will decrease at a rate of 4.17 per cent per year. A slow decrease in rates allows companies to invest in clean industries slowly and adjust to the new cap and trade program.

Many Ontarians are concerned about rising prices from the cap and trade program. Gas prices are set to increase 4.3 per cent per litre and natural gas costs for home heating will rise $5 per month. Though these increasing prices will put more financial pressures on the consumer, energy programs are being introduced to help mitigate the costs.

Recently, the government introduced an incentive of up to $14,000 to purchase an electric vehicle. Enbridge Gas Distrubtion and Union Gas are also offering programs to help homeowners reduce their electricity costs. An incentive ranging between $1000 and $2,500 is offered if a consumer replaces their furnace and water heating system to a more energy reductive alternative. Enbridge also offers a $75 incentive for an adaptive thermostat, which helps save on heating costs as well.

Net Zero: The sustainable building solution

Could you imagine all of the buildings in Canada producing as much energy as they create? It might yet be possible with the net zero building strategy gaining ground.

Net zero buildings are gaining worldwide attention in the face of the blatant climate crisis. The ideas is that a house or building would produce as much energy as it uses over the course of one year. This is a rigorous and difficult standard to meet; but it does pose an important challenge to developers and architects.

The challenge: to transform how we think about design and construction. Net zero requires the building produces as much as it uses in a year through renewable energy resources without the use of on-site combustion, or any carbon-creating materials. Developers looking to adhere to net zero standards must look towards the International Living Future Institute, who created the Net Zero Energy Building Certification (NZEP), the worldwide standard for sustainable building. Their report, Living Building Challenge 3.0, explains, “the challenge aims to transform how we think about every single act of design and construction as an opportunity to positively impact the greater community of life and the cultural fabric of our human communities.”

There are many ways for buildings to reach net zero standards through heating, cooling, electrical needs, energy conservation, and on-site renewable generation. Some examples of net zero resources include solar panels, wind energy, geothermal technologies, and adjustable windows for natural cooling.

Energy consumption of commercial and institutional buildings in Canada accounts for 12 per cent of the country’s secondary energy use and produces 11 per cent of the national Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Without a dedication to producing sustainable buildings, these numbers will only increase. The challenge remains how to create net zero infrastructure that will keep Canadians warm during the sometimes harsh winters they face. The Canadian government has funded a strategic research network that gathers 29 researchers from 15 universities nation-wide to look into how to implement net zero infrastructure in a country where the climate is so precarious.

Photovoltaics has emerged as a potential heating source for residential and commercial net zero buildings. This energy source converts solar energy into direct current electricity and produces a photovoltaic effect.  The first commercial net zero building in Canada, the Mosaic Centre for Conscious Community and Commerce, used this energy source to heat their state-of-the-art commercial building successfully in chilly Edmonton. The first residential net zero building was established in Guelph, Ont. with the grand opening in September 2015.

Imagine a city full of buildings that create their own energy! Of course, this dream won’t become a reality for at least a decade, but we can at least start to work towards it. How else are we going to reduce our carbon footprint enough to actually make a difference?

What’s your ecological footprint?

The earth is dying. That’s no secret.

But, what specifically is our individual impact?

The ecological footprint is an important environmental tool to understand the exact impact each person is having on the planet and how to make important changes to live a sustainable and eco-chic lifestyle. Understanding your impact on the earth will help to make important changes and, hopefully, help this wonderful planet we live on last a little bit longer.

What is an ecological footprint?

An ecological footprint calculates the supply of natural resources — forests, water, non-developed land —available in a given geographical area and the amount that is being used by each person or population in the area. This available land is given a fancy term: biocapacity. Each country has a different biocapacity depending on its ecological impact. This impact is assessed by analyzing the imports and exports of the country, and if the given territory has a high export rate, it is an ecological creditor or alternatively an ecological debtor if ecological imports are greater. Sounds complicated, right? Let’s break it down further.

An ecological footprint is the demand each individual, city, or country has on the available resources in a given territory. Each person has an ecological footprint within their specific country that can be calculated depending on their lifestyle. The Global Footprint Network has a decent ecological footprint calculator that will evaluate your mobility, food consumption, energy usage, and the amount of resources used per month. Each of these factors will either increase or decrease the size of a person’s ecological footprint.

The Impact of the Carbon Footprint

The ecological footprint encompasses not only an individual’s carbon footprint, but also their environmental standing. This provides a more accurate description of a person’s overall impact on the planet. The carbon footprint within this calculator relates to energy usage, for example the use of a car or public transit and electricity in the home. The carbon footprint makes up most of the ecological footprint because of the high reliance on CO2 emissions for transportation and energy usage. My personal ecological footprint results indicated that 57 per cent of my footprint was due to carbon emissions. I travel using public transit and live in a one bedroom apartment; yet the CO2 emissions are still high due to unsustainable usage of CO2 emissions in daily life.

The Ecological Footprint Calculator

When completing the ecological footprint quiz, it will ask you to create an avatar and lead you to different areas of the screen to measure usage of food, shelter, mobility, goods, and services. As a vegan, the calculator indicated that food was 23 per cent of my ecological footprint, and I used 26 per cent crop land. When I edit the footprint to include eating meat daily, it indicates that food becomes 30 per cent of ecological footprint and uses 32 per cent crop lands.

When the quiz is complete, the results include a measurement of your footprint measured in global hectares. This is a common measuring tool to assess the amount of resources humans use in various parts of the world. A global hectare is a unit that measures the average productivity of biocapacity of a specific viable area in a given year, including croplands, pastures and waterways. It is then used in the results of the ecological footprint to assess how many global hectares each person uses in a year from their personal resource usage. The results also show how many earths would be needed if each person lived with that specific amount of resources. For example, if everyone was vegan and lived in a small apartment, while using public transportation like I do, we would need 2.6 earths to make up the resources we use. The average for each Ontarian is 3.58 earths.

How to Reduce your Ecological Footprint

So, we’ve made the calculations and things look pretty depressing. What now?

A few ideas include using public transit and using alternative modes of transportation such as biking or walking. If you have to use a vehicle, make it something like an electric car. Sorry carnivores, but eating meat daily also uses high levels of carbon emissions and crop lands. According to the Global Footprint Network, “if every Ontarian pledged to reduce meat eating by half, it would reduce the amount of global hectares consumed by 5, 600 global hectares or 7843 soccer fields”. Using energy efficient light bulbs, and newer appliances also saves energy, as well as money on your electricity bill. Furthermore, recycling and composting is an easy and simple way to help live sustainably and responsibly.

Lastly, don’t be discouraged by the results of your ecological footprint! Understanding and realizing your impact on the earth is the first step to making a difference. By calculating your ecological footprint, it will help to understand which specific areas you need to be focused on to live a more sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyle.