Toronto has experienced its fair share of growing pains over the past decade, but every once in a while, between the exasperated sighs over transit and the heated debates about rampant development, some positive news surfaces highlighting something that we've gotten right, to remind us why we should be proud of our bustling metropolis. Cities100, a new international publication on green cities, features 100 successful projects implemented by municipalities across the world to combat climate change. Among their featured projects are three Toronto initiatives: the Toronto Green Standard, the Toronto Atmospheric Fund, and the Don Mouth Naturalization and Port Lands Neighbourhoods.

Three Toronto initiatives have been featured in the Cities100 publication, image by Forum contributor Jasonzed

Cities100 is a publication spearheaded by Copenhagen-based sustainability thinktank Sustainia, in collaboration with C40, a network of the world's megacities focusing on combatting climate change, and Danish philanthropist group Realdania. Selecting from 216 submissions representing 94 cities, 100 leading policy solutions were chosen across 10 different sectors that promote sustainable and productive urban environments in their respective cities. The projects highlighted in the report aim to prove that meaningful action on climate change can take place outside of the national level, and demonstrates that city programs can be incredibly effective with tangible benefits to the environment, public health, and the economy. The report is being released ahead of the important COP21 climate talks in Paris running from November 30 to December 11, in order to start a dialogue about the importance of cities in the fight against climate change.

A screenshot from the Cities100 report, showing a map of all the city initiatives featured, image courtesy of Sustainia

In the 'Building Energy Efficiency' category, the Toronto Green Standard (TGS) was chosen for promoting and mandating efficiency in all new developments. The TGS is a two-tier system of environmental performance measures that is designed to address environmental issues in the city. Tier 1 is mandatory for all new projects and sets a minimum standard of energy efficiency across the city, while Tier 2 is a voluntary set of higher performance standards that offers financial incentives for buildings that comply. Since the program launched in 2010, it has been applied to roughly 850 new construction projects, and about 15% of new buildings are targeted for Tier 2 compliance.

Estimated benefits of the TGS include a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions of about 115,000 tons per year; a reduction of approximately 30% in potable water use; a target for the construction of 200,000 new secure bicycle spaces; and a projected savings of more than $1.2 billion in avoided hard infrastructure expansion costs over the next 25 years. Currently, three other municipalities outside of the city have adopted the standards, and more are looking to do the same.

The Toronto Green Standard provides minimum energy efficiency requirements for new buildings, image by the City of Toronto

In the 'Finance and Economic Development' sector, the Toronto Atmospheric Fund (TAF) was selected for actively helping in advancing Toronto's greenhouse gas and air pollution reduction targets. The city-owned agency provides grants and loans, undertakes projects, and offers partnerships with socially and environmentally conscious organizations in order to facilitate action on climate change. The TAF invests largely in the building energy and public transport sectors, the two highest contributors of greenhouse gas emissions in the city. Since its establishment 25 years ago, all TAF expenses have been fully covered by the Fund's investment returns, at no cost to the taxpayers. 

Benefits of the TAF include a reduction of greenhouse gas emissions in Toronto to 25% below 1990 levels; a net increase of $2.5 million in provincial GDP for every $1 million spent on energy efficient retrofits; and a reduction of premature deaths in Toronto related to air pollution from 1700 to 1300 within 10 years. Successful TAF projects include funding research for the phasing out of coal-fired power plants in Ontario; the creation of the Move the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area initiative, consisting of 12 civic groups who successfully lobbied the province for the commitment of $11.3 billion in transit investments over the next 10 years; and the launching of the private initiative, Efficiency Capital Corporation, which will raise up to $75 million in capital through third-party investors to fund energy efficiency investments throughout Toronto.

The Toronto Atmospheric Fund invests in socially and environmentally conscious initiative, image by Move the GTHA

Finally, in the 'Sustainable Communities' sector, the Don Mouth Naturalization and Port Lands Neighbourhoods garnered recognition for its decontamination and re-naturalization of the Lower Don River and Port Lands to create a new ecologically functional river mouth while also reducing the risk of flooding. Working with Toronto Waterfront, the City will decontaminate approximately 2.5 million cubic metres of soil while protecting up to 290 hectares at risk of flooding. Along with the naturalization of the river mouth, a new community is planned for the brownfield site that will be governed by aggressive energy and transportation strategies with a focus on sustainability, and will encompass nearly 12,500 homes, 279,000 square metres of commercial and retail space, and 53 hectares of parks and public spaces.

In addition to the flood protection, estimated benefits of the initiative include a projected reduction of 2.9 million tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year; a reduction of potable water consumption by mandating high-efficiency fixtures and appliances, and encouraging water reuse; and the goal of establishing a zero waste export community. As well, there is the obvious economic and social benefits of unlocking the potential of a highly underdeveloped and underutilized area of the city in close proximity to downtown and the waterfront.

A schematic rendering of the Port Lands Redevelopment, image by Waterfront Toronto

The future of Toronto is looking green, as the city continues to establish sustainable policies and guidelines in light of widespread development. While there is still much work to be done, we can pause for a moment and take pride in the international recognition of our local sustainable policies, and be reassured that positive action is taking place at city hall.

Related Companies:  LEA Consulting, Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, urbanMetrics inc., Waterfront Toronto