Over the past decade, Toronto has set the bar in its approach to environmentally oriented development standards in North America. With a concerted view towards addressing the city’s main environmental pressures, TransformTO is the latest example of a City-led climate action plan that sets out to reduce green house gas emissions by 80% by 2050. 

The force underlying this ambition however has been in action since 2006 with the introduction of the ‘Toronto Green Standard’ (TGS). Initially a voluntary set of performance measures intended to provide recommendations and guidelines for environmentally conscious development in the city, and to address greenhouse gas emission reduction targets set out in the Toronto Official Plan. 

Greenhouse Gas Emission Reduction Targets, image via City of Toronto

The TGS is revised and updated every four years, with TGS Version 2 being in effect since 2014, and TGS Version 3 set to be in effect for all new planning applications as of May 2018. 

Currently, the TGS is a two-tier set of performance standards for new development projects. Tier 1 comprises a set of mandatory measures that vary for ‘Low-Rise Residential’ developments (including row and townhouses, up to 4-storeys), and ‘Mid to High-Rise Residential and Non-Residential developments (apartment buildings 4-storeys and higher, as well as all Industrial, Commercial and Institutional [ICI] developments).

TGS Tier 1 Development Requirements, image via City of Toronto

Tier 2 is currently a voluntary standard. If satisfied, however, ’third party certified projects’ may be eligible for refunds to development charges paid to the city. Currently, there are 20 projects certified as Tier 2 High Performance Buildings. 

TGS Tier 2 Development Requirements, image via City of Toronto

Among the central environmental pressures the TGS seeks to address are,

  • air quality,
  • climate change and energy efficiency,
  • water quality and efficiency,
  • ecology and solid waste,

They broadly comprise the categories for Tier 1 and Tier 2 measures that are either required or suggested for new developments. 

Air Quality

New Low-Rise Residential developments are obligated to provide pedestrian infrastructure that promotes walking as a ‘clean air alternative’, such as safe and accessible sidewalk spaces that are sufficiently lit. Likewise, they must reduce ‘ambient surface temperatures’ at ground level and on rooftops through the inclusion of temperature reducing and heat reflective materials. Roofs in particular, must include cool roofing materials for 100% of the available space, and shade from tree canopy, solar panels, or other design features must be included where possible. As a voluntary measure, enhanced materials can be used to satisfy Tier 2 requirements. 

Mid to High-Rise Residential buildings and ICI Developments must designate excess parking spots included in their development proposals to low-emitting and fuel-efficient vehicle infrastructure. This is on top of a mandatory inclusion of cycling infrastructure in such developments, including short and long-term parking areas, with a voluntary Tier 2 option of providing a public bike share location on site. Pedestrian infrastructure to promote walking as a mobility alternative, as well as similar demands regarding heat reduction at ground and roof level as in the Low-Rise Tier 1 requirements, are also necessary. 

Minto775, King St West was the first Tier 2 building in Toronto, image via submission to City of Toronto 

GHG Emissions/Energy Efficiency

Greenhouse gas emissions and energy efficiency are to be addressed in Low-Rise Residential developments through efficient building designs that comply with the ‘Supplementary Standard SB-12’ of the 2017 Ontario Building Code , dictating a number of measures for energy efficient housing, including heating, ventilation, and service water heating requirements. To satisfy Tier 2 requirements, developments can design and outfit buildings with enhanced energy efficient appliances, and maximize the use of renewable energy systems such as solar panels or wind energy sources, to provide a portion of the buildings' total energy loads. 

Minimum energy performance requirements are also necessary for Mid to High-Rises and ICIs, with energy consumption to be reduced where possible through efficient building design and the installation of renewable energy devices. 

Water Quality & Efficiency

During construction activity, Low-Rise Residential developments are required to ensure the protection of water quality, including during demolition at a site. Equally, stormwater is to be retained for water balance purposes. That is, developments must minimize the stormwater that leaves the site, retaining a portion of rainfall for reuse using ‘on-site infiltration’ facilities. Developments must also manage and clean stormwater leaving the site to reduce the amount of polluted water flowing into Lake Ontario, and reduce demands for potable water by providing ‘drought tolerant plants’ for at least 50% of the landscaped site. Reducing water demand altogether, through efficient water retention, reuse and irrigation systems would satisfy Tier 2 requirements. 

Mid to High-Rises and ICI’s are generally required to follow the same Tier 1 requirements, with slightly larger water retention volumes, and larger water usage reductions to fulfill Tier 2 specifications. 

Green roofs help retain and recycle stormwater, image via UrbanToronto 


The protection and conservation of the ‘urban forest’ is integral to the ecological concerns of the TGS, relating both to Low-Rise Residential Developments, Mid to High-Rise Developments and ICIs. Tree protection, the preservation of mature trees, ravine protections and street tree protection are mandatory for the preservation of the existing urban forest. New developments are to go above and beyond this requirement, being additionally obliged in the Tier 1 requirements to increase tree canopy, soil volumes, and tree watering programmes throughout new development sites. In particular, trees in parking lots are required, as well as on public boulevards, and along street frontages at eight to 10 metre intervals. Tier 1 also requires new developments to include at least 50% native species, and strictly exclude any invasive species in their landscaped site. Buildings are to be designed to ‘reduce bird collisions’ through patterns on exterior glazing or other bird-friendly materials, and additionally, are required to reduce light pollution with light fixtures that prevent glare onto neighbouring properties. Tier two requirements can be satisfied with additional tree planting, more thoroughgoing (native) plant restoration, extensive bird-friendly glazing, and automatic light fixture technologies to control and reduce light pollution at given times.  

Extensive greening planned for King St West by Westbank Corp and Allied REIT

Solid Waste

Solid waste is the final category of the TGS that ultimately aims at facilitating the collection, storage and management of waste, while reducing and recycling waste where possible. In Low-Rise Residential developments, Tier 1 requires buildings to provide an easily accessible area for the collection of waste, and storage for recycling materials in each unit. Tier 2 requirements could be satisfied through the inclusion of segregated waste collection spaces for recyclables, organics and waste in dwelling units, as well as managing the recycling of at least 75% of non-hazardous construction and demolition debris. 

Mid to High-Rise Residential developments and ICIs must provide waste sorting systems via a single chute throughout the building, as well as an easily accessible waste storage room and other services for bulkier waste items. For Tier 2, enhanced waste collection services can be provided, as well as more extensive waste re-use and recycling services. 

Zero Emissions Building Framework: Targets, image via City of Toronto

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A revision of the current Version 3 of the TGS is to be adopted by City Council in May, 2018. The revision will roll out new requirements for Tier 1 for new developments, including an option to use ‘absolute performance targets for energy’, and new ‘core measures’ for Tier 2, relating to absolute energy performance targets, connections to district energy, enhanced stormwater retention measures, and a new ‘resilience checklist’. 

Each version of the TGS and its revisions comprises the ‘stepped performance pathway to zero emissions’, and strives to refine enhanced approaches to measure and implement energy performance in the city’s urban sectors, towards greenhouse gas emission reduction improvements. The ultimate goal of the TGS framework is to achieve a future for Toronto where new developments are constructed to a ‘near-zero emissions level of performance’ in the next 30 years. Already, 1,300 developments have already been subjected to meet the Tier 1 demands, resulting in the reduction of over 115,000 metric tonnes of CO² per year, equivalent to removing approximately 30,000 cars off the road. 

The City is well on track towards reducing greenhouse gases by 30.6 megatonnes by 2050, an estimated removal of some 250,000 cars of the road each year. The hope is for Toronto to continue setting an example that other North American cities can follow, with the TGS continuing to create 'more comfortable, well insulated buildings and homes that use less energy and cost less to operate', both for its residents and the City. In turn, Torontonians will enjoy an increasingly cleaner, more cost effective, and energy efficient city in the future.