In celebration of World Environment Day (June 5), we are looking at Toronto's approach to climate action as it pertains to development, part of a plan to reduce 1990-level greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050, a target set in Transform TO.  

Meeting the goals come with challenges as Toronto's buildings play the largest role in terms of greenhouse gas emissions in the city (see below). In 2006, the 'Toronto Green Standard' (TGS)—a list of measures to be taken in building and site design—was initially introduced as a voluntary standard for new development and evolved into what it is today; a requirement to be met by any new development applications. 

Toronto's emissions by sector (2014), Image Courtesy of Transform TO

Toronto Green Standard V3 (2018), Image via City of Toronto

TGS adresses the City of Toronto’s environmental pressures including:

  • Better air quality and temperature by reducing the urban heat island effect.
  • Reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions from new buildings, while making buildings more resilient to power disruptions, and encourage the use of renewable energy.
  • Reduce storm water runoff and potable water consumption while improving the quality of storm water draining to Lake Ontario.
  • Protect and enhance ecological functions, integrate landscapes and habitats on site, and decrease bird collisions and mortalities.
  • Reduce household and construction waste.

When we last reported on TGS early this year, the environmental pressures which the TGS aims to address were explained in depth and the TGS (2nd version) was only a two-tier set of performance standards for new development projects. The TGS is revised and updated every four years to better address environmental targets: with TGS Version 2 having been in effect as of 2014, TGS Version 3 replaced it as of May 1, 2018.

Version 1.0

In 2010, the TGS began to tackle the environmental challenges as all new planning applications, including zoning bylaw amendments, site plan approvals, and draft plans of subdivisions were required to meet Tier 1 of the Toronto Green Standard, while the achievement of the more strict Tier 2 was voluntary. 

Version 2.0

In 2014, a more precise version of the TGS was introduced as energy efficiency requirements for buildings in Tier 1 were raised 15% over the Ontario Building Code (2012), and 25% over in Tier 2. 

Tier 1 comprised 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 developments)

Toronto Green Standard Tier 1 Requirements, image via City of Toronto

Tier 2 is the higher, voluntary standard verified through a third party review. If requirements are met, refunds to development charges made to the City may be given. This financial incentive is awarded to third party certified projects that reduce pressure on city services and infrastructure through resource efficiencies. 

Toronto Green Standard Tier 2 Voluntary Requirements, image via City of Toronto

Version 3.0

As of May 1, 2018, Version 3 of the TGS is in effect for all new planning applications. Each version of the TGS and its revisions comprises the ‘stepped performance pathway to zero emissions’, bringing the city closer to targets. Version 3 and its new Zero Emissions Buildings Framework, co-developed by The Atmospheric Fund, contains Tiers of performance 1 through 4, developed to take the building industry practices of today to a near zero emissions level of performance by 2030.

Zero Emissions Buildings Framework, Image via City of Toronto

Like version 2, the TGS version 3 applies to Low-Rise Residential developments, Mid to High-Rise Residential as well as Non-Residential developments. In addition, version 3 also has a separate standard for City Agencies, Corporations, and Divisions, applied on every project. 

In terms of changes, the most significant change in the TGS Version 3 is the restructuring of the Energy and GHG Emissions category, introducing a four-tiered framework to provide a clear path to achieve near zero GHG emissions buildings by 2030.

The second tier of TGS version 3 is voluntary and contains advanced level of performance measures, including absolute performance targets for energy, accompanied by the development charges refund incentive (discussed below) as applicable. To be considered Tier 2, buildings must follow core performance measures: 

  1. Urban Heat Island Reduction: At-Grade
  2. Energy Performance
  3. Solar Readiness
  4. District Energy Connection
  5. Benchmarking & Reporting
  6. Commissioning & Reporting
  7. Air Tightness Testing
  8. Resilience Planning
  9. Stormwater Retention & Reuse
  10. Water efficiency
  11. Efficient Irrigation
  12. Enhanced Lighting
  13. Lighting Controls
  14. Household Hazardous Waste
  15. Construction Waste Management

Tiers 3 and 4, two new levels have been introduced, with absolute performance targets for energy for each tier. Absolute performance targets include: Energy Use Intensity (TEUI), Thermal Demand Intensity (TEDI - heating demand) and Greenhouse Gas Intensity (GHGI). Tier 3 or 4 projects follow the low carbon pathway option which includes higher energy performance targets, higher stormwater management and potable water reduction requirements, and higher construction waste diversion.

The four tiers of increasing performance were developed to reflect the need to update building performance targets every four years to reach the zero emissions target. It is a target that voluntary Tier 4 level requirements in the 2018 TGS will eventually become the required Tier 1 by TGS 2030. This reflects the ultimate goal of the TGS framework which is to achieve a future for Toronto where new developments are constructed to a ‘near-zero emissions level of performance'.

A Pathway to Zero Emission Buildings, Image via City of Toronto

Development Charge Refund Program

The TGS contains a Development Charge Refund program which offers incentives and refunds to projects that demonstrate higher levels of sustainable design beyond Tier 1. All Tier 2 performance measures must be verified post-construction by a registered third party evaluator. 

There are currently 20 projects (some which have UrbanToronto Database files) that have been certified as meeting all the requirements of the TGS Development Charge Refund program. Each building will receive a brushed steel plaque that is displayed in the building lobby or in another prominent location.

All of the 10 projects profiled below achieve at least Tier 2 level and contain various sustainable design strategies as well as energy efficient measures. 

The TGS has been, and will continue to be critical to the City's emission reduction targets as there have already been 1,500 plus developments which were required to meet Tier 1 standards. The hope is for Toronto to continue its progress while setting an example that other North American cities can follow, with the TGS continuing to be improved 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. As a result, Torontonians will enjoy an increasingly cleaner, more cost effective, environmentally friendly, and energy efficient city in the future and the City-led action plan can be met. 

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been republished on June 7 with some corrections and enhancements to the original version from June 6.