From 2015 to 2017, UrbanToronto and its sister publication, SkyriseCities, ran an occasional series of articles under the heading Explainer. Each one took a concept from Urban Planning, Architecture, Construction, or other topics that often wind up in our publications, and presented an in depth look at it. It's time to revisit (and update where necessary) those articles for readers who are unfamiliar with them. While you may already know what some of these terms mean, others may be new to you. We will be (re)publishing Explainer on a weekly basis.

In last week’s Explainer, UrbanToronto covered the Toronto Green Standard (TGS) Version 3 – the program that sets environmental performance standards for new buildings that’s been in place since 2018. This week we look at Version 4, which kicks in May 1st, 2022.

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The TGS is a critical component of the City's commitment to achieve zero emissions from new buildings by 2028 and reduce community-wide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to net zero by 2040. Readers may be familiar with the tiered nature of TGS: Tier 1 is mandatory; Tiers 2 & 3 are voluntary. Developers may qualify for a Development Charge refund if constructing at higher tiers. For example, developers will have to accommodate electric vehicles in 25% of parking spaces, and in 100% to achieve Tier 2.

Compared to Version 3, Version 4 requires developers to ensure new buildings have lower carbon emissions and consume less energy, while adding more green infrastructure and EV parking spots, as well as promoting native plant species.


Toronto Green Standard Version 4 Report Cover, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

The reception from the design community has been positive. The push for increased sustainability will result in better buildings; offices and homes that improve our interior and exterior environmental conditions, increase resilience, and generate less greenhouse gas emissions (the most critical for climate impact).

Charles Marshall, an Engineer and Partner at DIALOG, spoke with UrbanToronto about how increased performance standards are driving changes to building design. Marshall has led sustainable design for some of DIALOG’s biggest projects including the 25-55 St Clair Avenue East Building Rehabilitation and the Bill Fisch Forest Stewardship and Education Centre. “In Version 4, the maximum energy, thermal and GHG (carbon) intensity requirements start to really shift/drive design decisions and make a difference, which is why it is top of mind for our clients and our peers in the industry right now. Generally, Torontonians and designers acknowledge the urgency of the climate crisis and the need to take action.”

The new measures are intended to encourage Ontario’s design and construction industries to innovate. “We're ready to design better buildings, using early-stage energy modelling to inform the process, and employing high performance enclosure and glazing systems.”

This updated standard requires new mid-high rise residential and commercial builders to cut annual greenhouse gases and energy use intensity a further 25% and 28%, respectively, compared to the current version. These targets are currently voluntary under Tier 2 of Version 3, but under Version 4 they would become mandatory as part of Tier 1. City-owned facilities have to meet net-zero emission requirements. Version 4 introduces tracking of embodied emissions in building materials used in construction (Tier 2 & 3). Marshall adds, “Embodied carbon of construction materials is the next big topic for TGS. Calculating the embodied carbon, through Lifecycle Assessment, is voluntary in TGSv4, but you can expect this to become a larger focus as the standard evolves. This is a critical area to focus on for reducing our footprint collectively as an industry.”

Version 4 also addresses resilience through enhanced green infrastructure. It adds more requirements for green streets to manage storm-water runoff, increase tree canopy and promote biodiversity. Developers have to ensure at least 80% of buildings’ roofs are green and 50% of plants support pollinators.

The new regs are coming in at a time of heightened inflationary pressure, which may generate some pushback. Some of the feedback to the City from developers involved concerns that the asks may not be reflective of the current construction environment, citing market costs, and cost premiums as the tiers progress. They’ve also flagged potential concerns that if development is too complicated or standards too onerous, it could end up throttling supply (particularly regarding housing) or driving investment to surrounding municipalities that may have less demanding green standards.

For sure, Version 4 of the TGS arrives in the midst of challenging times. We’re in a situation of a hot market from strong migration to Toronto and population growth, coupled with a housing shortage, not to mention pandemic-related challenges. “It's an awkward time to introduce new legislation, new targets, new limits,” says Marshall, “but the arrival of COVID, supply chain disruption, and inflation doesn't make the climate crisis any less urgent. This is the critical policy tool that we need for climate action in Toronto, at least as it relates to new construction. Through the tiered system of TGS and the advance announcement of these targets via the Zero Emissions Building Framework, I think the City has done a great job of signalling their intentions and removing ambiguity for the industry.”

Tier 1 is getting a lot more demanding than it used to be. It remains to be seen what the uptake/participation rate is in those voluntary upper tiers. And targets are coming swiftly. In December, 2021 City Council adopted the Net Zero by 2040 Climate Strategy and accelerated the TGS implementation dates for the Greenhouse Gas Emission limits to 2025 (v5) and 2028 (v6) so that buildings constructed on or after 2030 are near zero emissions. “With the adoption of the Zero Emissions Building Framework and the more recent versions of TGS, Toronto is absolutely stepping to the forefront, certainly in North America if not globally,” says Marshall. “The energy use intensity and thermal energy demand intensity targets in TGS version 4 are progressive. We are getting to that point where we're at that contemporary level that would be competitive with other advanced jurisdictions. The next step is existing buildings. That is a more challenging sector to hit, but it’s essential to develop the right policy tools – existing buildings are the source of the majority of GHG emissions. We’re watching carefully to see how the City’s Net Zero Existing Building Strategy will be implemented, and our partners in industry are watching as well.”

Changing the way we build buildings – for the better – is crucial. The Transform TO 2019 report indicates that buildings are responsible for 57% of Toronto's carbon emissions. And given the rapid growth and development expected — the population of the GTA is expected to hit 10 million about 2046 — many more buildings will be added to the city's skyline.

That’s why the City is trying to get ahead of the curve and build in the regulations to hit near net-zero by 2030 to capture more of the new builds. This is good for building owners, building occupants, and the citizens of Toronto.

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Do you have other planning terms that you would like to see featured on Explainer? Share your comments and questions in the comments section below!

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