Greening our buildings

by Jini Stolk

“Under threat of possible city punishment, landlords of no-frills Class B buildings step up their game.” So goes the subtitle of a piece, reprinted in the Globe and Mail, about a rash of energy efficiency initiatives in New York’s old commercial buildings.

Owners are saving significantly on energy, although they haven’t yet recouped the initial costs of energy retrofits like installing low-flow toilets and motion sensors that shut off lights in empty spaces, or creating bike storage rooms and sealing exterior doors to reduce heat loss.

The carrot for these New York landlords includes high LEED ratings, public praise and perhaps, although not certainly, more and happier tenants. The stick is the city’s tough new emission standards with their phased mandatory goals aimed at reducing fossil fuel use by 80% by 2050.

Isn’t it interesting how persuasive legislation can be in stimulating important social change?

For example, the Ontarians with Disabilities Act (AODA), although it got off to a slow start, now seems to be very much front of mind for property and cultural space owners. Not surprising: as of January 1, 2015, new construction and major renovations are required to provide barrier free access, washrooms, and accessible seating – something Creative Trust has long focused on.

Yet a very quick look through the list of projects funded by the federal government’s Enabling Accessibility in Communities, one of the only programs available to help nonprofits meet these requirements, includes astonishingly few in the arts. And the program is not accepting new applications.

Ontario’s EnAbling Change Program, although it is rolling out a new grant stream to help nonprofits make accessibility a regular part of their human resource practices explicitly “DOES NOT provide funding for building renovations such as ramps, lifts, or elevators.”

Between a rock and a hard place, anyone?

It looks like we’re going to have to find (or create) our own solutions to these two urgent social priorities of accessibility and energy conservation. One of my goals in 2015 is to find the right partners to accelerate the greening of Toronto’s theatres. One will undoubtedly be  the City’s Better Buildings’ Partnership, which is  already helping with programs like Sustainable Energy Plan Financing for Community Based not-for-profits. I’m also eager to hear more about Harbourfront Centre’s Refocus, a new social enterprise that teaches how a  commitment to sustainability can actually strengthen the bottom line.

Toronto’s relatively new Green Standard might be a first step towards New York-like mandated energy efficiency standards. I hope we’re not planning to wait until energy efficiency changes are legislated before we begin finding ways to green our buildings.


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