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Waterloo Region’s Evolving Workplace Sector | Part 2: Looking Towards the Future

By: Valerie Chong and Miranda Burton

August 4th, 2020

80% Reduction by 2050

In 2018, a region-wide target to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions was set and endorsed across the Waterloo Region. This long-term plan supports the transition towards a low-carbon, sustainable future, reducing emissions 80% below 2010 levels by 2050 (otherwise referred to as 80 by 50). In 2019, ClimateActionWR was granted funding from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities (FCM). The grant is part of Transition 2050, an initiative offered through FCM’s Municipalities for Climate Innovation Program (MCIP). Through this program, ClimateActionWR is working with all 8 Waterloo region municipalities to develop a long-term strategy  to contribute to a low carbon transition by 2050 in alignment with the region-wide target, and the target date as set out by the Paris Agreement and  the Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change

Part two of the Community Climate Action Blog Series highlights how Waterloo Region will achieve the 80 by 50 goal. Let’s see what the future looks like for the Workplace Sector.  

A Sustainable Future for All 

A sustainable workplace is more than just building. It’s a space where employees can thrive in a healthier, lower impact and more productive environment. The article ‘The Built Environment, Climate Change, and Health’ cited that:

“Buildings contribute to climate change, influence transportation, and affect health through the materials utilized, decisions about sites, electricity and water usage, and landscape surroundings.” 

Sustainable workplaces also go beyond just an office building; it can mean creating opportunities to add new jobs in the green technology and energy sectors, securing more stable energy sources for local industry, and attracting more firms from the fast-growing low-carbon economy. ClimateActionWR previously highlighted the potential for a Zero-Impact Sustainability Incubator, which Waterloo Region is starting to form. 

Working towards an 80% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 is an ambitious goal but worth pursuing for a greater tomorrow. As highlighted in Waterloo Region’s Evolving Workplace Sector Part 1: The Story So Far, evolv1 is helping create a template for future workplaces in our region and beyond. Although the environmental benefits will help us reach the 80 by 50 goal, the social and economic benefits of evolv1 will make that journey more prosperous. 

“A building isn’t truly sustainable unless it’s also a healthy, enjoyable place to visit and work” Stantec 

evolv1 is creating a workplace that is healthy for its tenants, the economy and our planet. The building fosters a better quality of life to the tenants that move within, whether it’s the access to outdoor spaces, abundance of natural light, a living wall, space to interact with others, or access to public transportation. These benefits will provide sustainable space that other workplaces should aspire to emulate for Waterloo Region’s workplace sector as we work towards our 80 by 50 emissions reduction goal.

Workplaces of the Future

The future of workplaces is here in Waterloo Region, with evolv1 fully operational and plans underway for evolv2. The trend towards greener workplaces is swiftly gaining momentum contributing to approximately $48 billion towards Canada’s GDP in 2018.  Additionally, 460,000 Canadians are working in these green buildings according to the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC). The business case for these workplaces is increasingly clear and the costs of not investing are both environmental and financial. 

“There is no time to waste or reason to wait. Zero carbon buildings represent the best opportunity for cost-effective emissions reductions today,” Thomas Mueller, CEO and President, CaGBC 

In light of the current pandemic and the need for a green recovery, green buildings can play a pivotal role in protecting both Canada’s economy and social and natural environments. CaGBC is advocating for a green recovery via green buildings. Recommending investment in the sustainable workforce, prioritize retrofitting existing buildings and funding zero carbon new construction. 

Retrofitting a Sustainable Future 

ClimateActionWR engaged with experts and technical stakeholders from the sustainability industry between November 2018 and  February 2019. This technical engagement resulted in themes, challenges and actions that will help shape Waterloo Region’s long-term Climate Action Strategy. Waterloo Region has the technology to make big strides in our workplaces, but lack of urgency and financial incentives is a recurring challenge the experts identified. 

Retrofitting current buildings in Waterloo Region was cited as an important action by stakeholders. This is appropriate given the potential carbon reduction (51%) retrofits can provide as laid out in CaGBC’s A Roadmap to Retrofits in Canada. Building retrofits most noted by experts included building envelope (walls, glazing and roofs) and building tightness. The challenge in approaching these action items is mainly financial with a need for incentives and budget to funnel into upgrades. Investing in greener buildings is financially viable but the high capital costs and long pay back periods create roadblocks for innovation. 

Beyond funding,  stakeholder buy-in, conflicting messages  and slow moving policies were all identified as barriers as well. Feedback also addressed the opportunity of community-based designs influencing how living, working and social spaces interact together, and mitigating energy use through the optimization of building controls. To help decarbonize the workplace sector experts highlighted a variety of mitigation strategies and opportunities. These included: 

  • identify key stakeholder and recognize best practices initiatives
  • find opportunities for renewable resources
  • highlight existing success stories and plans that met GHG reduction goals for motivation
  • partner with companies to develop specific goals and policies to meet GHG reduction goals
  • update Building Code Policies
  • aim for transparency for sustainable building information; and
  • guidelines for upgrading mechanical equipment.

If you’d like to hear more, Patrick Darby from WalterFedy shares the findings from the extensive technical engagement initiatives in this presentation. The third phase of the 80 by 50 goal is underway to develop the long-term (30-year) Climate Action Strategy.

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