reducing emmissons

Blog Post

Transforming the Ways We Relate to One Another

April 10th, 2021

TransformWR is Waterloo Region’s long term community climate action strategy, and our community-wide response to the global climate crisis. This work outlines our strategy to achieve an 80% local greenhouse gas emission (GHG) reduction target (based on 2010 levels) by 2050, with a short-term interim target to reduce GHGs 30% by 2030. The outcome of this collective action will help us achieve our vision for 2050, and ultimately transform Waterloo Region into an equitable, prosperous, resilient, low carbon community.   

Our call to action is to transform our community, in the ways we move, the ways we build and operate our spaces, the ways we produce, consume and waste, and the ways we relate to one another.

This excerpt from the TransformWR strategy focuses on: transforming the ways we relate to one another.

The ways that we relate to one another is a critical factor in how we foster relationships at all levels, and is essential to making ambitious progress towards our goals. The word ‘relate’ is rich, meaning to show or establish a connection between two or more things, or to have an understanding (of people or ideas). Our ability to relate to one another influences how we interact and communicate with, as well as learn from, those within our local community, and to others outside of that. Developing a deep understanding of how people, organizations, and communities that are different than ourselves, operate and live their lives can be a powerful catalyst for action that is equitable, and raises everyone up together, especially those who have traditionally experienced disproportionality and disparity.

The transition required to address climate change is a once-in-a-century opportunity to build the community we want. This came through strongly in our community consultation. While making the transformative changes, enacting the strategies, and accomplishing the action items, we must ensure that we do so in a way that makes our community more equitable, prosperous, and resilient. This will take ongoing collaboration and coordination of efforts between local sectors, community members and organizations, and with senior levels of government. 

To achieve our GHG reduction targets, we must work toward locally producing energy from carbon neutral, renewable sources. This work, as well as the other transformative changes, must be done in a way that increases equity and supports the members of our community that need it most. A crucial first step in doing this is establishing metrics that enable us to measure progress in reducing inequities, and creating climate action solutions that increase equity. From there, we can work towards being recognized as a national leader in sustainability, clean tech, renewable energy, and energy retrofits by 2050, in a just way that benefits all.

Every Waterloo Region municipality, organization, business, and community member has an important role to play in Waterloo Region’s transition to a low carbon community. This strategy is meant to influence all future planning. Official plans, corporate plans, organizational planning etc. should look to this document, and the work outlined in the strategy should be integrated into all planning processes for the next 30 years, to align our community with success. This is a launching point for the next 30 years of local climate action, and the years ahead of us are where the real work comes into play.  If you are interested in contributing to this work, consider applying for one of our sector committees, more information on that opportunity is available at https://climateactionwr.ca/get-involved/#volunteer.

Now is the time to act! Visit EngageWR.ca to review the full draft TransformWR document, look for the ways you see yourself in it, and join the entire community in helping to create a better future for us today and for generations to come. Together we can build a more equitable, prosperous, resilient, low carbon future!

Transforming How We Produce, Consume, and Waste

April 1st, 2021

TransformWR is Waterloo Region’s long term community climate action strategy, and our community-wide response to the global climate crisis. This work outlines our strategy to achieve an 80% local greenhouse gas emission (GHG) reduction target (based on 2010 levels) by 2050, with a short-term interim target to reduce GHGs 30% by 2030. The outcome of this collective action will help us achieve our vision for 2050, and ultimately transform Waterloo Region into an equitable, prosperous, resilient, low carbon community.   

Our call to action is to transform our community, in the ways we move, the ways we build and operate our spaces, the ways we produce, consume and waste, and the ways we relate to one another.

This excerpt from the TransformWR strategy focuses on: transforming how we produce, consume, and waste.

Waste has significant consequences for greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). When organic material is disposed of in landfills, they break down into methane, which is 25 times more damaging to our climate than carbon dioxide. We account for some of that methane in our community inventory, but this only reflects what has been landfilled at our local public landfills (residential waste that is collected through the Region’s curbside collection program).

Waste from businesses and multi-residential buildings with more than six units is arranged and paid for privately, without involvement from the Region or area municipalities. Much of this commercial waste leaves the community and is sent to landfills elsewhere. Since this process is arranged by landlords, condominiums, and businesses, we do not know how much waste is produced locally, where it goes, or whether GHG-emitting organics have been removed before the waste is landfilled.

Additionally, and what we cannot fully account for locally, is the energy used in making the things that we consume, and transporting it to us and eventually to the landfill or recycling centre. Reducing our energy use and reducing our energy emissions relies on us using less, and building a circular economy (using items as long as possible, extracting the maximum value from them, and recovering, repurposing, and/or regenerating new products).

While methane emissions from livestock at local farms make up 5% of our local GHG inventory (and are counted as our local agriculture sector emissions), some of the emissions from the food we eat appear in other sections of our local inventory. These show up as business use of fossil fuels for farm operations, or when vehicles are used to transport food or food waste. While we have strong local food production, much of our food is made or grown elsewhere. The emissions used to make and grow food elsewhere and transport it to the region for us to eat can be significant and are important to address.

A significant way to reduce emissions caused by the food we eat is to make more of our food close to home. A locally-based food system is also more resilient, as we are less reliant on supply chains from other parts of the world, and less vulnerable to changes or shocks in those systems. We are fortunate in Waterloo Region to be a strong agricultural community, with land, people, and a food system that can serve as the foundation for a future where we make more of our own food. 

Every Waterloo Region municipality, organization, business, and community member has an important role to play in Waterloo Region’s transition to a low carbon community. This strategy is meant to influence all future planning. Official plans, corporate plans, organizational planning etc. should look to this document, and the work outlined in the strategy should be integrated into all planning processes for the next 30 years, to align our community with success. This is a launching point for the next 30 years of local climate action, and the years ahead of us are where the real work comes into play. 

Now is the time to act! Visit EngageWR.ca to review the full draft TransformWR document, look for the ways you see yourself in it, and join the entire community in helping to create a better future for us today and for generations to come. Together we can build a more equitable, prosperous, resilient, low carbon future!

Transforming How We Build and Operate our Spaces

March 26th, 2021

TransformWR is Waterloo Region’s long term community climate action strategy, and our community-wide response to the global climate crisis. This work outlines our strategy to achieve an 80% local greenhouse gas emission (GHG) reduction target (based on 2010 levels) by 2050, with a short-term interim target to reduce GHGs 30% by 2030. The outcome of this collective action will help us achieve our vision for 2050, and ultimately transform Waterloo Region into an equitable, prosperous, resilient, low carbon community.   

Our call to action is to transform our community, in the ways we move, the ways we build and operate our spaces, the ways we produce, consume and waste, and the ways we relate to one another.

This excerpt from the TransformWR strategy focuses on: transforming how we build and operate our spaces.

45% of our local GHG emissions in 2015 came from energy used in buildings. Most of this is from natural gas or other fossil fuels, used to heat our workplaces and homes, and provide hot water.

Space heating in most of the homes and businesses in Waterloo Region currently comes from natural gas. HVAC equipment, such as furnaces and boilers, transfer heat generated from the natural gas combustion to air or water which is distributed throughout the building to provide space heating. In the average Canadian home, the hot water heater uses nearly a fifth of a home’s total energy from all fuel sources. Switching off of fossil fuels for heating and cooling needs in businesses and homes is one of the most impactful changes we can make to reduce GHG emissions locally.

To meet our 80by50 target, we must address this in the buildings that already exist, as well as set expectations for how new ones will be built.

Every Waterloo Region municipality, organization, business, and community member has an important role to play in Waterloo Region’s transition to a low carbon community. This strategy is meant to influence all future planning. Official plans, corporate plans, organizational planning etc. should look to this document, and the work outlined in the strategy should be integrated into all planning processes for the next 30 years, to align our community with success. This is a launching point for the next 30 years of local climate action, and the years ahead of us are where the real work comes into play.  If you are interested in contributing to this work, consider applying for our Residential or Workplaces sector committees, more information on that opportunity is available at https://climateactionwr.ca/get-involved/#volunteer.

Now is the time to act! Visit EngageWR.ca to review the full draft TransformWR document, look for the ways you see yourself in it, and join the entire community in helping to create a better future for us today and for generations to come. Together we can build a more equitable, prosperous, resilient, low carbon future!

Transforming the Ways We Move

March 19th, 2021

TransformWR is Waterloo Region’s long term community climate action strategy, and our community-wide response to the global climate crisis. This work outlines our strategy to achieve an 80% local greenhouse gas emission (GHG) reduction target (based on 2010 levels) by 2050, with a short-term interim target to reduce GHGs 30% by 2030. The outcome of this collective action will help us achieve our vision for 2050, and ultimately transform Waterloo Region into an equitable, prosperous, resilient, low carbon community.   

Our call to action is to transform our community, in the ways we move, the ways we build and operate our spaces, the ways we produce, consume and waste, and the ways we relate to one another.

This excerpt from the TransformWR strategy focuses on: transforming the ways we move.

In 2015, nearly half (49%) of our community’s GHG emissions came from how we move people and goods. Furthermore, short distance trips of less than five kilometers make up nearly 50% of all travel by residents within the Region that could generally be achieved using active forms of transportation.

Active transportation means any method of traveling to a destination that uses primarily human power, which we describe as “walking, cycling, or rolling.” This includes trips made using, or propelled by your body, a mobility device, a bicycle or tricycle (with or without assistance from an electric battery), a skateboard, or a scooter.

Results of Waterloo Region’s 2010 and 2015 GHG inventories show a local GHG reduction of 5.2%. To achieve our long-term 80% reduction target, significant collaborative efforts will need to be made over the next 30 years.

To meet our 80by50 target, by 2050 existing short trips need to be made by walking, cycling, or rolling. Longer trips, where possible, need to be replaced by shorter trips. For example, instead of driving to a grocery store across town, more people will walk, cycle, or roll to a store nearby.

Public transit service is crucial for making most trips using active transportation. It gives people a low- energy, convenient option for trips that they can’t walk, cycle, or roll to. It supports being able to live fulfilling lives without owning a vehicle, and is accessible to people of different incomes and abilities. In this way, a robust transit service needs to be used to supplement our active transportation goals.

While most trips will be made using active transportation by 2050, many trips will still require powered vehicles. This includes public transit vehicles, and personal and commercial vehicles. This is especially the case for rural parts of Waterloo Region where active transportation is not realistic over long distances, and there is limited access to public transit. All remaining vehicles in 2050 must be zero-emission vehicles.

Electric vehicles (EV’s) are zero-emissions, and are already available to consumers. Most major auto manufacturers are already producing electric models, and many automobile manufacturers such as Toyota and General Motors have announced dates by which they will phase out gasoline powered vehicles. While some types of industrial and commercial vehicles may need to use other zero-emissions technologies like green hydrogen, with strong investments in charging infrastructure, the future of most vehicles is electric.

Every Waterloo Region municipality, organization, business, and community member has an important role to play in Waterloo Region’s transition to a low carbon community. This strategy is meant to influence all future planning. Official plans, corporate plans, organizational planning etc. should look to this document, and the work outlined in the strategy should be integrated into all planning processes for the next 30 years, to align our community with success. This is a launching point for the next 30 years of local climate action, and the years ahead of us are where the real work comes into play. If you are interested in contributing to this work, consider applying for our Transportation sector committee, more information on that opportunity is available at https://climateactionwr.ca/get-involved/#volunteer.

Now is the time to act! Visit EngageWR.ca to review the full draft TransformWR document, look for the ways you see yourself in it, and join the entire community in helping to create a better future for us today and for generations to come. Together we can build a more equitable, prosperous, resilient, low carbon future!

Waterloo Region’s Residential Sector

December 21st, 2020

In 2013, ClimateActionWR, led by Reep Green Solutions and Sustainable Waterloo Region, collaborated with the Region of Waterloo, and the Cities of Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo to create the first Climate Action Plan for Waterloo Region. This Climate Action Plan aimed to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions by 6% below 2010 levels by 2020. Next year, a community greenhouse gas inventory will be conducted to determine if we have met that ambitious goal, which will be an important first step towards our overall 80% reduction goal by 2050. 

The following post is part of an ongoing series of blogs highlighting the hard work our action owners have been doing to move us towards our community targets. This one will focus on the residential energy sector.

The Homes Sector

In 2010, homes in Waterloo region accounted for 22% of the region’s GHG emissions with 782,459 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions. At that time, two goals were set out: to reduce average energy use in households while maintaining or increasing home comfort, and to increase local and renewable energy supply to the residential sector. The 2015 reinventory did show initial improvements in the residential sector with a reduction of 5,495 tonnes to 776,964 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions, this was especially impressive due to the increase of homes and population. Our next GHG inventory is expected in late 2021. 

 A local distribution company, or LDC, is a distribution company that maintains the portion of the utility supply grid that is closest to the residential and small commercial consumer. The term is used for both the electric and natural gas supply.

Thousands of residents across the region have taken steps to reduce energy use in their homes through programs offered by their LDC’s, as well as environmental organizations like Reep Green Solutions. As Waterloo region’s population continues to be the fastest growing census metropolitan area in the country, we are fortunate to have local action owners helping homeowners lower their GHG emissions while saving money.

What Has Been Done?

Earlier this year, ClimateActionWR reached out to some of our community action owners for updates on how they are doing with their goals. Kitchener Utilities and Waterloo North Hydro both responded with some promising statistics and information on programs available to local residents. 

Waterloo North Hydro shared that they are projecting to exceed 82.38 gigawatt-hours (GWh) of savings (enough energy to power 9,807 homes!) even with reduced rebate program delivery due to provincial funding cuts. Waterloo North Hydro is also part of an ongoing group of LDCs delivering retrofit programs throughout SouthWestern Ontario, with the project extending until the end of this year.

Kitchener Utilities (KU) has helped residential customers save 136,174 m3 of natural gas and industrial, commercial, and institutional (ICI) customers saved 252, 998 m3 of natural gas in 2019 from rebate programs. KU launched a $250 on-bill credit furnace rebate program in 2019, which is still available to customers who replace their existing furnaces with a higher efficiency model. For April 2019, KU also promoted a showerhead rebate program ($15 instant in-store rebate) at various retail locations in Kitchener.

Challenges Faced

There have been some challenges with helping local residents improve their home energy efficiency due to many provincial government programs being cancelled in the past 2 years. In 2018, the provincial government announced the end of the GreenON program, which provided incentives and rebates to homeowners looking to make a number of energy efficient home improvements. As of March 21st, 2019, all residential programs with the exception of the Home Assistance program, as well as the majority of the business programs, were cancelled. 

As a result of the removal of these provincial incentive programs, Reep Green Solutions, a local environmental non-profit that offers energy audits to homeowners, has noted a marked decrease in home energy evaluations.

Reep Green Solutions Audits 2017-2019
Reep Green Solutions CO2 From Energy Audits 2017-2019

What You Can Do At Home

Today,  while we all deal with the COVID-19 pandemic, many people are spending more time than ever at home which can lead to an increase in carbon emissions within the residential sector. Residents may already have seen increases in their hydro and natural gas bills since March 2020. While we do not know when regular activities will resume, there are many resources available to people looking to reduce their at-home carbon footprint and save some money on their utility bills. 

Available Rebate Programs:

With more time spent at homes, many people are taking advantage of the opportunity to work on renovation and DIY projects around the house.  For larger projects, there are rebates available from LDCs that can help with making changes to improve efficiency while reducing emissions.

The Region of Waterloo is currently offering a water softener rebate program where residents in single-family, semi-detached or townhouses can receive a $50 rebate for switching their salt-based water softener to just soften hot water. Softening just hot water saves residents an estimated $84 and 48 kg of GHG emissions.

Kitchener residents can receive a $200 on-bill credit for switching their pre-existing water heater to a tankless rental water heater through Kitchener Utilities. Tankless water heaters save residents space and reduce energy consumption by only heating water when it is needed.

While pool season may be over, Waterloo North Hydro customers could receive a $400 rebate for switching their pool’s constant-speed pool pump to an energy saving variable-speed pump before December 31, 2020. This switch helps pool owners save money, reduce electricity usage and enjoy a quieter poolside experience. 

Small Changes That Add Up:

Now that the weather is getting colder, furnaces and heaters will start seeing more use. It is recommended to set your thermostat to where you are comfortable with a sweater on to both reduce emissions but also save on your utility bill. Waterloo North Hydro recommends when it is cold, keeping your thermostat set to 20C/68F during the day and 18°C/65°F at night, and during the warmer months, keeping your air conditioner set to 26°C/78°F during the day and 24°C/74°F at night. Of course everyone’s comfort levels are different, so find what settings work best for you and your family. Programmable thermostats are helpful for creating a schedule and maintain minimum temperatures when away from the house for extended periods of time. 

Halloween may have already passed, but you still need to be wary of phantom power! This is electricity used by technology while technically powered off. HydroOne estimates that the average Canadian home has over 25 devices that use phantom power. Do your best to remember to unplug devices when not in use or look for power bars with timers or auto shutoff to help reduce electricity consumption when your devices are not in use. 

Sustainability At The Home Office:

The definition of a workplace has also evolved due to the pandemic forcing employers and employees to change the way that work is completed. For those whose homes have become their workplaces, Reep and Sustainable Waterloo Region published a series of articles about reducing waste in the office, applicable to both traditional and home workplaces. Some highlights include thoroughly evaluating purchasing decisions to reduce unnecessary purchases and packaging, swapping out single use plastics & lower quality frequently used items for higher quality, sustainable options that will last longer, and cutting down paper waste by choosing paperless options and printing double sided when printing is necessary.

Looking Forward

On November 30th, 2020, the Federal Government released the fall economic statement outlining its fiscal plan for dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and the country’s economic recovery from it. To ensure a robust and resilient recovery, the government will support Canadians to make their homes greener and more energy-efficient. Canadians will be able to qualify for up to $5,000 for work to improve their homes’ energy efficiency. The Home Energy Retrofit program will cost $2.6 billion over seven years, starting in 2020-21. The funding also will cover the cost of providing one million free EnerGuide efficiency assessments and pay for the recruiting and training of auditors to perform the work. Further details on the program will be outlined in 2021.

To meet our long term climate goals, changes will need to be made everywhere, including at home. Next time you need to replace your furnace or water heater, check with your utility provider or Reep Green Solutions to see what rebate programs are currently available to help you make the energy efficient choice. Reep also has a collection of home energy lessons available for you to find a good contractor, reduce energy consumption, and insulation tips. Additionally, the Reep House for Sustainable Living in Kitchener has been renovated in a way to educate homeowners on energy consumption and changes that can be made in their own home. While workshops and tours can not physically happen in the Reep House with the current pandemic, a virtual 3D tour is available here.

Residential Heat Pump Water Heaters as a Local Climate Action Measure

December 4th, 2020

To help the Waterloo region meet our 80% greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goal for 2050, it is important that we look to our homes for where we can reduce our emissions. The majority of our household emissions are currently produced from space and water heating, however, ultimately all homes will have to decarbonize their water heating if our community’s climate targets are to be met. 

Heat pump water heaters (HPWHs) are a proven technology that, when replacing conventional systems for domestic hot water use, can cut a home’s emissions by 6-11%. Conventional water heaters can waste a lot of energy when heating water, and generally perform at 55-80% efficiency . Meanwhile, heat pump water heaters can perform at 350% efficiency because moving heat takes less energy than generating heat. HPWHs have the potential to help utilities in their demand management strategies in at least three ways: by shifting demand through the day, by allowing load up and load shed, and by hourly optimization of demand.

There are 181,655 single family and other low-rise dwellings in the Waterloo region, each of which is likely to have its own water heater. With an average lifespan of 11 years, we can expect 16,514 of these to replace their water heater every year. Switching just 1% of these to HPWH would not only help slash emissions, but help to build trust in the technology, build tradesperson capacity, and build demand for the incentive programs that can make HPWHs the affordable choice for all.

In her research paper, local researcher Heather McDiarmid, MCC, PhD investigates programs that could be used to promote heat pump water heaters in residential homes in the Waterloo Region in her article Residential heat pump water heaters as a climate action measure for Waterloo region which can be found here.

Residential Electrification Potential for Waterloo Region

November 26th, 2020

Our homes contributed 22% of Waterloo region’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in 2010. Of those emissions, an estimated 80% came from natural gas usage. While many homeowners use natural gas to heat their homes, heat pumps provide an alternate option which can significantly reduce the emissions associated with staying warm during our cold, Canadian winters.

Heat pumps move heat, rather than generating heat and are therefore capable of being far more efficient than other heating equipment (average 300% vs 60-95% efficiency), and can also move heat out of a home to provide air conditioning services in the summer months. Heat pump water heaters can also efficiently provide a home’s hot water needs, and there are two options for electrified space and water heating using energy efficient heat pump technology: cold climate air source heat pumps (ASHPs) and heat pump water heaters (HPWH). 

At current (July 2020) utility prices, models suggest that ASHPs are significantly more expensive to operate than NG furnaces (average $432/yr), but if a home can disconnect from the gas supply and save the connection fee, the average price premium for using an ASHP is only an average of $166/yr. The cost difference varies by home but in 22% of local homes, ASHPs are already cost equivalent or better than NG furnaces if the home can disconnect the gas supply. These homes are newer, smaller and often have shared walls (semi-detached or row housing). For water heaters, HPWHs are already operationally cost-competitive with natural gas systems due largely to the significant difference in energy efficiency of the two technologies. The lifetime costs of heat pumps are significantly lower than oil, propane and other forms of electric heat. ASHPs can reduce whole home emissions by 60-71% and improve energy efficiency by 42-45%. If HPWH are also used, whole home emissions would decrease by 70-82% and energy efficiency would increase by 58-61%. 

In her research paper, local researcher Heather McDiarmid, MCC, PhD further dives into the economics and climate impacts of using heat pumps for space and water heating for homes in Waterloo Region, her article Analysis of the Residential Electrification Potential for the Waterloo Region can be found here.

Electrifying the Waterloo Region | Part Two: Looking Towards the Future

August 31st, 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 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 Transportation Sector. 

A Change of Pace

The future of mobility is a big question in our society. From new technology like self-driving cars to global pandemics like COVID-19, the way people move from point a to point b is rapidly changing. Deloitte has been tracking these changes with their Future of Mobility insights. Rasheq Zarif tech sector leader says: 

“When people ask, what is future mobility, it’s looking at how is emerging technology changing the pace and disrupting how people and goods move around the city and even beyond.”

San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG) has identified five big moves for transportation in 2020 that encompass more than just technology in the vehicles that we use, but also involve the networks we utilize. These include changes to road management though sensors and connectivity, high-capacity frequency and speed transit systems, mobility hubs to provide high quality transportation experiences from the first to last mile, flexible, shared and eventually autonomous transit options and “Next OS” a platform that will integrate travel into an efficient and effective system. The trends don’t stop there, but there is an overwhelming consensus that transportation in the future needs to be faster, more convenient and sustainable. 

For Waterloo region, local climate action efforts will need to include electrification,  as highlighted in Electrifying the Waterloo Region Part 1: The Story So Far. Electrification is one component of sustainable transportation, but moving away from single-occupancy vehicles is also important. Programs like TravelWise work to support the adoption of public transit, carpooling, cycling and telework.

Moving Forward

In 2018 the Region of Waterloo published Transportation Master Plan: Moving Forward, which outlines the goals and strategies of the Region and it also identified the projects and policies that will help meet our transportation needs for the next 25 years. 

“This updated plan is about completing current and planned transportation projects and pursuing a more sustainable transportation network that supports all modes of travel, enhances accessibility to all residents, and supports the continued economic growth of the Region.”Thomas Schmidt, Commissioner, Transportation and Environmental Services, Region of Waterloo 

The strategies and actions developed in this plan look to promote travel choice, foster a strong economy, support sustainable development and optimize the transportation system. Electrification can fall under all five of the umbrella strategies. 

How Electrification fits into the Master Plan

#1 Selecting Your Mode 

Options for transportation in the Waterloo region have grown tremendously in the past few years. The opening of the LRT has been a huge jump ahead in our community’s use of electric vehicle technology. Electric scooter providers have piloted here and also offer services. We have also seen a growth in electric vehicle ownership, and e-bikes also offer an affordable and accessible commuting option, the numbers aren’t crunched to know how many are on our roads locally. However, we know that this is a growing market with places like Belgium with a market share of 45% for e-bikes. Furthermore, car-sharing companies are increasingly focusing on electric vehicles including e-bikes. Provinces such as British Columbia have implemented incentives as well, with a new rebate program for up to $1,050 for the purchase of an e-bike.  

#2 Promote a Healthy Community

Communities that promote electric transportation are also healthier. We know traffic-related air pollution is a health concern for our communities and a new study actually links it directly to damages to DNA in children. Pulling focus towards active trips such as walking or cycling to school or even carpooling helps reduce the risk of exposure for some of the most vulnerable populations – children.  The Waterloo Region District School Board has made Safe and Active Routes to school a priority in the Region of Waterloo is also leaning towards this change with the implementation of an electric school bus. Children that do not have the option for alternative transportation, electrifying school buses is one way to prevent respiratory illnesses and diseases. 

“Approximately 95 percent of America’s school buses, carrying some of the most vulnerable passengers, run on diesel.”Electric Buses: Clean Transportation for Healthier Neighborhoods and Cleaner Air

The Government of Canada is supporting electric school bus adoption with the Zero Emission Vehicle Infrastructure Program. In addition, the streets children will bike and walk down to get to school locally should be cleaner with GRT’s commitment to go fully electric. By 2024 GRT plans to only purchase electric buses, providing cleaner air for all road users. 

#3 + #4 Inter-Regional Connections

The ION LRT has only just begun, there’s still the second phase to implement the ION into Cambridge. Currently, the LRT stretches across the Kitchener-Waterloo area stopping at 19 stations along the way. The second stage, Stage 2, will extend the tracks currently being serviced by the ION Bus, and will add an additional 8 stations from Fairway to Downtown Cambridge. The new phase of the system will add further electrification to the entire region. It doesn’t stop there, even interregional travel is speeding towards efficiency! Metrolinx is seeking to add electric GO Trains between Kitchener and Georgetown. Coupled with the plans to improve two-way, all-day service between Toronto and the Waterloo region, travel across many regions in Southern Ontario will become easier and more environmentally friendly. 

#5 The Future is Here

Mobility options are changing every day as new technologies emerge, and the choices for commuters are becoming increasingly more efficient. A more recent development in the world of vehicular travel is ride-sharing. Companies like Lyft are planning to electrify their fleets. Closer to home, Facedrive, a Waterloo start-up, launched services in Ottawa this past summer which offer carbon-neutral rides with electric vehicles and carbon offset initiatives. In the research realm, the University of Waterloo is studying the next generation of automobiles with their Autonomous Vehicle Research and Intelligence Lab (AVRIL). This includes work on eco-driving with automated operation including vehicles like the Toyota hybrid PHV Prius sedan. Options are expanding with new technologies, and Waterloo region as a tech hub is ready for the future! 

Transitioning to a Low-Carbon Community

ClimateActionWR has identified the importance of transportation for reducing the region’s carbon footprint, accounting for nearly 50% of total emissions. Engagement with experts and technical stakeholders from the sustainability industry between November 2019 and February 2020 resulted in the identification of themes, challenges and actions that will help shape Waterloo region’s long-term Climate Action Strategy. Our communities across the region are widely dispersed, making connectivity an important part of decarbonizing the network. 

Beyond connecting the region via municipal agreement and reaching townships, current infrastructure, the cost for investing in transit both at the personal and policy level and the lack of barriers to personal vehicle use are among the roadblocks in the area. Feedback identified both financial, social and behavioural strategies for improving sustainable transportation. Changing how people move includes providing attractive alternatives to personal vehicle use and making alternative commutes easier and accessible for all. Other mitigation strategies and opportunities include: 

  • Increased affordability and infrastructure to support electrification of  personal vehicles
  • Enhancement of accessible and connected local public transit
  • All-day, two way, electricity-based, train service from Waterloo Region to Toronto (has to be 1hr commute to be effective)
  • Walkable and bikeable communities 

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. 

Electrifying the Waterloo Region | Part One: The Story So Far

August 18th, 2020

Progress on Community Climate Action Blog Series 

In 2013, ClimateActionWR, led by Reep Green Solutions and Sustainable Waterloo Region, collaborated with the Region of Waterloo, and the Cities of Cambridge, Kitchener, and Waterloo to create the first Climate Action Plan for Waterloo Region. This Climate Action Plan aimed to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions by 6% below 2010 levels by 2020. Next year, a community greenhouse gas inventory will be conducted to determine if we have met that ambitious goal, which will be an important first step towards our overall 80% reduction goal by 2050. 

The following post is part of a new series of blogs highlighting the hard work our action owners have been doing to move us towards our community targets. This one will focus on the transportation sector.

The Transportation Sector

Transportation is responsible for almost half of Waterloo region’s carbon footprint (full report in Our Progress, Our Path). In a 2015 re-inventory,  it was calculated that transportation in the region caused a total of over 2 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions into our atmosphere – the equivalent to powering 468,384 houses in one year. This was an increase from 2010, mostly due to personal vehicles. We knew that if we were going to reach our community’s 80 by 50 GHG reduction target, we needed to seriously re-examine our personal choices, from our daily commute to our regular grocery runs. 

To tackle this issue, action owners such as TravelWiseWR, ChargeWR, Grand River Transit and ION, University of Waterloo and others have been working hard over the past five years to ensure that there is not only adequate infrastructure, but an increase in community education about EV technology . And thanks to the commitment of our municipalities and leaders, key infrastructure projects like the ION Light Rail Transit are also making it easier for us to make better choices.

“Sustainable transportation is the capacity to support the mobility needs of a society in a manner that is the least damageable to the environment and does not impair the mobility needs of future generations.” – Dr. Jean-Paul Rodrigue, Professor, Hofstra University

Why Go Electric?

As we become more dependent on single-occupancy vehicles, our road spaces are increasingly congested and pollution is continually impacting our atmosphere. This dependency does not have to continue to trend upward, however. Many sustainable transportation options are readily available, including; car share programs (e.g. VRTUCAR, now known as Communauto), ride-sharing apps, expanded public transportation options, and networks for pedestrians and non-motorized vehicles. The benefits of removing cars off our roads go far beyond just emission reductions, it will mean cleaner air, healthier and happier citizens, reduced congestion and smoother movement of goods. 

Another key piece in this mobility revolution to improve sustainable transportation is the provision of zero-carbon transportation options. 

“Most of the fuel used to power a car is either lost or used to propel the massive vehicle, whereas fuelling a bike’s engine — that’s you — requires only a healthy diet.” – David Suzuki 

For decades, our main source of transportation fuel has been gasoline, a fossil fuel that produces carbon dioxide when combusted. Gas-powered vehicles are extremely inefficient; around 70% of the energy that goes into the average car engine is lost. In addition, gasoline is a single-use fuel source, and cannot be recycled once it has been burned. Oil extraction methods such as “fracking” release methane, another significant greenhouse gas. Other impacts include disruption to natural ecosystems due to spills or drilling. 

“Electricity would progressively become the central energy carrier, growing from a 20% share of final consumption to an almost 50% share by 2050.International Renewable Energy Agency (IRENA) 

Electricity, on the other hand, is an extremely efficient and versatile form of energy. Replacing our energy sources with renewable sources such as wind, solar, and geothermal allows for the production of electricity with zero greenhouse gas emissions. Deep carbon reductions in Canada will be driven by the passenger transportation sector; according to a study conducted by the Canadian Energy Research Institute, following electrification, this sector would experience a 70% decrease in energy demand thanks to the efficiency of electric vehicles. By 2050 under this electrification model, passenger vehicle transportation emissions could reduce by the equivalent of over 20 million tonnes of CO2e.

Electric Choices in our Community  

There is a growing electric network in the Waterloo region community, led by the Region of Waterloo/Grand River Transit, ChargeWR, and a number of other dedicated organizations and individuals. 

The ION Light Rail Transit (LRT) officially launched in Kitchener and Waterloo in June 2019. The LRT features fully electric, zero-emission electric trains that operate separately from traffic, which allows for a more efficient, comfortable, and effective way to travel. It is projected that by 2031, the LRT will result in the reduction of 22,260 tonnes of greenhouse gasses annually

The LRT has also had other positive effects on Waterloo region. GRT reports that, before COVID-19 drastically reduced the use of public transit, revenue and boardings had increased by 10% since the launch of the light rail. And since the Regional Council endorsed light rail in 2011, there has been $3.2 billion economic investment along the ION route, encouraging residents and businesses to remain in the urban core rather than sprawling ever outwards beyond the city.

On the private ownership side, local ownership of electric vehicles continues to grow. Local adoption of electric vehicles has continued to grow in the Waterloo region, from 181 in 2015 to 2,047 in 2019!  To support this increasing need, there is now a network of over 100 public charging stations in the area. ChargeWR, Region of Waterloo and the regional municipalities also recently cooperated on a joint application to NRCanada, resulting in 33 new Level 2 chargers to be installed in public spaces around the region. 

Lime Scooter Pilot Project at the Research and Technology Park in 2019

In recent years, e-scooters have emerged as an exciting new option for Canadians. In 2018 and 2019, the electric scooter company Lime conducted a pilot program in Waterloo.  In the first season of the pilot, which ran for just two months, more than 6000 different riders completed over 18,000 e-scooters rides. E-scooters have also been introduced to Calgary and Montreal. Despite some excitement about this new electric option, however, a lot of work remains in order to update by-laws and other regulations for the safety of everyone on the road. The Province of Ontario has announced a five-year pilot program which is to begin in 2020, leaving it to each municipality to determine if e-scooters will be allowed on trails or in parks. Check out our recent blog “When Life Gives You Limes” for more information.

Our Actions Matter: Zero Waste Vegetarian Lunch

August 13th, 2020

Actions Matter 

Our individual actions are consequential.  We all have a part in making changes in our day-to-day lives, for Waterloo Region to meet our community goal of 80% reduction of greenhouse gas emissions by the year 2050. 

Individual actions matter: Switching from disposable cups to a reusable mug for one year saves the equivalent amount of carbon emissions as the emissions absorbed by 5 trees growing for 1 year. That’s a big impact! 
Source: Almeida, Joana & Pellec, Marie & Bengtsson, Jonas. (2018). Reusable coffee cups life cycle assessment and benchmark 

Join the region-wide collaboration to transform Waterloo Region to a low carbon community by pledging your intention to take climate action at your home, at your place of employment, and/or everywhere in between.

Those who make pledges receive custom resources with action ideas – such as our highlighted idea today from the workplace pledge: Make zero-waste, vegetarian lunches as least three days per week. 

The following post is part of a new series of blogs highlighting climate action pledge action ideas.  This blog focuses on the workplace pledge: zero-waste vegetarian lunches.

Action Idea Highlight: Zero Waste Vegetarian Lunch

Whether we eat most of our lunches at work or school, or primarily at home right now… what we eat, how we package it, and how we dispose of our apple cores affect our carbon emissions. 

Zero waste vegetarian lunches reduce local emissions from waste disposal. 
Source: ClimateActionWR. (2017).  Our progress, our path.
How Zero Waste Reduces Emissions

Zero waste means two-fold:

  1. That packaging is eliminated or reduced, and
  2. Waste that is generated (such as an apple core) is kept out of the landfill by waste diversion (in this case by using the composting service provided at your workplace, Waterloo Region’s Green Bins, or by backyard composting). 

Packaging must be produced, shipped, and ultimately disposed of.  These activities create greenhouse gas emissions – that are not unsubstantial!  As an example, Annie’s (a food producer which packages in primarily recyclable materials) estimates that 11% of it’s products’ carbon footprint comes from packing.

Annie’s products carbon footprint: 11% of which is from packaging.
Source: Annie’s. (2012). Growing goodness sustainability report fiscal year 2012

Waste fills our landfill, releases emissions during anaerobic decomposition, and continues the demand for virgin resource extraction and processing.  These activities create greenhouse gas emissions.  The greenhouse gas emissions associated with anaerobic decomposition alone at our landfill accounted for 1% of Waterloo Region’s overall emissions in 2015.

As waste, especially organic waste such as food scraps, decay slowly in oxygen poor landfill piles landfill gas is produced.  Landfill gas is primarily methane, carbon dioxide, and water vapour.  Methane is one of the most potent greenhouse gases at 28 times the warming potential of carbon dioxide (28 carbon dioxide equivalents).  The good news is that much, but not all, of the methane produced at our Waterloo Region landfill is now captured and turned into electricity.

In addition to our garbage releasing greenhouse gasses, it takes up a lot of space.  In 2018 we threw 147,000 tonnes of garbage into our landfill, and at our current rate our landfill will be full in 15-20 years.  Landfill expansions (land-use change) consumes natural areas whose vegetation and soil otherwise can act as carbon sinks, which further increases the imbalance between emissions produced and emissions captured in Waterloo Region.  In Waterloo Region it is unlikely we will expand our landfill, but instead build an incinerator to generate energy from waste.  This will be expensive (estimated at half a billion dollars) and incinerators too also generate greenhouse gas emissions (namely carbon dioxide).  The best course of action is to extend the life of our existing landfill by reducing the amount of waste we are throwing away.

When we cannot eliminate packaging, and there is no longer use for the material, recycling is the next best option.  The reasons are two-fold: recycling extends the life of our landfill through waste diversion, and recycling materials reduces the demand for virgin material (aka raw material).  Since the extraction, transportation, and processing of virgin materials is energy intensive, making products from recycled materials generally uses less energy and results in less greenhouse gas emissions.    

How Reducing Meat Consumption Reduces Emissions

With agriculture contributing 47% of global human-generated methane emissions, and 58% of nitrous oxide (298 carbon dioxide equivalents!), choosing to consume less greenhouse gas intensive foods makes a significant impact. 

Animal protein sources are more intensive than plant-based alternatives.  Ruminant animals (lambs and cows) generate methane through their enteric fermentation digestive process.  Also, ruminant animals require energy-intensive feed.  The processing of animal proteins – particularly chicken processing – is energy and water intensive as well.  Finally, the shipping and cool storage requirements of animal proteins is energy demanding and therefore greenhouse gas emitting.  Plant-based proteins such as nuts, seeds, and legumes are less energy demanding throughout their production, processing, transportation, and storage and thus produce significantly less greenhouse gas emissions for the same protein and calorie benefits.

Carbon emissions from food: comparison of emissions from different protein sources. 
Source: McDonald, Bob. CBC. (2016). We can’t fight climate change without tackling agriculture emissions

Eating meat-free lunches just 3 times per week reduces your carbon footprint significantly.  Switching from roast beef to lentils on just Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays for a year saves the equivalent amount of greenhouse gasses as eliminating almost ten round trip drives from Waterloo Region to Toronto.

More Than Emissions…

Eating zero-waste vegetarian lunches has co-benefits beyond our individual and community carbon footprint.  Zero-waste is a great opportunity to save costs by purchasing in bulk, and plant-based proteins are often more affordable than meat alternatives.  Vegetarian meals are also a great way to take care of your heart.  Canada’s food guide encourages Canadians to choose plant-based proteins more often.  Plant-based proteins provide more fibre and less saturated fat than meat alternatives, which is beneficial for heart health. 

How To: Zero Waste Vegetarian Lunches

What’s great about zero waste vegetarian lunches is that with a little preparation they are fast and easy!  To reap all the personal and environmental benefits highlighted above, here are some tips to help kick start your waste free, meat free meals:

1. Gather your reusable packaging

  • Insulated lunch bags, with the option of a reusable freezer pack, keep your food cool and eliminate plastic or paper brown bags.  A stainless-steel lunch box is a great option if you want to eliminate all plastic.
  • Plastic reusable containers are lightweight options in a variety of sizes to meet your every need.  Glass containers are especially useful for reheating food – and won’t stain from tasty vegetarian curry.  Cloth bags are great for packing dry snacks and beeswax wraps are useful for sandwiches and cheese!
  • A reusable travel mug for your java and reusable water bottle will keep you energized and hydrated all day long.
  • Remember utensils and napkins: you can pack the utensils you need in a cloth napkin to keep your cutlery clean and be prepared to clean up any spills during your meal without needing paper products!
  • Consider how best to dispose of apple cores and other unavoidable wastes: does your workplace offer waste diversion receptacles including composting and recycling?  Can you advocate for your workplace to implement waste diversion?  Do you have backyard composting or Green Bin options at your home?

2. Plan, prepare, and pack your meals

  • Assess what you currently enjoy for lunch, to help plan your new zero-waste vegetarian lunches.  For inspiration, here are 25 vegetarian lunch ideas beyond a simple salad, and 18 more vegetarian lunch ideas that are perfect for work.
  • Prepare your grocery list and purchase items in bulk to reduce packaging and cost.
  • Prepare your meals and snacks – many foods can be prepared or made in advance and portioned into containers for use all week long – saving you time!

Two additional helpful resources:

Let’s Act Together

Zero-waste vegetarian lunches are great ways to reduce our individual and community carbon emissions.  Join our region-wide collaborative effort towards reducing emissions 80% by 2050 by pledging now to implement this action idea of indulging thoughtfully at lunch, and/or pledge to take other carbon-conscious actions. 

Get our Community Action Report

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