reducing emmissons

Blog Post

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. 

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

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.

Waterloo Region’s Evolving Workplace Sector | Part 1: The Story So Far

July 29th, 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 would 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 workplaces sector.

The Workplace Sector

In 2015, ClimateActionWR determined that workplace buildings (including industrial, commercial, and institutional buildings) are responsible for 27% of Waterloo Region’s total carbon footprint (full report in Our Progress, Our Path). We knew that the overall output would only increase as Waterloo Region’s population continues to be the fastest growing census metropolitan area in the country. We have a responsibility to make adjustments to the carbon efficiency of our workplaces. 

To tackle this issue, Energy+, Kitchener-Wilmot Hydro and Waterloo North Hydro, Enbridge (Union Gas), Kitchener Utilities, Sustainable Waterloo Region, Area Municipalities (City of Waterloo, City of Kitchener, City of Cambridge, and the Region of Waterloo), and the Cora Group committed to taking action. As action owners, they have been working hard over the past five years to bring people and organizations together to move both buildings and behaviour towards a more sustainable future in which employees, employers, and landlords can play an active part. One example of this work is the creation of evolv1, thanks to collaborative efforts between organizations and stakeholders.

“The power is in our work together.” Tova Davidson, Executive Director of Sustainable Waterloo Region 

evolv1 – Changing the Workplace Landscape of Waterloo Region 

Developed, owned and managed by the Cora Group, evolv1, Canada’s first multi-tenant Zero Carbon Building​, was collaboratively imagined by Sustainable Waterloo Region, EY, The David Johnston Research and Technology Park, and the Cora Group in an effort to model the workplace of the future.  The project considered all aspects of the modern workplace, combining sustainability and functionality to create a unique design-certified net positive building. 

Designed for today’s tech-savvy workforce, evolv1 has 104,000 square feet of space for multiple tenants, collaborative work and event areas, and amenities. Thanks to built-in features such as a beautiful 40-ft living wall, a geothermal well system, and solar wall technology, the building is designed to be net-positive, by producing 108% of its energy needs on-site.

evolv1 was carefully designed to encourage sustainable and low-impact behaviour. The main staircase is a design feature of the foyer and is wide enough for many people to use at once, discouraging the habitual use of the elevators tucked away to the side. A central waste sorting location rather than individual waste bins encourages tenants to consider their daily garbage output. evolv1’s location beside the ION LRT station in the University of Waterloo David Johnston Research + Technology Park, secure bike parking, and EV charging stations allow employees to choose sustainable transportation options with ease.

“From the geothermal, to the solar walls, two-inch thick triple-paned windows, this place is packed with cool sustainable features. But we’ve also created a better building. A beautiful, healthy space where people in this Region can work and gather.” Adrian Conrad, COO of the Cora Group

More Than Just A Building

evolv1 was developed not only to create a uniquely regenerative building, but to lead a change in the behaviour of organizations and employees in their workplaces. The building is just the beginning of a global reimagining of the workplace. A key component of evolv1 is its tenants, many of which are leading technology or sustainability-focused organizations. They are active participants in the success of evolv1 through their policies and actions; monitoring their energy and water use, carbon emissions, and waste production. 

In 2018, evolv1 launched its “Culture of Sustainability” program, a partnership between Sustainable Waterloo Region and an academic research team from the University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University. Manuel Riemer, leading a team of behavioural psychology researchers from Laurier, is creating an evidence-based engagement strategy to cultivate a culture of sustainability within evolv1 and its tenants, which can be applied to other commercial building projects.

“The building will act as a ‘living laboratory’ to understand how best to engage the inhabitants of sustainable buildings in sustainable practices. There are ways to nudge people towards more sustainable habits, such as the physical design of the building, but there is also a social aspect we’re looking at to encourage engagement in all aspects of sustainability.”Manuel Riemer, Director, VERiS, Professor, Wilfrid Laurier University 

Through educational workshops, interactive events, and collaborative conversations, tenants from across all organizations within the building are encouraged to collaboratively develop and achieve a comprehensive suite of environmental, social, and economic goals. Over the long term, shared values, practices, and symbols will emerge and take root, reflecting a collective understanding of what it means to make positive contributions to environmental, social and economic or organizational systems within and beyond the building.

The first floor of evolv1 also houses evolvGREEN, a leading collaborative workspace of entrepreneurs, researchers, and clean economy supporters who are driving the march toward a clean economy. Entrepreneurs looking to build companies that support a clean economy have access to startup accelerator programming and mentorship through the Accelerator Centre’s specialized cleantech programming.

Year One at evolv1

In 2020, evolv1 became triple-certified – earning LEED Platinum CS (Core & Shell) and becoming dual certified as a Zero Carbon Building (ZCB)  – in both Design and Performance. The Cora Group applied for the zero-carbon performance certification after a year of energy data was collected from the building. After a full year of operation evolv1 has proved that it is sustainable in design and performance. 

Current tenants include The Accelerator Centre, Borealis AI, EY, Sustainable Waterloo Region, TextNow, University of Waterloo and Wilfrid Laurier University. Tenants pay market rates for their workspaces, proving the financial feasibility of the premium commercial building and that sustainability is good for business.

80 by 50 Spring Update

June 1st, 2020

A lot has happened since our last community update in December. As a result of COVID-19, we’ve had to adapt many elements of our work to digital means and postpone a number of events, however, there are many aspects of our work that continue to move forward full speed! Here’s an update on our community’s progress developing Waterloo Region’s long-term Climate Action Strategy, to achieve an 80% greenhouse gas reduction by 2050!


  • We recently launched our new website! It has been updated to include what you need to know about our short and long-term community GHG reduction targets, how you can get involved, and resources to learn more – check it out! 
  • Before social distancing, our team attended three community events including a Kitchener Rangers game where we scored some great exposure within the community!
  • In response to the success of our 2019 workshop series, two additional community sessions were hosted earlier this year to help inform our planning- Thank you to all who attended
  • January marked the launch of THEMUSEUM’s 3 floor exhibit on climate change, titled ‘ALARM’. Although they are temporarily closed as a result of COVID-19, we partnered with THEMUSEUM to provide an informative and interactive exhibit on local climate action within our community, which includes making a Climate Action Pledge (see below for details).  
  • As part of building the technical pathway to the long-term strategy, we hosted a key workshop with municipal stakeholders from across all 8 municipalities within Waterloo Region, to identify obstacles and strategies.
  • We issued a technical survey to sustainability subject-matter experts within Waterloo Region, across Canada, and to contacts internationally as well! 


After 9 months of gathering ideas, thoughts, and feedback from community members, technical experts, and municipal stakeholders, thousands of data points have been summarized to share with you. What we heard will help to form the 80 by 50 Climate Action Strategy.

The following videos provide an overview of the common themes that came through from the data.

Community Engagement Results

In this presentation, Glen Lombard and Patrick Boot from Unless Design Partners share the findings from the extensive community engagement initiatives.

Technical Engagement Results

In this presentation, Patrick Darby from WalterFedy shares the findings from the extensive technical engagement initiatives.

If you have any questions about any of the results/content of these presentations, please submit them here.


The momentum of this project continues over the next several months, with 3 core areas of focus for us:

  • Continued data analysis toward developing the draft 30-year Climate Action Strategy, and laying the framework for a Climate Action Plan which will address the first 10 years.
  • Delivery of two pilot projects focused on efforts that could reduce emissions from our highest emitting sectors: transportation and energy consumption from buildings.
    • A huge thank you to everyone who submitted your pilot project ideas! We received 30 proposals from across the community, and will be announcing the successful projects soon!
  • Providing a series of capacity building webinars and/or workshops for municipal staff and community stakeholders across Waterloo Region.

Get Involved!

Every action counts when it comes to our community’s goal to reduce local greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by the year 2050!

The first step toward this goal has been working toward our short-term target, since 2013, to achieve a 6% reduction by the end of 2020. As a member of our community, we each have a role to play at work, at home, at school, and everywhere in between. By pledging your intention to make a change in your day-to-day life, you are joining a region-wide collaboration to transform Waterloo Region to a low carbon community!
Make your pledge today!

If you have any questions or would like to offer your support or expertise, please connect with us at 

Copyright © 2020 ClimateActionWR, All rights reserved.

80 by 50 Update: Transforming Waterloo Region To A Low Carbon Community

January 31st, 2020

The ClimateActionWR team has been very busy over the last several months, not only working away on our community’s current Climate Action Plan (to achieve a 6% GHG reduction by the end of 2020), but also looking ahead to the future. We rely on community members to support and influence our work, so we wanted to provide an update on this exciting new project as we develop Waterloo Region’s long-term Climate Action Strategy to achieve an 80% greenhouse gas reduction by 2050.

What has ClimateActionWR been up to?

It has been about a year since ClimateActionWR received funding from the Federation of Canadian Municipalities to develop Waterloo Region’s long-term community Climate Action Strategy, to achieve an 80% local greenhouse gas reduction by 2050. We have since been very busy working with all 8 area municipalities in Waterloo Region, as well as local organizations and community members, in developing our approach to this ambitious project and diving into the execution. The entire project is broken up into 3 phases: 

  • Community Engagement: gathering insights and ideas from community members.
  • Expert & Technical Engagement: working with local, national, and global subject-matter experts and academics to develop the technical pathway to achieving this ambitious goal.
  • Development of the long-term (30-year) Climate Action Strategy, and the accompanying short-term Climate Action Plan to identify what needs to be completed in the first 10 years.

Where are We Now?

Phase 1, Community Engagement started in July and concluded mid-January 2020. Since then:

  • Our Street Teams attended 35 events across Waterloo Region where we heard from over 900 community members;
  • We asked for the community’s vision for the year 2050 and received over 500 responses;
  • We’ve hosted 9 focus groups with different stakeholder groups in the community;
  • Conducted 36 interviews with municipal and community stakeholders;
  • We hosted 5 community workshops across Waterloo Region!

Phase 2, Expert & Technical Engagement began in November and will conclude at the end of February 2020. So far, over 80 subject matter experts in the areas of transportation, sustainable buildings (commercial and residential), agriculture, and waste have been consulted to provide valuable insight into the challenges, obstacles, and potential solutions for how we can achieve our 80% greenhouse gas emission reduction target by 2050. 

Phase 3, Development of the long-term (30-year) Climate Action Strategy officially began January 2020, and will draw on the learnings from both the community and technical engagement phases. The final strategy document will be released at the end of 2020, with opportunities for public review and consultation prior to finalization. 

What’s next?

In the spring and summer of 2020, ClimateActionWR will continue to work closely with two local consultants, community members, municipal partners, and technical experts to develop two reports; one report will outline the community’s long-term Climate Action Strategy to achieve an 80% greenhouse gas reduction by 2050, and the other will be shorter-term Climate Action Plan that will serve as a road map for addressing the first 10 years of the Strategy. In addition, we will be hosting peer learning workshops, conducting two pilot projects (one for Sustainable Buildings, and one for addressing emissions from Transportation), and engaging stakeholders in draft report consultations.

By the end of 2020, the final long-term Strategy and short-term Plan to achieve Waterloo Region’s 80% greenhouse gas emission reduction goal will be shared with the community, and commemorated with a community-wide launch event.

The ClimateActionWR team is looking forward to a bright – and busy! – year ahead as we work towards Transforming Waterloo Region to a Low-Carbon Community.

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