Pembina: Municipal Green Building Leaders
Local governments in British Columbia have a long history of working to reduce their energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. Many have also now signed the province’s Climate Action Charter to become carbon neutral in their operations by 2012 and work with the provincial government to achieve community-wide reductions. Since buildings account for 12% of the province’s total greenhouse gas emissions, the Pembina Institute, a non-profit think tank that advances innovative sustainable energy solutions, realized that the province and local governments would need to find innovative ways of reducing emissions from homes and buildings in order to meet their commitments. Spearheading the Municipal Green Building Leaders project, Pembina aims to develop local government regulations that improve building operation efficiency so that the province reaches its targets.
In an attempt to reduce community greenhouse gas emissions significantly, even the most innovative local governments are quickly exhausting their available jurisdiction. Historically, all levels of government have relied on grants and incentives to encourage green buildings. However, in order to achieve a substantial reduction in emissions, local governments need to have additional regulatory tools at their disposal so that they can be leaders in implementing more stringent energy performance measures. “Research by our legal team revealed that the local governments’ lack of jurisdiction to implement strong green buildings policies is the limiting factor,” explains Matt Horne, Director of BC Energy Solutions at the Pembina Institute. “We have to recognize those limitations and move forward in areas where we can make improvements.”
In the first phase of the project the Pembina Institute identified three promising green building policy approaches that will offer the necessary law reforms to reduce the greenhouse gas production and increase energy efficiency in buildings.
- Energy labeling and energy efficiency standards for existing buildings;
- Renewable energy requirements for new buildings; and
- Higher energy performance standards for new buildings.
It is essential that these policies are mandated, as opposed to voluntary, because when they are left to the discretion of the owner, affordable opportunities that offer considerable energy savings are overlooked, such as low-flow plumbing fixtures, water tank insulation, ceiling insulation, weather stripping, and energy efficient lighting options. Beyond reducing the amount of energy the building uses, these measures can increase the value of the building to a point that exceeds the cost of achieving the energy savings. Australia is proof of the economic value of energy performance standards since it instituted mandatory labeling in 1999 and homes that were in greater compliance with the ratings sold at premium prices.
A core outcome of the project so far has been the multi-community approach to addressing the energy issues. “The project has demonstrated that there is a strong desire among local governments to work together on green building and climate change issues,” says Horne. At the outset of the project there were five local governments that were participating, that number has now grown to 12, including Campbell River, Cowichan Valley Regional District, Dawson Creek, Delta, Regional District of Nanaimo, City of North Vancouver, Prince George, Smithers, Terrace, Tofino, West Vancouver and Whistler. This project laid the groundwork for municipalities and regional districts to play a leading role in creating an impetus in the building sector to use less energy and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions, the core elements of responsible and sustainable land use.
Our grant to Pembina's Municipal Green Building Leaders project is encouraging green building through collaborative work that inspires province-wide change.
- Elysha Ames