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Bringing Into being the Future We Wish to Live in
Making Buildings Better, Reducing Carbon Dioxide Emissions, Creating New Jobs
Buildings generate a lot of carbon dioxide. Their heating systems use natural gas or electricity that is partly generated with fossil fuels. Electric power for lighting, air conditioning and running other appliances also contributes to the carbon dioxide load if it comes from coal-burning power plants. So how could buildings cut down on their carbon dioxide emissions? This is a question that the Toronto Better Buildings Partnership (BBP) set out to answer.
Studying how much energy buildings use made it clear that by doing renovations to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, it would also be possible for building owners to reduce their building operating costs through conservation. An investment in environmentally responsible renovations saves money!
The Better Buildings Partnership has ambitious goals. They want to “retrofit” (renovate and add new equipment to) 40% of Toronto’s existing institutional, commercial and industrial space. If they achieve this goal, they would reduce carbon dioxide emission from these buildings by 3 million tonnes (3 mega-tonnes). Renovations that the BBP carried out between 1996 and 2000 have already resulted in a reduction of 110 kilotons (110 thousand tonnes) of annual carbon dioxide emissions.
Renovating buildings to reduce carbon dioxide emissions makes buildings “better” in many ways. It makes the buildings more valuable not only in terms of energy-efficiency and energy costs for the future, but in present-day physical quality and desirability. It has proved to be an especially good investment when it’s done to improve the building’s comfort, lighting, air quality and attractiveness. And a long-term benefit is to enjoy the savings as energy costs in Ontario rise!
Good Reasons for Energy Conservation
Renovations that cut down a building’s energy needs reduce what is called “power demand.” When customers reduce their energy requirements, their conservation allows energy providers to reduce their energy production. This means that there is less fossil fuel burned which not only lessens the quantity of greenhouse gases that contribute to climate change, but also reduces the by-products of burning fossil fuels that are damaging to human health and the environment.
Burning fossil fuels add a list of unwanted waste products to the air. They give off nitrogen oxides, sulphur dioxide, particulate matter (very tiny particles of ash that are harmful to lungs and health), volatile organic compounds, carbon monoxide and heavy metals in addition to greenhouse gases. In warm weather, fossil fuel emissions in the presence of sunlight also create ground-level ozone, a harmful ingredient of smog. Ozone at ground level can cause acute breathing problems, inflammation of the lungs and damage to the immune system. Reducing energy demand therefore reduces the consumption of fossil fuels which contributes to these human health problems.
Greening Buildings Creates Jobs
One of the additional important benefits of such energy-conversation-through-renovation programs is that they create new jobs. The city estimates that for every million dollars invested in energy efficiency, 20-person-years of employment are created. And for all the people working directly on improving buildings, there are new “indirect” jobs created, to supply the building-improvers with designs, materials, tools, transportation, insurance and all the things they need.
The Better Building Partnership’s work is jointly funded by the government’s Canada-Ontario Infrastructure Works Program, plus private-sector loans arranged by participating energy companies.
- In what ways does a building contribute to climate change? (Minimum of 5).
- What are the benefits of ‘retrofitting’ Toronto’s existing institutional, commercial and industrial buildings? Name one example of each type of building.
- List the types of sources for electrical energy in Ontario. Explain why it is important to conserve energy. What is the simplest way to conserve energy?