Guelph featured with Timmins and Fredericton in Globe and Mail – Toward greener, smarter cities

April 20, 2012

Healthy Environment

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Toward greener, smarter cities

Friday, April 20, 2012

Environmentally friendly initiatives help cities cut down on pollution and lower their energy costs, among other benefits

Special to The Globe and Mail

When Fredericton Mayor Brad Woodside delivered the 2006 State of the City address, he put aside his prepared remarks. Mr. Woodside had just returned from a business trip to China, where he had seen a booming economy but also widespread pollution. In his impromptu speech, the mayor called on the citizens of Fredericton to protect the environment.

The New Brunswick capital was no slouch in the sustainability department. For example, Fredericton had saved energy and money by retrofitting 18 municipal buildings. It had also joined the Federation of Canadian Municipalities’ Partners for Climate Protection (PCP) program back in 2000.

But Mr. Woodside wanted his city to do more. So in 2007, Fredericton launched a community outreach strategy called Green Matters.

The next year, it established the Green Shops program, which recognizes local businesses for shrinking their environmental footprint. Then in spring, 2011, the city of 56,000 piloted the Green Matters Certified program for not-for-profits.

“I’m not about to argue the pros and cons or who’s right and who’s wrong,” Mr. Woodside says of climate change. “But if we take it more seriously and start in our own homes and our own businesses, the most terrible thing that’s going to happen to you is you’re going to notice that your expenses come down.”

Fredericton is just one example of how smaller cities can make themselves greener and more sustainable by engaging local residents and businesses. Municipalities improve their odds of success if they set goals and measure results.

Mr. Woodside says he was amazed by the response to his challenge. By 2009, Fredericton had brought municipal government greenhouse gas emissions down to 16 per cent below its 2000 benchmark. Last January, the FCM certified it as the fourth Canadian municipality to reach all five PCP milestones. More than 80 businesses have joined Fredericton’s Green Shops program. As part of the city’s infrastructure renewal efforts, the Grant-Harvey Centre sports complex has geothermal heating and cooling.


Timmins, Ont., has also embraced sustainability, with a retrofit of 59 municipal buildings. The $3.7-million project, which was completed by contractor Siemens Canada in 2007, guaranteed annual savings of $392,000 over a seven-year payback period. Siemens agreed to make up the shortfall if that target wasn’t met and to let Timmins keep any extra savings.

The project has yielded annual savings of $460,000 for the city of 43,000, largely thanks to lower energy use from variable pumping at water treatment plants. It’s also reduced Timmins’ yearly greenhouse gas emissions by more than 2,500 tonnes – the equivalent of taking about 800 midsize cars off the road.

Those savings are paying for the city’s infrastructure improvements, says Ray Rochefort, Siemens Canada’s Ottawa-based energy business leader. The retrofit also brought dozens of green jobs to Timmins. “Those green jobs go to local contractors, vendors, hotels and restaurants,” Mr. Rochefort says. “It really benefits the local community.”

Although Timmins currently lacks comprehensive environmental policies, it plans to hire a municipal energy coordinator, says Mark Jensen, the city’s director of community and development services.

“Expected benefits [of such policies] are energy consumption reductions, energy savings and reducing greenhouse gas emissions – in short, saving money and helping to reduce impacts on the surrounding environment,” Mr. Jensen adds.


Home to almost 122,000 residents, Guelph, Ont., launched a greywater pilot project in 2009. With three local builders and researchers from the University of Guelph’s School of Engineering, the city looked at home-based technologies that recycle shower and bath water by treating it and using it to flush toilets.

Guelph gave 25 homeowners a $1,500 incentive to cover about half the cost of installing such a system. For a family of three, the project showed annual average water savings of 25,000 litres – a $67 reduction on a $600 water bill.

The project helped raise local awareness of greywater reuse, says city water conservation project manager Wayne Galliher. “Since that time, there has been some additional technical study into what might be more of a communal system.”

Guelph has reduced its energy consumption, too. In 2007, city council endorsed the Community Energy Initiative, a 25-year plan whose goals include using 50 per cent less energy per capita by 2031. Between 2005 and 2010, Guelph’s per capita energy use fell by more than 13 per cent while the local population grew by almost 16 per cent. Meanwhile, greenhouse gas emissions plunged nearly 19 per cent.

Rising energy costs have made citizens more receptive to Guelph’s conservation message.

“At the household level, there’s an increasing awareness around efficiency and the benefits of doing it, mainly saving money,” says Robb Kerr, Guelph’s corporate manager for community energy.

Mr. Kerr also credits better transportation infrastructure and higher density, particularly downtown. “People are working and living closer, so there’s less need for driving,” he says. “How you build a city and how people get around in [it] is very important to the energy profile of that city.”

Without an energy plan, a city imperils its economic health and community well-being, Mr. Kerr warns. “Cities that have not embraced some of these emerging risks like increasing energy costs or pollution that comes from them can fall pretty hard.”



About Karen Farbridge

An unwavering change maker seeking a just, democratic and sustainable world.

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