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Feature Writer
John Lorinc is a Toronto-based journalist and author specializing in urban issues, business, and culture. He has written for various publications including The Walrus, The Globe and Mail and Spacing. John has won numerous National Magazine Awards.

Oil Town building carbon neutral community powered by 100% renewables

Edmonton slowly erecting one of the world's largest purpose-built sustainable neighbourhoods

Given that Swedish eco-activist Greta Thunberg has shone a harsh light on air travel, there’s a certain cosmic elegance in the City of Edmonton’s ambitious plans for a 536-acre decommissioned airport site, just minutes from the downtown. Construction crews last year began working on the first phase of Blatchford, a master-planned, mixed-use community that will rise from the sprawling former tarmac over the next 25 years.

What distinguishes this brownfield project isn’t just the size (which happens to be roughly the same as Edmonton’s current downtown). When it’s completed, it will be one of the largest purpose-built sustainable communities in the world, according to municipal officials.

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Powerhouse building produces more energy than it needs

Norway's Powerhouse Brattørkaia isn’t merely a net zero office building – solar and deep-water energy make it energy positive

Last year, the City of Vancouver updated its green buildings regulations to require that all re-zoning applications meet either net zero or low-emissions standards, considered among the most stringent in Canada. The move, combined with incentives, has helped trigger a boom in the development of so-called “passive house” projects that use extremely low quantities of energy for heating and cooling.

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How one gas company CEO is fuelling Canada’s climate politics

The story of a determined energy executive’s mission to kill the carbon tax

Beyond the tight-knit world of Calgary’s oil patch executives and a redoubt of Ottawa-based conservative activists, few Canadians had heard of the “Modern Miracle Network” (MMN) before The Globe and Mail revealed in late April that the group had convened a private retreat near Calgary for energy industry operatives, senior Conservative advisors and leader Andrew Scheer. The top agenda item, according to the Globe’s account: plotting out a strategy for this fall’s federal election battle with Justin Trudeau’s Liberals.

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York’s “bioclimatic” business school building is breath of fresh of air

Five-storey solar chimney and smart windows and shades are part of Schulich's radical response to climate crisis

When visitors enter the new Schulich School of Business building at York University in Toronto, many immediately pick up on two features that are often conspicuously absent in modern structures: for a large campus building, the light-filled space is surprisingly quiet while the air is unexpectedly fresh.

“People comment about the air,” says James McKellar, a professor of real estate and infrastructure who serves as associate dean and oversaw the development of the $50 million project, known as the Rob and Cheryl McEwen Graduate Study and Research Building. “In a normal building, the air is constantly being re-circulated. In our building, the air is very fresh and people notice."

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How drones are heat mapping high-rise energy guzzlers

Drafty high-rises are the gas guzzlers of the building world and infrared drones are swooping in to spot costly energy leaks

It’s a fact of high-rise life that’s become all too familiar to legions of urban condo dwellers: many apartment buildings leak like sieves, with heating or cooling seeping out through poorly sealed windows, cracks and concrete balcony slabs.

Yet those construction flaws, in the aggregate, add up to something much larger and more problematic. By most estimates, buildings today account for about 40% of all carbon emissions, and therefore play a huge role in the accelerating climate crisis. We should be thinking of all those drafty apartments as if they were gas-guzzlers spewing carbon and other harmful gases into the atmosphere.

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Building innovation: Going green pays off for one of Canada’s Big 5 banks

Buildings account for roughly 20% of Canada’s carbon footprint - CIBC is banking on shrinking theirs

In the expanding world of energy-efficient commercial buildings, designer projects with LEED certification and cutting-edge architecture tend to win the awards and garner public attention. But a pilot project involving 30 lowly bank branches, most of them stand-alone buildings, has shown how smart interventions can reduce emissions and operating costs with a brisk payback period.

Keeping our buildings lit, heated and cooled accounts for 20% of Canada’s greenhouse gas emissions. In some provinces, emissions from buildings are growing faster than every other source except transportation. If Canada is to meet its 2030 GHG targets, older buildings, which make up three quarters of this nation’s built form, will need to be retrofitted over the coming decade.

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Smart buildings: how AI is slashing heating and cooling bills

With artificial intelligence analytics and wireless sensors, buildings are growing smarter - and closer to zero footprint

In the nerdy world of smart thermometers, every self-respecting tech geek knows precisely how easy it is to undermine the intelligence wired into these devices: Just press the manual override.

For several years, the so-called HVAC industry – heating, ventilation, air-conditioning – has been turning out increasingly sophisticated programmable thermostats with a range of features designed to allow users to adjust a home’s temperature automatically (including smartphone apps that let users make changes remotely). However, the promised energy reductions and related savings associated with the set-and-forget features go right up the chimney when an occupant decides the dwelling is too hot, too cold or too stuffy, and intervenes. Depending on the device, the settings may not revert, paradoxically enabling all the carbon-wasting inefficiencies these devices were meant to prevent.

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The Canadian artists creating a better world

Top creators are flipping the script by mixing environment and ethics into mainstream entertainment

In the mid-2000s, with gravel quarry operators moving aggressively to carve huge aggregate mines out of southern Ontario’s limestone moraines, folk singer Sarah Harmer recorded a song titled, simply, “Escarpment Blues.”

If they blow a hole in the backbone

The one that runs cross the muscles of the land

We might get a load of stone for the road

But I don't know how much longer we can stand…

Harmer grew up near Mount Nemo in north Burlington – a dramatic craggy outcropping on the Niagara Escarpment, which is a UNESCO World Biosphere Reserve. The damage being inflicted on the area’s delicate flora and fauna fired not just her indignation, but also her creative imagination.

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Race to the stars

Companies, regulators and investors are competing to get their hands on carbon emissions data from satellites.

Going back to his childhood, Stephane Germain, the founder of Montreal-based GHGSat, dreamed of figuring out how to pursue a career that combined space, technology and the profit motive. After completing his graduate work in engineering physics, he found himself drawn increasingly to both the world of commercial satellites and the scientific challenge of using specialized orbiting sensors to measure atmospheric greenhouse gas concentrations.

But when the province of Quebec prepared to join California’s cap-and-trade system, “the light bulb went on,” Germain says. Cap-and-trade forces companies to buy credits for the right to pollute, which incentivises them to reduce emissions. Pondering the logic of such systems, he realized the province’s industrial emitters suddenly would be forced to manage their emission risk and therefore had a financial incentive to seek out better information about the carbon leaving their facilities. “I knew there was market demand,” he explains.

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Off to work

Making the commute easier for employees

When Québec’s financial services giant Desjardins decided to adopt a sustainability plan earlier in this decade, company officials began looking at a range of strategies, including programs to encourage the firm’s far-flung employees to get to work by means other than a private automobile with a single passenger.

It was an ambitious undertaking as Desjardins has hundreds of branches, head offices in both Montréal and Levis, outside Québec City, as well as satellites in Toronto and Mississauga, Ontario. Some locations are way off the transit grid while others are easily accessible. In a firm with 45,000 employees, the task demanded multiple solutions.

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