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How Carleton University and Efficiency Canada are fighting to save the planet, one building at a time

Focus on Net Zero buildings will help turn emissions into jobs

A man at a podium delivers a speech to a professional audience.
A man at a podium delivers a speech to a professional audience.

Some of the best ideas go unnoticed because they’re so simple, they simply work.

Improving energy efficiency to tackle climate change is one of those ideas. It has the potential to fulfill 18 per cent of Canada’s emissions reduction targets, while creating jobs that support local economies.

But is it getting the fanfare it deserves? Efficiency Canada is the national voice for energy efficiency in the country and they want to put their strategy to tackle climate change on the map.

One of Efficiency Canada’s key priorities is advocating that Canada retrofits all buildings to Net Zero (meaning the building produces as much energy as it consumes) within the next 25 years, a monumental task. “We call it a mission,” said Corey Diamond, Efficiency Canada’s executive director. “It’s like a mission to the moon.”

What’s different about Canada’s moonshot is that it’s not about leaving the planet, it’s about staying right where we are. The big question is whether Canada has what it needs to get it done.

Diamond says we do.

“We don’t need to invent anything. We have the technology we need to retrofit buildings and we might even have enough money. What we need is the political will to nudge things in the right direction.”

Diamond has been working at convincing people to take action for quite some time, and that moment seems to have arrived. The federal government has made it clear it’s treating climate change seriously, but the challenge is getting it done.

The good news is that everything we need to accomplish this mission is in place and ready to launch. “I’ve never seen more momentum than I have right now,” added Diamond. “Everybody’s kind of hanging on for dear life.”

Carleton U’s energy efficiency dream team

Efficiency Canada was born when some experts came together to determine why Canada didn’t have a voice on energy efficiency policy like they did in the U.S., India, Europe and Australia.

Two men sitting at a conference listening to someone speak.

Two of those experts were connected to Carleton: Jay Nordenstrom, who runs the National Association of Insulation Manufacturers, and James Meadowcroft, a longtime faculty member at Carleton who’s spent his career problem-solving issues like transitioning to a zero carbon, energy efficient economy.

Between Nordenstrom and Meadowcroft and some of the administrative leaders at Carleton, they said, “Let’s do this.”

That was more than four years ago. Today, Efficiency Canada is a full-fledged think tank embedded at the local university.

Mission impossible? Not at Carleton University

Today, Efficiency Canada doesn’t just conduct research, it mobilizes their discoveries through communications, media relations, and engagement.

The organization found Carleton University to be a natural home due to its collaborative approach. “Carleton is very interested in multidisciplinary clusters, where they bring multiple parts of the university together to achieve something,” said Diamond. His cluster includes the School of Public Policy and Administration and the Faculty of Engineering and Design.

A man standing at a podium addresses a standing audience indoors.

“There’s a nice fit between the solutions that make zero carbon buildings and the policies that support those kinds of technologies,” said Diamond. “This is exactly what we are set up to do: bring people together to come up with new ideas, and use those ideas to change the world.”

But let’s not forget the university’s greatest resource: its students.“We’ve taken advantage of their co-op program since we started,” said Diamond. “We’re giving students real life experience and showing them what a career in public policy is like.”

“They contribute to the research and see it through until it lands on the desk of the minister who hopefully listens to us,” he added.

Exactly how close are we to ‘mission accomplished’?

Having been at this for four years, Efficiency Canada can claim some significant accomplishments.

The first is awareness. “We talk about renewables or tapping oil and gas, but the growing recognition that energy efficiency is central to climate policy has been a huge accomplishment of ours,” said Diamond.

The second is sound policy development. In the last six to eight months, a new policy protocol was developed that will put every new building in Canada on a pathway to being Net Zero.

The third is cold, hard cash. The federal government has committed to $3.6 billion annually in energy efficiency spending, more than ever before.

The next big push is to pick up the pace. “If we carry on with the current model, it will take 142 years to retrofit every building in Canada,” said Diamond. “And we have 25 years to go.”

When it’s mission critical, you need to expand your team. For this particular challenge, that team is in your community.

Team Canada? It’s where you live

“Retrofitting buildings takes a lot of work and the jobs created are by nature, local work,” said Diamond. “When you hire local people, that money stays in the community.”

And it’s not just about trades. “If we retrofit an entire street at a time within a month, you also need to walk people through the plan,” said Diamond. “That requires communicating in multiple languages and across cultures. It’s those soft skills that we desperately need.”

That said, energy efficiency’s ‘Team Canada’ is well underway. “There are more people working in the energy efficiency sector than fossil fuels and telecommunications combined,” said Diamond. “You don’t notice that, because it’s typically made up of two people in a van.”

Despite the hard work ahead, Diamond is very optimistic.

“I’m still going to have a job for a few more years, but we’re seeing a shift,” said Diamond. “This whole move to a Net Zero economy is happening right now, and that’s pretty exciting to be a part of.”

Simply put, when it comes to climate change, failure is not an option.