Vancouver enforces first-of-its-kind bylaw to reduce building emissions by 2030

Vancouver has become the first Canadian jurisdiction to enforce limits on building emissions.

A bylaw that would require owners of large commercial offices and retail buildings to report their emissions will be in effect June 1.

The Annual Greenhouse Gas and Energy Limits bylaw will be a first-of-its-kind in Canada with the goal to reduce big building emissions to 50 per cent by 2030 and 100 per cent by 2050.

The city indicates fines will be in effect starting in 2026.

Amid B.C.’s record-setting flood, wildfires, and heat domes in the last few years, the city approved this bylaw as part of its Climate Energy Action Plan, called Energize Vancouver.

It aims to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions produced by existing commercial and multi-family buildings and to shift to healthier, more affordable, and more resilient homes, offices, and retail stores.

The bylaw will require building owners and managers to report how much energy each building uses, and the greenhouse gas intensity (GHGi) of each building in order to “support equipment replacement in capital plans,” according to the city.

Emily Heitman, president of Schneider Electric, tells CityNews this does result in “hefty fines” for owners whose buildings surpassed the limits.

She says due to urbanisation being a huge trend in Vancouver, this bylaw will help reduce the overall carbon footprint of the city.

“Fifty-five per cent of our carbon emissions are coming out of buildings here in Vancouver,” she said.

“Not to mention prepare for an even more increasing urban population that’s happening with the immigration rates across all of Canada and specifically here in Vancouver.”

Heitman says it’s critical to provide transparency with carbon reporting.

“This annual report both reveals where the energy-efficient measures can be implemented, but it also helps to identify where the opportunities are for improvement,” she said.

“If you have an existing building, then you have upgrades most likely to do depending on how old the building is.”

Vancouver setting standards in energy-efficiency

With the City of Vancouver adopting this plan, Heitman says it is building performance standards in Canada.

“They set targets for energy and carbon reductions. So building owners can implement changes to meet the standards via HVAC optimization and upgrades, digital technologies to help with energy efficiency,” Heitman said.

She tells CityNews that smart building technologies play a key role in reducing energy waste by switching to renewable energy sources.

“An example of solar panels on the roof, and implementing the energy-efficient technologies like better insulation, heating and cooling systems, low flow fixtures, all in the manufacturing or production of the building, and the building itself,” she said.

“The actual bylaw does include specifics around HVAC upgrades and the energy-efficient technologies required to meet the emissions limit.”

Impacting different stakeholders

Heitman says this bylaw is attractive to many people, including those who want to invest in real estate, building owners, managers, and more.

She says the benefit is that most people in Canada do believe in the threat of climate change, hence they would appreciate this shift.

“Preparing for climate change and reducing your impact on the on the planet. Your number one goal around energy efficiency isn’t just good for the planet, but it’s also good for the wallet,” she said.

“Energy efficiency means paying lower power bills, it means not running power, or using electricity that you don’t need. So it actually lowers your your own overall costs as an owner.”

She says this would also mean the economy with local service providers benefiting from helping people move towards more energy-efficient ways.

“Technology providers that can also come alongside and help these building owners locally… help them upgrade their buildings and help boost the economy,” she said.

Heitman also tells CityNews that on the other hand, this could be a negative for the natural gas industry.

“Old buildings are still very heavily dependent on natural gas for heating, ” she said.

“Natural gas and buildings today still account for 57 per cent of the carbon emissions. So as we try to decrease the dependency on natural gas, perhaps there could be some negative impact to the net natural gas industry.”

Heitman says that electricity is proven to be three to five times more efficient than other energy sources.

“It all comes back to electrification and then the efficiency of the electrification,” she said.

“We’re becoming a more digital world, in our own personal lives, that our buildings also have to become a more digital space as well, in order to be able to lower the emissions and prepare for that net zero 2050 in the future.”

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