Agents of change
A small neighbourhood in Toronto has built a program to help residents reduce their household emissions. Could their grassroots approach become a template for the rest of the country?
On a snow-flecked Sunday afternoon in mid-December, Paul Dowsett gathered a group of neighbours in his backyard for a toast.
Although the event featured mulled wine and a crackling bonfire, this was no holiday party. Rather, it was an event to celebrate homeowners in the Pocket — an east Toronto neighbourhood — who have committed to an energy retrofit to reduce their carbon footprint.
Existing government rebate programs work “for middle- and upper-income Canadians who can pay up front for a retrofit and then receive a grant after the work is done,” said Brendan Haley, director of policy research at Efficiency Canada, a group based out of Carleton University in Ottawa that advocates for greater energy efficiency. “But the financial barriers are still too great for lower-income Canadians.”
Not only that, but about one-third of Canadians rent, according to Statistics Canada, and requiring a landlord’s approval limits your ability to cut household emissions.
“For folks that are renting, there are far fewer opportunities to make change where they are living,” said Salmon of Green Communities Canada.
Dowsett acknowledges this.
“Renters can’t touch their building envelope, they can’t touch their mechanical system. They just don’t have control of the levers they need. It is their building owners and operators that need to make changes,” he said. “We at Pocket Change are not really the model for them.”
Haley says that to meet its stated climate goals, Canada needs to establish more stringent policies that force building owners of all kinds to use more sustainable technologies. To effect deeper emissions cuts, “we need the government to step in and mandate things.”