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2001 Building — Co-winner 2

City of Toronto, Ontario

Promoting energy-efficiency building retrofits

Population: 2.4 Million

The economic and environmental benefits achieved through the City of Toronto's Better Buildings Partnership (BBP) program have exceeded all expectations. Launched in 1996, the program promotes comprehensive energy-efficiency retrofits and building renewal initiatives for public and private sector buildings. BBP promotes retrofit projects that add to the value of buildings by making them more comfortable to work in and less expensive to maintain. In addition, these initiatives pay for themselves through lower utility bills. To date, improvements to 467 BBP buildings have created approximately 3,800 person years of work, reduced operating costs for building owners by more than $19 million, contributed at least $126 million to the city's economy, and reduced carbon dioxide emissions by 132,000 tonnes per year. Through BBP, partnerships between building owners and energy management companies are leading to a dramatic increase in the range of improvements that owners are willing to pursue.


In January 1990, Toronto made an official commitment to reduce its carbon dioxide emissions by 20 per cent, relative to 1988 levels, by the year 2005 (Under the new amalgamated city, Toronto adjusted the target's base year to 1990 in order to align itself with the Kyoto Protocol on climate change.) To help meet that goal, the city established the Toronto Atmospheric Fund in 1992 with an endowment of $23 million from the sale of city property. The fund is run by a board of directors comprising city councillors, city staff and citizens.

In 1993, Toronto researched the sources of its greenhouse gas emissions and learned that more than half originated from stationary uses such as heating, cooling and lighting systems, as well as powering appliances and machinery. Toronto developed BBP to target this problem specifically, while also addressing a 1989 city council commitment to hire staff and establish an office devoted to energy efficiency.

BBP, funded by the department of works and emergency services, is an innovative infrastructure program that promotes and implements energy-efficiency and building renewal improvements in commercial, institutional and multi-residential buildings. The initiative is aimed at retrofitting approximately 37 million square metres of Toronto buildings in both the public and private sectors by 2012.


As of spring 2001, BBP has:

  • facilitated retrofits in 467 buildings;
  • created 3,800 person years of work;
  • reduced building owners' operating costs by more than $19 million, far outstripping forecasts; and
  • cut carbon dioxide emissions by 132,000 tonnes per year.

By 2012, Toronto predicts that BBP will:

  • retrofit 40 per cent of the total floor area of eligible buildings in the city;
  • create 90,000 person years of employment;
  • reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 3 million tonnes per year, representing a major portion of the city's 20 per cent emissions reduction goal of 5.4 million tonnes per year; and
  • put $3 billion into the local economy.

Lessons Learned

  • If the city had the opportunity to begin the program again, it would investigate having a semi-autonomous contract approval and processing facility. Despite Toronto's policy of fast-tracking these processes for BBP buildings, transactions remain cumbersome and have slowed down uptake and administration phases for many building owners. A semi-autonomous facility would establish the criteria for legal, financial and business transactions in co-operation with the city. The facility would then be able to accelerate the processing of all transactions.
  • Although BBP has not offered grants to building owners, zero-interest financing coupled with flexible security requirements has been an essential part of the plan for non-profit and public-sector building owners. Without this accommodation, the program would not have been well-suited to those owners.
  • For the program to work, it is essential to provide innovative financial strategies beyond traditional energy service financing. This enhances the attractiveness of the program to building owners, the energy service community and the financial community.
Page Updated: 21/12/2015