Photo: James Bombales

Last week, mayors from Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal pledged to ensure that all new buildings would operate at net zero carbon by 2030.

Net zero buildings use green technology to minimize emissions, while generating their remaining energy needs from renewable sources. It’s a major focus of many environmentalists and city builders as buildings typically account for over half of a city’s total emissions.

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By making the pledge, the Canadian mayors agreed to develop a suite of incentives and programmes to encourage developers to invest in net zero buildings. But will Canadian home builders take up the challenge? According to Urban Equation managing director Jenny McMinn, hitting this target won’t be possible for some new buildings.

“While I think it’s important to be constantly working to drive down energy consumption, some buildings just won’t be able to reach net zero,” she tells Livabl.

According to McMinn — who works with developers across North America to create business cases for sustainable development goals — tall and narrow condo buildings will be unable to generate enough energy onsite to reach the net zero designation.

“The first step in achieving net zero is reducing as much energy as you can, and the next is generating the energy that the building will inevitably need to consume,” she explains. “Taller, more dense buildings have a very small roof area relative to the total building area, so it’s just not achievable with the current technology.”

She says that developers can instead focus on driving down energy consumption, which will make their buildings “net zero ready.” As to whether they will be invested in doing that, it will depend on the number of government incentives that are put in place.

“The condo market is tricky,” she says. “Many developers are considering it, but they often feel unfairly burdened with upfront costs, which they won’t necessarily earn back. It’s a tougher sell.”

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