Concordia’s Zero-Carbon Future

Increasing Green Spaces. Photo by Ivona Bossert

Concordia researchers attend a panel on decarbonizing the city

As the city of Montreal works to become carbon-neutral in the next three decades, Concordia researchers are on the front lines of this energy-effectiveness initiative.

On Feb. 8, Concordia Public Scholar Mostafa Saad organized and moderated the panel: Decarbonizing Canadian Buildings: Opportunities and Obstacles. The four guest speakers, including both researchers and professional engineers, gathered to share their expertise in designing energy-efficient cities.

Saad is an engineer, and he explained that the panel provided him with the opportunity to learn about the business and policy side of the decarbonization movement. 

“It’s great to see from [the panelists’] experiences, what they encountered in that field,” said Saad. “It’s also guiding for a lot of students. They get to see what is really out there, and if they can make contributions towards that when they graduate or even during their studies.”

The decarbonization of buildings is an important part of Montreal’s 2030–50 Climate Plan, which aims to reach carbon neutrality by 2050. According to the city’s latest numbers, buildings generate 26 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions in Montreal. 

The plan aims to make buildings emit zero emissions by 2040. Owners will have to declare gas and fuel oil heating, and buildings that are bigger than 2,000 square meters will have to display their building’s energy consumption and work towards reaching zero emissions.

Sophie Lalonde is the director of the Service de la gestion et de la planification des immeubles for the city of Montreal. She is optimistic about the decarbonization movement despite major challenges it faces, such as a lack of funding, workforce shortages, and Hydro-Québec’s limited capacity. 

“Will we reach our goals? Yes, we will, by working together,” Lalonde said.  “I think that, more and more, there’s a rising awareness. And it’s accelerating. For my part, I’m convinced that it can only lead to small, positive steps, and it’s going to keep getting better.”

In Saad’s eyes, the first step to decarbonizing the city is making the data more available to policy makers and homeowners. Saad hopes to see technology develop that can explain the energy consumption of each building to its owner and how renovations are saving them money in the long run. 

According to Saad, the movement should prioritize renovating existing buildings with new energy-efficient approaches. 

“We have a quote that says: ‘the greenest building is the building that exists,’” he explained. “It’s already there, so if you add anything to it, you’re increasing the carbon, usually.”

Saad’s vision for the future of Montreal focuses on densification by making the city more pedestrian and cyclist friendly, as well as improving public transit. He would like to see Montreal become a “15-minute walk type of city,” in which work, home and services are no more than 15 minutes away from each other.  

One of the panellists featured at the event was Concordia professor Ursula Eicker, Canada Excellence Research Chair (CERC) in Smart, Sustainable and Resilient Cities and Communities at Concordia University. Professor Eicker’s research focuses on every aspect of a city that creates a carbon footprint.

Eicker’s ideal version of Montreal focuses on replacing cars with public transit and on increasing green spaces, bike lanes and pedestrian streets. She also hopes that empty office buildings downtown may be transformed into apartments. 

“I’m pretty optimistic that we see some major changes in the next few years,” she said, “and really promoting Concordia as a sustainability champion, [which] means zero emission for the building operations, but much more than that: some talked about the solar integration, much more use of green spaces, urban farming…”

“It’s a really good time, just now, to move ahead, because we are all pretty aligned on where we should move towards,” she said. “And now we just need to make it happen.”


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