Ontario getting divergent reviews on its commitment to green

In Corporate Knights’ newly released Green Provincial Report Card, it appears Ontario and British Columbia are leading the pack in the race to become Canada’s greenest province or territory, with the highest grade going to Ontario, which received an A-. According to the report, the province has reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 6.5 per cent since 1990, making it the only province to reach Kyoto emission-reduction targets. It also received high marks for building green homes and embracing energy retrofits for old ones, and for continuing to maintain a vibrant clean technology sector. Saskatchewan and Alberta landed at the back of the pack.

“Despite Ontario and British Columbia receiving high grades, there’s room for vast improvement,” said lead researcher Erin Marchington. Corporate Knights calculated that if all provinces and territories achieved best practices in each of the seven categories that were measured the Canadian average would be 86 per cent, making the nation more than just an excellent student. But to pursue such best practices on a national scale will require much greater cooperation, collaboration and information sharing across the country.

The research team evaluated each province/territory using a series of 35 indicators grouped into seven categories: air and climate, water, nature, transportation, waste, energy and buildings, and innovation. Building on previous green province reports, this year’s ranking methodology used the most current available data (ranging from 2008 to 2011). The majority of the information came through federal sources that allowed for direct comparisons between Canada’s 13 jurisdictions.

The methodology was developed with the assistance of the Green Provinces Advisory Committee, made up of Faisal Moola, program director of terrestrial conservation and science at the David Suzuki Foundation, Sachi Gibson, technical and policy analyst at the Pembina Institute, and Jose Etcheverry, assistant professor of environmental studies at York University.

Where is Ontario’s “Culture of Conservation?”

Despite Ontario’s high marks in the Corporate Knights report, Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner says the Ontario government appears to have forgotten one of the important goals of its own Green Energy and Green Economy Act (GEGEA).

Gord Miller made the observation as he released the Annual Energy Conservation Progress Report – 2011 (Volume One) which reviews the government’s progress to date on its energy conservation promises and makes recommendations on how the government can fulfill its GEGEA commitments.  The Green Energy and Green Economy Act gave the Environmental Commissioner the responsibility for reviewing the progress of energy conservation activities in Ontario.

The Environmental Commissioner says “when the GEGEA was introduced, the government said that fostering a ‘culture of conservation’ was just as important as increasing the amount of renewable energy. But three years after its passage” notes Miller, “many of the bill’s conservation promises remain unfulfilled, or in the case of mandatory energy audits before the sale of a home, completely abandoned. Instead of fostering ‘a culture of conservation’ the Ontario government seems intent on making it an orphan.”

The Environmental Commissioner points to three energy conservation promises that were never acted on by the government:

•           The government has not introduced ENERGY STAR standards for household appliances such as refrigerators, clothes washers, and dishwashers. This would have stopped the sale of less efficient products that consume 20 to 40 per cent more energy.

•           It failed to make energy audits mandatory prior to the sale of homes. Homebuyers currently have limited access to information about a home’s energy use. The residential sector accounts for 21 per cent of all energy use in Ontario.

•           The government has not yet banned the sale of the ‘inefficient’ screw-in incandescent light bulbs, which it promised to do by 2012. The federal and Ontario governments have now delayed the ban for two years.  This delay will cost Canadians as much as $300 million dollars in higher energy costs.

The Environmental Commissioner says the Ontario government does deserve praise for making the Ontario Building Code more energy efficient and for requiring municipalities, school boards, hospitals and colleges and universities to develop energy conservation plans and to report on their organization’s energy usage. But Miller notes this is an arm’s-length approach to conservation “that leaves conservation disconnected from people’s day-to-day lives.”

“You cannot foster a ‘culture of conservation’ in Ontario” states Miller, “unless you take actions that actually engage the individual consumer or homeowner.”

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