Raising the Bar on Sustainability: Villiers Island

Together with Urban Strategies and the City of Toronto, Waterfront Toronto began planning Villiers Island in 2013. A lot of this work was done in collaboration with the public and community stakeholders, resulting in a plan that reconnects the Don River and the lake to the city. Villiers Island will be formed when we dig the new river valley through the Port Lands. Over time, it will evolve from an industrial quay to a connected and complete island community with great parks and open spaces.

One of the most innovative aspects of Villiers Island is that it aims to be one of the first climate positive communities in Canada.

A Climate Positive Future

“Climate positive” is a term that describes a community designed to eliminate greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in and beyond its own borders. Climate positive communities produce more clean energy than they use, lowering the energy use in neighbouring areas as well. With the help of the C40-Climate Positive Development Program, we created a way to measure how much greenhouse gas emissions our current buildings have produced. We discovered that if applied to future communities like Villiers Island, our current environmental standards would still produce 16,541 tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually. While that is 23 per cent lower than the typical Toronto development, it is still 77 per cent higher than our ambitious goal of completely reducing emissions in and beyond Villiers Island.

A Deeper Look at Sustainability

In order to reduce GHG emissions on Villiers Island and nearby areas, we worked with the environmental firm, Sustainability Solutions Group (SSG), to study neighbourhood design elements that affect energy, building and transportation emissions.

This study led to six major design recommendations:

1) Design Buildings to Passive House Standards
The Passive House Standard is a design model that allows buildings to use up to 90 per cent less energy for heating and cooling than the average building. This is achieved by combining a variety of technologies and design features. For example, installing higher quality windows, advanced insulation to control internal temperatures and airtight construction.

2) Build Structures According to the Solar Access Model
Placing taller buildings on the north side of the community and shorter buildings to the south will yield the best access to the sun’s energy and reduce the need for mechanical heating in the winter.

3) Turn the Sun’s Energy into Electric Power
Using the sun to create electricity is one of the most cost-effective energy strategies for Villiers Island. Solar panels in the community could create enough electricity to power over 850 Ontario homes every year.

4) Meet Remaining Energy Demands with a District Energy System
District energy provides thermal and electric energy via a network of pipes. Under our climate positive model, district energy centres on Villiers Island will aim to be centrally located to reduce the cost of distributing and will also use renewable energy resources.

5) Reduce Car Travel to 25 Per Cent of Trips
By shifting most trips to transit, walking or cycling, and maximizing use of electric vehicles, transportation emissions can be reduced significantly.

6) Design with the Climate Goal in Mind
All stakeholders and decision-makers should consider sustainability outcomes throughout the design process. This will ensure that Villiers Island can achieve climate positive status in a sustainable, cost-effective way.

Our Continued Commitment to Sustainable Development

We have always been committed to building communities that protect and enhance our natural environment. In 2005, we created a Sustainability Framework to ensure our commitment to fighting climate change is embedded in everything we do. Our focus on sustainability has led us to develop an award-winning Minimum Green Building Requirement (MGBR), an Environmental Management Plan and a Parks and Public Spaces Guidelines. These tools have helped Waterfront Toronto and our partners implement the energy conservation, waste management, water efficiency and natural heritage objectives set out in the framework. Today, we continue to move forward, building on our past successes in environmental sustainability to deliver a new Innovation and Resilience Framework, which will help us focus on climate change, innovation and interconnected information and technology. We look forward to seeing the Resilience Framework come to life with the development of future waterfront communities like Villiers Island.