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Veronica Green: Our buildings are a big factor in climate change. Here’s how to fix it


For all of the political attention paid to energy, transportation, and other sources of carbon emissions contributing to climate change, one major area that regularly gets overlooked is where we live and work: our buildings.

Canada’s built environment, including residential and commercial buildings, contribute to 12.4 percent of our overall emissions. To put that in perspective: it’s more than 90 megatonnes of carbon dioxide which is roughly half of the emissions produced by the oil and gas sector in 2019.

An effective climate change strategy therefore must reckon with reducing emissions from our buildings. The question, of course, is how can we do that without driving up the costs of housing and commercial buildings at the expense of households and our economy?

Environmental regulations — those in practice and those proposed by governments in waiting — are necessary to reduce our building’s emissions to reach the Paris Agreement targets and contribute to the global fight against climate change. But like most pressing problems, the cost associated with compliance to the policy solution is significant.

In the short term, the margins of our nation’s homebuilders will be dramatically squeezed and building a residential tower carries real financial risk — one that developers will not take on without a proper return.

Sustainable design strategies like green roofs, energy recovery ventilators, low emitting materials, and energy efficient measures like lighting, appliances, and submetering are the key markers of government policy to mandate performance standards of how buildings are constructed and operated. 

The cost of energy efficient measures should not be the reason that a development is abandoned.

Each of these environmental initiatives present themselves as a cost, carried by the builder, on the development proforma, which is the analysis of a project’s financial return with each initiative broken down to quantifiable terms. There is no line item in the return summary for “emissions reduction” or “environmental development return on cost.” What is more, for high-rise residential developers, any future cost benefit is sight-unseen. Once a residential unit is sold, all future utility savings go to the buyer, the homeowner paying the monthly bills. 

If the municipalities of Canada’s largest cities pass new stringent environmental regulations without commensurate red tape reductions, these noble environmental policies will only add to the cost of building and in turn increase the price of a home. In a city like Toronto, where the average condo price is $675,844, that has the potential to become a political lightning rod, despite the good intentions of the short-sighted council that proposes the regulations.

Developers of our cities’ tallest buildings will not implement energy efficient strategies across their portfolios until they can capture new value from carbon reduction. 

The intricacy of the development proforma — the uncontrollable costs, each with a corresponding forecast — cannot be underestimated. The levers of time and equity must be pulled with near precision to generate a positive return and manage the sensitivity analysis.

If you think there are a lot of cranes in the sky today, just think for a moment of all the blueprints that never made it past planning. You could fill entire cities with buildings never realized, plans and proformas abandoned because the cost of construction was too high, environmental remediation too great, the cost of heritage retention too much.

The cost of sustainable building designs and energy efficient measures should not be the reason that a development is abandoned, a blueprint be left on the table. The short-term cost to contribute to a long-term target should not deter residential developers to build. 

As we look forward to elections across Canada, in our cities and at the national level, politicians would be wise to think about how they can incentivize developers to build-green-better.

In Toronto, developers receive a financial benefit for seeking voluntary higher performance standards, but these benefits are limited. Municipalities could go one step further to provide a guarantee of time: if a developer seeks higher voluntary environmental standards, Toronto could offer in return a maximum review period date for the development’s zoning or site plan application.

Making approval time a constant and not an estimate can allow for better negotiations with banks, a more strategic sales process, and will ensure that the cost of these environmental initiatives is not transferred to the homebuyer. 

Policy matters and we need environmental regulation to help us achieve our Paris targets, but equally important is the signal that complying with environmental policy is the right choice to make.

There is research that shows that making one green choice likely leads to another. To this point, homebuyers should be further incentivized to purchase pre-construction units in buildings that achieve green standards. Banks can offer loans or allow developers to extend deposit-structures, pushing first-time homebuyers to invest in a more sustainable home. 

Developers who are forced to comply with the standards set by our governments must be supported so that contributing to the fight against climate change is not a decision, but rather part of the process.

By cutting red tape to eliminate the unknowns and making municipal approvals a constant, as well pushing buyers to choose green buildings, the adoption of energy inefficient performance standards by developers will become a no-brainer. Politicians, in turn, will be applauded for producing policy that considers all actors.

Here’s why the best rosé isn’t actually a rosé


Here is the story of how the very first rosé isn’t one at all, except it’s the best. I refer to Tavel, the name of the wine and of the small town in the South of France where it is grown and made.

Tavel lies on the right (east) bank of the Rhône just north of Avignon, and opposite its left bank twin, the much better known, Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The two towns, and the wines they are famous for, form a kind of ying and yang of the Southern Rhône. They share the same climate, the same soil types and are made with the same combination of grapes, with Grenache usually acting as the dominant one in the blend.

They also have a history of papal patronage going back to the middle ages, not just at Avignon but also in Rome. But while the wines of Châteauneuf have always been coveted for their brooding dark fruit, Tavel has always been a red wine made in a clear lighter style. It’s just that no one thought to call it rosé until the last half of the 20th century.

The colour of a wine depends partly on the grape variety, or varieties, used to make it. But while you can’t make red wine from white grapes, you can make orange wine from them, and you can certainly make white wine from red grapes.

This is because the way to extract colour from grapes, that have begun to ferment into wine, is to leave the juice that has been pressed from the fruit, in contact with the skins. In Champagne they make Blanc-de-Noir, a white sparkling wine, by separating Pinot Noir from its skins right away.

Some red wines might be left to “macerate” on their skins for several days, and if the winemaker wants to intensify the process, she might “bleed” some of the juice off of the skins. Bleeding red wines is, in fact, a way to make rosé with the juice that has been removed, though it’s not how they make Tavel.

The rules for making Tavel are ancient and as clear as the wine: contact with the skins will be for the one night after the grapes have been pressed. This is enough to make Tavel a deep pink verging on ruby red.

In the two decades that I have been writing about wine, I have watched rosé go from a niche product to an established one. In the warm weather months, it’s become unremarkable to be offered a glass of rosé in the backyard of a friend.

The style of rosé that is predominant here and around the world is ‘Provençal’: a crisp with a light coppery or salmon hue. This colour would have come from very limited skin contact. Generally speaking, I like these wines fine, but for the nearly always present note of strawberry, they may as well be white wines.

There’s no structure, nor weight on the palate. Lacking complexity, they strike me as being designed to be drunk quick and cold on a warm evening. The Provençal-style rosés serve their purpose, but there are very few of them that could carry a diner through a meal.

Tavel is almost always recognizable on a store shelf, in part because of its distinct tall and skinny clear bottle, but mostly for its deep pink colour. The colour is the clue that the wine will have some tannic structure and weight from being on its skins overnight. Those skins provide more than texture, they also provide flavour. Beyond strawberry are the red fruit flavours associated with Grenache, like cherry and raspberry. Tavel wines really do show more like a very light and racy red with a line of acidity that will take them through from aperitif to a main course of grilled meat.

In 1936 Tavel was named as one of France’s first Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, demarcated by a small area of land around the town, and given the restriction that only “Tavel” (in other words, rosé that’s not really rosé) could be made there. This has had the effect of keeping the production and the number of producers small.

There are only about two dozen producers, and maybe the same number of growers that sell grapes to the Tavel co-operative or one of the big houses of the Rhône Valley like Guigal or Famille Perrin.

In the past couple of decades, when faced with competition from the Provençal rosé the producers decided to double down on their tradition of making a ‘vin gastronomique’ instead of changing the way they make wine to follow fashion.

Unfortunately this means that Tavel has become pricier than most rosé, usually within $25 to $30 a bottle. Fortunately, though, they’ve kept their audience and seem to be growing it steadily, as Tavel wines are widely available, especially now that it’s the season for them.

As a small appellation with strict controls on production, the quality of Tavel wines is fairly uniform and consistent. The producers below are in most markets in this country and make wines that I have enjoyed very much.

Château d’Acqueria:

Château de Manissy:

Domaine LaFond Roc-Epine:

Domaine Maby:

Domaine de la Mordorée: