Going Green All the Way In Ontario

Greg Galitzine : Green Blog
Greg Galitzine
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Going Green All the Way In Ontario

It is great to see that jurisdictions like the Canadian province of Ontario taking steps to encourage green practices and technology.

As reported on TMCnet, the province's government will be introducing a sure-to-pass (Premier Dalton McGuinty's Liberal party holds a majority in the legislature) Green Energy Act, which will:

* Encourage conservation side by creating an Expert Advisory Council that will offer advice to the government on any future energy efficiency changes to Ontario's building code

*  Modernize the province's electrical transmission system by employing 'smart grid' technology--two way communications, advanced sensors, and distributed computing--that enable power distributors to anticipate and address problems before they lead to outages

* Make it easier to get new wind turbines, solar panels and biofuels plants online and on to the grid while protecting the environment by addressing local bylaws and regulations that are used to delay or stop proposed renewable energy projects. Ontario has brought almost 1,000 megawatts of new renewable energy on-line since 2003

The measures are on top of efforts to end burning coal at four power plants by 2014 and plans to invest in new and upgraded mass transit systems in Toronto, Ottawa, Hamilton, and Kitchener-Waterloo.

Ontario has other another good reason for these green measures: business continuity. Most of the province lost power during the infamous blackout of August 2003 and it was hit with the same ice storm that also paralyzed Quebec and New Brunswick in 1998.

As great as these steps and others are--and Premier McGuinty is to be commended for his leadership despite tough economic times that are facing his province, home to Canada's beleaguered automotive industry and facing plummeting real estate values--they are not exactly dramatic, ones that would truly put Ontario on the map.

The Telework Coalition (TelCoa) has suggested just that in its submission to Ontario's 2009 budget. Among its recommendations:

* A 'Comprehensive Trip Reduction' program aimed at incentivizing employers, both for-profit and non-profit, and post-secondary educational institutions to reduce employee and student commuting by car. The measures include and involve:

--Tax credits, or to nonprofits, institutions, and other governments grants-in-lieu of taxes for each employee or student who switches from driving to work to transit, walking, cycling, and telework. The credits/grants would be based on the direct and indirect costs of automobile commuting per person/km multiplied by the average commuting distance where the employer or college is located, as measured by Statistics Canada, minus the costs of the alternatives used

--The money granted would be used to pay for transit passes, accommodations for bikes, telework program setup, satellite locations, and relocating to areas with better transit access. A small portion could go as breaks and offsets to higher costs and reduced incomes. Compliance would be ensured by employers and schools asking and tabulating employee and student mode choice, through enrollment in formal telework and distance learning programs, and through monitoring of residents' complaints about employee/school parking

*  'The Ontario Government Telework Initiative', a new program that establishes working from home as standard practice for office-based civil service tasks, and that interpersonal contacts would be made through conferencing rather than travel for face-to-face meetings. Allocating formal offices and requiring staff to work from them, and face-to-face business travel would be the exception, rather than the rule. Here are several measures that could be contained in the Initiative

--Deploy an 'is this office necessary?' policy. The provincial government would examine employee functions to see which ones can be teleworked and create a telework policy with a dedicated manager and team. The acting assumption is that the positions can be teleworked full-time until demonstrated otherwise. The Government would open employment for teleworkable positions to all residents, regardless of where they live. The Ontario Realty Corporation, which manages the government's real estate would be charged with selling or subleasing office space either for offices or for conversions to other purposes, such as commercial, educational, medical/institutional, or residential

--Locate in "green" but not greenfield, sites. For non-teleworkable functions the government would be required to house them in facilities in downtowns and in other locations highly accessible by transit, cycling and walking. Leasing renting in greenfield developments and sites would be prohibited unless the government provides offsets such as buying development-threatened greenspace. Buildings would be chosen or retrofitted to minimize energy use

--Limit work travel. Policies should be set up to favor conferencing over travel and require staff to prove that conferencing is not feasible. Only if they are not, would employees be permitted to travel, but the rules would be set up to make driving the mode of last resort for short trips. Staff would be strongly encouraged to take trains and buses, and carpool. This policy can be applied in the same way as telework either by making travel including vehicles available only on an application-by-application basis or as part of departmental budgets that they reduce or use more cost-effectively

--Provide a service to other governments, institutions, and the private sector. The Ontario Government Telework Initiative, with a model telework policy, could be made as a model and resource for other organizations on a free or at-cost consultative basis

One of the challenges with formal telework programs as applied in government is that there has been no incentive at the managerial level to make them successful. That has proven to be the case of the U.S. federal government where savings from telework programs go to the Interior Department as opposed to the departments that achieved them. 

The Telework Coalition put forward two options to ensure departmental compliance with the Telework Initiative:

--Allocate to the Ontario Realty Corp less money (10-20 percent) less than it needs to cover Government facilities expenses. The ORC makes up the difference by requiring departments to demonstrate why they need offices and who then pay for them out of their program budgets

--Incorporate facilities costs as part of departmental program budgets, and giving managers the authority to cut them and use the savings for other purposes i.e. service delivery

The benefits of both recommendations are substantial. The Comprehensive Trip Reduction plan would deliver net savings to the Ontario Government. It achieves this by reducing commuting-purpose vehicular traffic, resulting in less need for highway spending and on related emergency services and healthcare costs.  The program would boost Ontario's economy by encouraging more spending in transit and in voice/data networks.

The Ontario Government Telework Initiative would enable the government to deliver the same, if not more services for less money by reducing facilities and travel costs, and employment expenses. The Initiative would boost productivity, cut illness-related healthcare costs, and improve work-life balance. The government could offer telework as an option to or as part of overall smaller employee compensation packages, thereby reducing labor costs. Specifically it would: 

* Permit the government to offer civil service employment to more Ontarians regardless of where they live, and at the same time widening the applicant pools to obtain the best, most productive workers available. This avoids relocation costs for employees 

* Shrink the government's environmental footprint through telework, locating needed facilities on transit routes, conferencing, and use of lower-impact transportation means

* Deliver a major boost to Ontario's economy by creating demand for voice/data network technology and services, home office furniture, and more functional and powerful home office computers, the latter three categories often supplied by local retailers 

"Encourage teleworking will help the Ontario Government achieve traffic congestion relief and reduced pollution in a far shorter timeframe than relying on mass transit improvements and HOV lanes alone, " says TelCoa." Telework strategies can achieve results in as less as six months as compared to 5 or more years for transportation projects."

TelCoa did acknowledge in its submission that there will be some need for transportation investments even with teleworking, if only to accommodate occasional travel to offices. It also accepted that teleworking could encourage sprawl with the expanded freedom to live outside of commuting distances.

In response TelCoa's presentation included measures to 'fix it first' on existing highways rather than to build new ones, modestly expand commuter rail and bus from Toronto and Ottawa into outlying areas, and to curb sprawl such as through fees tacked onto developers who build on or to the purchasers who buy commercial or residential property on greenfield (open space) sites.

The province is keeping its budget deliberation under tight wraps. With it being the home to and offices of leading comm/tech firms like Bell, Corel, Mitel, Nortel, Research in Motion, Rogers, and Telus, to name a few, one hopes that Premier McGuinty and his government would use the powerful tools of telework to step out of the box to build a greener, more productive, and prosperous future.


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