The 75%-5% Plan: Lessons from building North America’s greenest hotel

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Build an Ontario cleantech industry, cut urban carbon emissions by a half, and it won’t cost a dime. Sound like I’m selling Florida swamp-land? Hold your fire. This is the real deal.

All of these lessons come from my own project: The Planet Traveler hostel, at 357 College, where we’re building the greenest hotel in North America. That means: 75% reduction in energy use from business as usual. And we’re doing it by economic argument alone (ie, we’re making money being green). We got no subsidies, no grants. If we can do it, anyone can.

Buildings are responsible for between one-half to three-quarters of carbon emissions in large urban centers. Retrofitting those buildings with Ontario-based, existing technologies can cut almost any buildings energy use by three-quarters. How much would it cost? About five per cent of the building’s value. Borrowing that money at market rates means the project is cash-flow positive from day one.

Bogged down by a fog of feasibility studies, lack of clear federal, provincial or city guidelines, we sit and stare at our cityscape. In the meantime our climate is starting to bake. Best management practices say you figure out payback periods to the second decimal place, before the CFO goes to the board. This is paralysis by analysis. Urgent action is required on the carbon front now, and we know enough to: Look as you Leap!

The following five technologies can be implemented in any building, and pay for themselves. Who cares if the payback is three years or six years? Borrow the capital and you’re making money from day one.

Geo-exchange: Heat and cool the building with the ground beneath your feet. Use city laneways and parks if you haven’t got a lawn. Savings? 50-75% off the heating/cooling bill. Supplier? Canadian company Clean Energy Developments (

Solar thermal: Use the sun to pre-heat your hot water. Savings? 20-50% of hot water. Supplier? Canadian company Enerworks (

Wastewater Heat Re-capture: Grab the heat going down the drain with the Powerpipe, a simple copper heat exchanger. Savings? 30-40% of hot water. Supplier? Renewability Energy (

LED Lighting: We can light up the entire building, inside and out, with the same energy as a two-slice toaster. Savings? 50-80% off lighting. Supplier? Haven’t picked one yet, but there are lots of Canadian players.

Solar PV: Under the Ontario Green Act, we can put solar PV cells on the roof and get paid enough to make it worth doing. We’ll put 10kw up there. Supplier? Haven’t picked one yet. (Read more on the Green Act here and here.)

Our total energy savings will be around 75%. Our incremental cost will be around $200,000. Monthly energy savings? Around $2500. Cost of borrowing the $200,000? A lot less than we save. The building’s worth about $4M, so it’s just five per cent of the building’s value.

How can you feel confident these technologies pay for themselves? Because they’re installed in hundreds of thousands of other buildings.

So get on with it Toronto. Get on with it Canada. Stop the dithering. Don’t be paralyzed by analysis.

The government’s role? If banks aren’t stepping up to let us tap the five per cent, then they should backstop the loans.

Build a cleantech industry. Save money. Potential for Canada: A full 30% reduction in carbon emissions. And a whole lotta jobs.

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