May 9, 2024

Townline builds out ESG bedrock for waste, embodied carbon

“We’ve always done sustainability related things,” Brett Sagert said, “it’s just we never decided to openly talk about it. From our perspective, we’re just getting in line with what’s going in with ESG and seeing that as a way to showcase and talk about some of the things that we’re already doing that we just haven’t made public to everyone else.”

Based in Vancouver, Townline is a developer of mixed-use, residential, office, retail and institutional projects, with 5.9 million square feet of residential space built to date.

Having already taken action on its construction waste, diverting 86 per cent from landfills throughout most of 2023, the sustainability report highlights this progress while setting the company’s baseline greenhouse gas emissions and outlining its strategy to take on embodied carbon.

Townline’s carbon impact
Townline measured its Scope 1 and 2 emissions for 2023:

820,576 kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (kgCO2e) for Scope 1; and
72,644 kgCO2e for Scope 2.
Sagert explained the absence of Scope 3 calculations as the challenge of untangling the complicated supply chain greenhouse gas emissions. Townline is seeking to “figure out what we could” first. It plans to move forward with Scope 3 eventually, though he could not provide an exact timeframe.

High-level climate targets such as a 2050 net-zero goal have not been set by Townline yet. According to Sagert, the developer-builder prioritizes building energy efficiency and reducing its operational emissions over tackling an aim that is decades in the future.

“From our perspective, it’s more about understanding where we are now, really trying to hyper-focus on where we can make differences as opposed to committing to anything specific like a net-zero target.”

To reduce its climate impact from its builds, Townline is adhering to the BC Energy Step Code on embodied carbon, improving energy efficiency and reducing emissions, Sagert explained.

Townline is selecting better building envelopes, keeping its builds as airtight as possible and using efficient mechanical equipment to address energy efficiency.

A highlight project for Townline’s energy efficiency efforts is Brechin United Church, a housing community in Nanaimo, B.C. that uses Passive House-equivalent design standards to cut its energy consumption.

Reducing its embodied carbon
Townline plans to have life-cycle assessments for all its new builds to set baselines for embodied carbon, Sagert said. Having this information helps to inform decisions such as choice of products (concrete versus wood frame or mass timber for a building’s structure) to lower its environmental impact.

For embodied carbon, Townline is using more limestone-based cement, which reduces greenhouse gas emissions by about 30 per cent compared to regular concrete, and plans to source more of its building materials locally.

But the industry must catch-up in its sustainable product offerings, Sagert said. A challenge Townline faces is sourcing high-performance windows and doors to offset greenhouse gas emissions. But it has to source those parts from Europe, where the energy standards are higher than in North America. Thus, Townline ends up having to transport the European parts to Canada, somewhat offsetting the embodied carbon reduction from using the high-performance components.

But Sagert notes the market is adapting, and more Canadian companies are selling high-performance parts.

Continuing to tackle waste
After establishing waste mitigation as a priority through emphasizing more recycling and reuse on site, Townline set a clearer picture of how much waste it is taking away from landfills. Construction waste is one of Townline’s biggest assets and an area where it can make a difference, Sagert said.

Out of 4,502 tonnes of construction waste, 83 per cent was diverted from landfills in 2023. Over 40 per cent of its concrete, 32 per cent of wood, and at or under three per cent of clear plastic, metals, cardboard/paper and drywall were diverted from landfills.

Sagert said Townline ensures there are dedicated bins for its material streams that indicate what the bins are used for. To reduce water bottle consumption, refill stations are built on construction sites.

Clear plastics could be turned into pellets to be used for other projects such as artwork or benches, for example.

Concrete is where Townline sees the biggest room for improvement, Sagert said, leading the company to steps such as using excess concrete rather than disposing of it. For example, it is looking into using excess concrete for delineation on construction sites.

Townline plans to find more ways to reduce materials such as recovering more materials during demolition, expanding its recycling and formalizing waste management policies across all construction sites, according to the report. Its longer-term goal is to look into circular models for materials other than plastic, and use more reused and recycled materials.

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