Ottawa's green machine kicks into gear

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A group dedicated to making Ottawa’s downtown more ecologically friendly is planning to launch a trio of major projects in conjunction with local developers, landlords and other businesses.

Don Grant, executive director, Ottawa Centre EcoDistrict

by Alexia Naidoo

The Ottawa Centre EcoDistrict has signed up 31 new members known as “champions” that are located downtown and are committed to making the central business district greener and more sustainable.

Among them are major landlords Minto and Morguard, Windmill Development Group and agencies such as Invest Ottawa and Ottawa Tourism.

The network also has “ambassadors” who represent interests from across the city but also want to build a better and more innovative central core.

Ottawa Centre EcoDistrict executive director Don Grant says the group believes that when the whole community pulls together to improve things such as transportation, waste management and energy efficiency, everyone benefits. 

“We want to make this a No. 1 place to live, work and play,” he says, adding the initiative will make downtown firms more attractive to the best and brightest business talent and more desirable for companies looking to relocate. 

At a community meeting last month at city hall, the organization received 334 suggestions for making the downtown core more eco-friendly. Those have since been boiled down to 10 major ideas, including making buildings more energy-efficient, expanding downtown cycling networks, connecting downtown gardeners with new urban gardens, boosting the number of sustainable food retailers and planting more native tree species. 

For now, the group says it is committed to taking on three projects, which it is hoping to nail down soon. The non-profit organization, which is funded through grants from the Ontario Trillium Foundation, the Federation of Canadian Municipalities and private-sector partners, is asking the community to help make the final choice online at

Many of these initiatives will cost money up front – some a lot and some a little. But they’ll be worth it in the long run, says Minto’s vice-president of sustainability Alison Minato.

“Every business needs to look at what makes sense for them, what kind of impact it will make,” she says. “There might be a direct benefit by investing up front on retrofits, for example, that could result in savings over the long term. It could be a benefit if you’re creating a more comfortable place for your employees to work in or for your customers to live in, or just a better sense of community. All of those things are good for business.” 

In turn, that will benefit the city as a whole, she says.

“Anything that makes downtown Ottawa a better place is good for Minto, because a stronger, more vibrant community brings people to live and work in Ottawa,” Ms. Minato says.

Minto’s head office at 180 Kent St. is located within the eco-district and includes a city block with a mix of commercial, residential and public space. 

“And that’s great for our business because we sell homes and office space and we want people to be there to buy those homes and lease that office space,” Ms. Minato says.

The idea for the eco-district, which includes the area from Gloucester Street north to the Ottawa River and from Bronson Avenue east to the Rideau Canal (with a jog to include city hall, the Westin Hotel, the Ottawa Convention Centre and Lisgar High School, as well as Windmill’s new Zibi development), was hatched in 2012 when the federal government began exiting downtown Ottawa for the suburbs, leaving vacancies in older and less energy-efficient buildings. 

The plan to create the district and look at the larger issue of neighbourhood sustainability grew from there.

“We’re working to build a reputation for what will be one of the greenest, most sustainable, most socially vibrant downtowns in Canada,” says Mr. Grant. “That will hopefully bring people back into the downtown core.” 

As an example, he points to Windmill’s $1-billion development of the Domtar lands, which is expected to be among the most environmentally friendly mixed-use real estate projects in the country. Ottawa eco-district organizers are hoping to work with other partners on a range of initiatives and to ask questions about various aspects of city life and how they can be adapted to fit their overall strategy. 

“Is there more that we can do to encourage conservation by working with Hydro Ottawa?” says Mr. Grant. “Is there more that we can do to address waste and recycling? The answers benefit business.” 

Even something as esoteric as a garden has a positive impact on local commerce, he says. 

“If we get a really interesting gardening program going and people who work downtown can put on their gloves and take care of a plot of land or a planter, that’s going to give them more job satisfaction,” he says. 

Organizers are hoping the momentum they’re gathering will spread to other parts of Ottawa. 

“We want to take the lessons learned from this eco-district and have them available for any other part of the city that’s interested in looking at them,” says Mr. Grant. “Whatever we learn in the core, we want to share.”

Organizations: Ottawa Centre, Windmill Development Group, Invest Ottawa and Ottawa Tourism Ontario Trillium Foundation Federation of Canadian Municipalities Ottawa Convention Centre and Lisgar High School Domtar

Geographic location: Ottawa, Minto, Gloucester Street Ottawa River Bronson Avenue Canada

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