Project Neutral. Transitioning neighbourhoods to carbon neutrality. One neighbourhood at a time. (Finalist)

Contestant organization: 
Project Neutral
Venture partners: 

Emerging Leaders Network /CivicAction Alliance: The Emerging Leaders Network (ELN) is a current initiative of the Greater Toronto CivicAction Alliance (CivicAction). With ELN’s and the CivicAction Alliance’s track record and success in facilitating collaborative processes to launch city building action, Project Neutral will have access to experienced city-builders with which to consult on project development and engage as mentors. ELN and CivicAction will contribute to the strategic development and execution of project activities. The Emerging Leaders Network (ELN) and the leadership network of CivicAction Alliance are rich pools of knowledge, leadership and resources that the Project Neutral team will tap into. Drawing from the Emerging Leaders Network, a group of more than 300 rising civic leaders, the Project Neutral team will connect with fellow members to build and maintain a team of subject-matter and process experts to support the implementation of the project. Finally, the ELN and CivicAction, networks of diverse, cross-sectoral and regional leaders, will communicate to and engage its members and stakeholders in communicating more broadly about Project Neutral.Additonal supporters / partners / collaborators:City of Toronto, Live GreenInternat Energy Solutions CanadaBullfrog PowerUniversity of Toronto Sustainable Infrastructure GroupUniversity of Toronto Climate LabWindfall Ecology

Describe your venture: 

Project Neutral is an ambitious initiative that aims to create the first urban carbon neutral neighbourhood in Canada. It was officially launched by volunteer members of CivicAction’s Emerging Leaders Network (ELN) in December 2010.The RationaleOver 25 million Canadians currently live in urban areas, with over 5 million in the Greater Toronto Area. In Toronto, the residential sector represents the source of approximately 25% of the City’s GHG emissions. In various cities across Canada, the residential sector represents as much as 60% of the City’s GHG emissions. Furthermore, to date, sustainable design initiatives have focused on major redevelopments or new developments. As a result, the City’s established communities are underrepresented in our collective efforts to reduce environmental impact. In these established residential areas, much of the building stock is old and inefficient, representing potential energy savings of up to 75% (average of 22%) for households.  Working at the neighbourhood level, the potential for achieving ghg reductions is significant.The Project Project Neutral is based on the following core elements:

  1. Neighbourhoods –neighbourhoods bring people together to act as a catalyst for change, resulting in actions that make sense. In Toronto, people identify with their neighbourhoods as much as they do with their city. So this was the obvious level to work at. 
  2. Local leadership – perhaps the most crucial factor.  Project Neutral is based on a partnership with neighbourhoods, with all key decisions being made by the neighbourhoods. For this first pilot we partnered with two neighbourhood groups (Riverdale and Green 13 in the Junction) that have demonstrated local leadership, experience mobilizing neighbourhoods, volunteer capacity, a long term commitment to the project, a typical mix of housing type and tenure, and a passion for the environment. 
  3. Establishing a baseline – You need to know where you are starting from in order to set a course of action and measure progress over time.  Project Neutral uses a web based survey ( to measure household carbon footprints. 
  4. Identifying realistic options: Once we develop a profile of the neighbourhood’s carbon footprint we will focus on the easy – and obvious – wins, both at a household and neighbourhood level. But we’ll also go beyond that, exploring options that will require creativity and innovative thinking, but that are also feasible, cost-effective, and most importantly, chosen by the neighbourhood. 
  5. Replicability: Following the lead of Eden Mills ( we plan to share our experiences and lessons learned with other neighbourhoods. Within three years we plan to expand to other neighbourhoods in Ontario and across Canada. The more neighbourhoods that get involved, the greater the potential impact.

 Key activities include:

  • Household Survey – Summer/ Fall 2011: - The data collected will be used to define a carbon footprint for households and businesses.  
  • Neighbourhood Summit – March 2012: Following the analysis of the surveys, we plan to host a Neighbourhood Summit. The objective will be to seek the best ideas on how to reduce carbon emissions, specifically focusing on the neighbourhood. The Summit will bring together residents and potential partners, as well as local, national and international experts.  At the end of the Summit, we will have identified a list of options that – are feasible, cost effective, and chosen by the neighbourhood
  •  GHG Reduction Strategy – Spring 2012. The Reduction Strategy will identify actions for both tenants and home-owners that address behavioural barriers and provide solutions to enable long-term sustainability of the project and successful implementation.
  • Annual Progress Updates

We are currently targeting 1,000 households in both Riverdale and the Junction (borders of the neighbourhood are listed at benefits of this project start with the health of the chosen neighbourhood’s individual residents - from additional exercise for those curbing their automobile dependence to the lowering of toxic loading on the body due to a reduction in ghg emissions. Further spin-offs benefiting the individual include economic savings; first through lower energy costs via simple home renovation improvements (eg. programmable thermostats and caulking) and later through more substantial home upgrades such as adding insulative value to their homes. Further savings may also been seen through lower transportation and consumer purchasing habits. Residents’ will benefit from having information provided to them in a reliable, accessible and comprehensive format by Project Neutral team members and partnering agencies, and by leveraging the talent, creativity and motivation of both Project Neutral volunteers and the volunteers of the chosen neighbourhood.Most substantial in terms of the economic spin-off this project has to offer, is its play on economies of scale. The individual resident and the neighbourhood at large stand to benefit substantially from the savings of community wide retrofitting (some of which may be completed by residents in the building trades from within the neighbourhood) as well as the collective purchasing power for green technologies.  This is something that will become more important as the project evolves over time – this is one of its great assets which projects of other scales cannot offer.Further neighbourhood benefits will emerge on the social end - having a collective community initiative and with it the sense of camaraderie in sharing an ambitious and necessary goal. It is another reason to get out and meet neighbours; more ‘eyes on the street’ as people are encouraged to bike or walk instead of jump in their car. This project intends to engage the full range of people living in a given neighbourhood (a full spectrum of ages, abilities, and cultures). The neighbourhood also benefits by having concrete tools and a full accounting of their ghg emissions and the progress being made. Many other initiatives start with a plan and end with only a very relative idea of the impact that was made. Project Neutral seeks to quantify results in very real terms starting with the development of a base-line inventory of energy use from which to gauge real progress.The city benefits of Project Neutral start with a reduction of load on the infrastructural system (water, hydro, gas usage).  Further benefits are having a pilot program tried and tested for replication in more neighbourhoods willing to undertake this transformation. The city is committed to reducing its carbon footprint by 80% by 2050 and so our organization’s mandate to develop carbon accounting capabilities on the scale of a neighbourhood is in line with the goals of the city and provides a pilot for a very replicable program without being slowed down through their own bureaucracy in order to help fulfill such a mandate. Further, this project provides a platform for the city and province to roll out test pilots of their own – a place to invest money ear-marked for such things as neighbourhood-wide retrofitting. Is carbon neutrality possible? Absolutely, although certainly not overnight. There are several aspects that we emphasize when discussing the objective of carbon neutrality: 

  • Start now. Start possible. The first step is always the most challenging. Our model uses a neighbourhood approach to encourage participation, similar to a ‘running group’. For Project Neutral neighbourhoods, the first step is the GHG household survey ( Progress will be tracked on an annual basis using the surveys.
  • This is a long-term commitment. On a household basis, our research shows that a 20-50% reduction in GHG emissions can be achieved within five years through zero to low cost retrofits and behavioural change. Greater reductions will require greater resource commitments, deep retrofits and more intensive behavioural change campaigns. Transitioning to carbon neutrality will take time.
  • New technologies will evolve. The exact amount of time that it will take to achieve carbon neutrality will depend on a number of factors, including the innovative technologies that emerge within 5, 10 or 15 years – some of which can be piloted in the neighbourhoods.
  • Existing technologies will improve.
  • Expert advice. We are developing partnerships with innovative individuals and organizations that can help neighbourhoods to achieve this long-term goal. The response to-date has been extremely encouraging.
  • Private sector partnerships will be key. In 1998, Canada pledged to reduce GHG emissions to six per cent below 1990 levels by 2012. As of 2008, emissions were roughly 25% above 1990 levels. At this point, we cannot wait for our government to respond to the climate crisis.

We recognize that transitioning a neighbourhood to carbon neutrality is an ambitious goal. Yet we feel passionately that the most action that a neighbourhood can take is to start on that journey. With the right momentum, support and tools, we are confident great things will happen: innovative technologies and funding mechanisms will be piloted, and neighbourhood cohesiveness and resiliency will grow in the face of the single most daunting challenge currently facing our planet.

Emissions reduction potential: 

Our research to-date indicates that the average household in an established, residential neighbourhood represents potential energy savings of up to 75% per household, with an average of 22%. Furthermore, 20 – 50% reductions in GHG emissions per household are possible through zero to low cost retrofits and behavioural change. More specifically, we anticipate that Project Neutral will result in the following: 

  • 5-10% reduction in electricity use (within 5 years);
  • 5% reduction in residential sector GHG emissions per targeted neighbourhood (within 5 years);
  • Reduction in smog causing emissions;
  • An engaged and aware neighbourhood committed to reducing energy use and individual, household and neighbourhood carbon footprint and increasing overall resiliency to climate change;
  • Tools available to neighbourhoods at zero to low cost, including the energy and ghg benchmarking tool and a guide to neighbourhood retrofits;
  • Replicability and up-scaling of the project across the province;
  • Innovative incentive schemes that enable holistic change in the way we value energy conservation and;
  • Over the longterm, reductions of electricity use in the range of 60 - 90% per household and eventual transitioning of the neighbourhood towards carbon neutrality.
The team: 
  1.  Co-Founders: Project Neutral was founded by a planner, an engineer and a community builder.

Julie Dzerowicz (the community builder) B.Com, MBA – Julie is the recent former Executive Director of the Empire Club of Canada, a non-profit organization that is committed to creating spaces for forward-thinking Canadians and international leaders. Previously, Julie served as a Senior Policy Advisor to a senior Cabinet Minister in the Ontario provincial government.  Other past roles in her professional life include working at senior levels in business development, marketing, public relations and product development in both the financial services and biotech industries.   Julie is a passionate advocate of civic engagement and for many years ran a political salon in Toronto.  Julie is also the Ontario Vice President of Policy for the Ontario Liberal Party and is the Co-Chair of the Platform Committee 2011.Regan Smith (the engineer), B.Sc, B.A.Sc.– Regan is currently a Project Manager with City of Toronto's Facility Management, Design, Construction and Asset Preservation department. Regan has over 10 years of project management experience, in particular in green building design and sustainable communities. Her project experience includes working with a number of municipalities helping them to foster sustainable communities and develop green development policies. Regan has also worked with a number of Toronto neighbourhood projects to develop sustainable community plans.  . Regan has degrees from Queen’s University in both engineering and geography. Regan is a LEED Accredited Professional and has been the project manager for 5 projects gaining LEED certification.Karen Nasmith, (ther urban planner) B Eng, MUP, RPP, MCIP, LEED AP - Karen draws on a unique background of industrial engineering and urban planning. Over the past ten years she has gained a diverse range of experience, including engaging with farmers to examine the role of public participation in Pueblo, Mexico, managing social impact assessments in the Caribbean and developing an expertise in sustainable planning including both climate change adaptation and mitigation. Karen has worked with a range of clients, communities and stakeholder groups to develop community plans, engaging with highly integrated design teams to develop realistic implementation strategies. Karen is LEED Accredited and a full member of the Canadian Institute of Planners. 2.       Volunteer team members and neighbourhood groupsProject Neutral consists of a core group of dynamic, passionate and creative volunteers with a diverse range of skills and expertise. In addition, we have partnered with two neighbourhood groups: Green 13 in the Junction and Riverdale. Bios can be found at:

Seeking collaborators: 
Potential collaborators should contact :
How will you ensure your project is self supporting within five years?: 

Project Neutral is actively working with two neighbourhoods in Toronto where we are testing our survey and fine tuning our engagement and communications methodologies. Our goal is to develop a replicable model even as we expand our reach within these catchments over the next 18-24 months. After perfecting our model we will hire and train additional staff as we expand into other neighbourhoods, cities and provinces. Our ultimate objective is to be operating at a national level within five years.Neighbourhoods – and local volunteers – are essential to our model. We rely on existing leadership to mobilize volunteers within neighbourhoods to get the word out about the project and encourage their neighbours to participate. By leveraging our volunteer base we can streamline operating costs.Our proposed revenue model is based primarily on payment for marketing of energy conservation products and services. The value proposition we offer to these eco-advertisers includes one-on-one promotion of their products or services delivered via our door to door canvassers, and other targeted communications (weekend meet and greets in the local cafe, living room socials, etc).  We would also include them in our promotional material such as postcard drops. We believe advertisers will also appreciate the fact our mandate provides them with additional credibility as well as 3rd party validation of their product or service. This value proposition will be very attractive to local independent retailers as well as franchise and e-retailers that offer energy efficient and/or green services or products. We believe this method of ‘push’ marketing will result in competitive customer acquisition costs for our advertisers and therefore increase their willingness to spend their money with us rather than on “pull” marketing strategies. Of course, as we grow and expand into new neighbourhoods, the potential for our advertisers’ service base also increases; ensuring their marketing dollars will be reinvested with us.We are also exploring the possibility that additional revenue may be generated through partnerships with companies providing advice, services or products related to reduced energy use.  Revenue may flow in the form of flat fees and continuing royalties paid to us by our partner for each of our online survey participants who opt to share their data with our partner. With respect to funding the neighbourhood and household level retrofits we are looking into opportunities for selling carbon credits, in order to support the transition to carbon neutrality. It is important to note that it is a priority for Project Neutral to ensure that any and all revenue sources compliment our purpose and values and have the full support of our neighbourhood partners.

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