Agents of change

A small neighbourhood in Toronto has built a program to help residents reduce their household emissions. Could their grassroots approach become a template for the rest of the country?

By Andre Mayer, Jan. 16, 2023

On a snow-flecked Sunday afternoon in mid-December, Paul Dowsett gathered a group of neighbours in his backyard for a toast.

Although the event featured mulled wine and a crackling bonfire, this was no holiday party. Rather, it was an event to celebrate homeowners in the Pocket — an east Toronto neighbourhood — who have committed to an energy retrofit to reduce their carbon footprint.

A Pocket resident since 1997, Dowsett is an architect by trade and a local sage on matters of sustainability. Dressed in a striking green lumber jacket, the 61-year-old extolled his neighbours’ climate consciousness, and after a breezy explainer on the environmental harms of natural gas, related some breaking news.

“I am really excited to tell you that as of yesterday, my house … is producing zero greenhouse gas emissions,” Dowsett said. The crowd whooped.

The event, which drew about 30 people, was not only a testament to the fact that some Pocket residents want to renovate their homes to help the planet, but also that the community has their backs.

According to Natural Resources Canada, buildings — including our homes — account for about 18 per cent of the country’s total greenhouse gas emissions. The federal government has announced a target of making Canada net-zero by 2050 and offers a number of grants to help homeowners lower their emissions. But pledges alone aren’t enough to empower people to make the necessary changes.

We’re really happy that we have the support of [this] group. It just makes the process easier, if you’re trying to go the net-zero route.

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