Winner of FCM’s 2022 Sustainable Communities Awards' community buildings retrofit category

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average percent emissions reduction that can be achieved

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tons of CO2e can be reduced by 2050 collectively

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Many Canadian municipalities have declared a climate emergency and are seeking ways to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. One major contributor to these emissions is ice rinks, which make up about one-quarter of energy usage from municipal buildings. In order to find cost-effective ways to reduce the carbon footprint of these facilities, a group of municipalities teamed up to analyze the issue and create net zero road maps for themselves, as well as a pathway for other rinks to follow. Results found a potential average savings per rink of 243.3 tons of CO2e by 2050, and show that not only are net zero retrofits cost-effective when planned well, but also have social, environmental and economic benefits beyond emissions reduction.


When communities in Canada look at their greenhouse gas emissions from municipal buildings, ice rinks stand out. The math alone makes them an important emissions reduction target, as they typically make up 20 to 30 percent of energy use within the municipal building portfolio. But they are significant from the point of view of communications as well, as these well-used community hubs can showcase climate action by serving as an example of how to retrofit buildings and improve operations to meet efficiency and climate goals. 

The challenge

Despite a desire to make change, many municipalities lack the resources to conduct a thorough plan for these kinds of capital upgrades. For this reason, a group of seven southern Ontario municipalities teamed up with the non-profit Climate Challenge Network to conduct a pilot project with two primary goals:

  1. Figure out how best to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from municipal ice rinks and, ultimately, get them to net zero.
  2. Develop a pathway for other rinks to follow.


The seven municipalities — Toronto, Brampton, Markham, Barrie, Caledon, Halton Hills and King — submitted a total of nine rinks to the study. 

This cohort approach had the value not only of sharing effort, risk and learnings, but of garnering a broad range of useful data. The rinks submitted were of various types, from older to more state-of-the-art, including one that hosted an Ontario Hockey League team and had its own requirements.

The project also incorporated a “zero-over-time” approach, meaning that roadmaps were created for minimal waste and maximum equipment life span by aligning capital improvements with required equipment renewal, and prioritized improvements in operations to achieve reductions as early as possible. 

The team conducted three phases of work:

  1. Reviewed energy and building data, key drawings, capital plans and any previous energy audits or building condition assessments, plus conducted site visits to verify and gather further information.
  2. Ran integrated design workshops and capital review workshops with building managers, technical experts and other stakeholders to create and assess solutions and plans.
  3. Created a feasibility study for each rink, providing a summary of the building’s current status and emissions targets, a timeline of how to achieve reductions incrementally, a list of potential measures and a lifecycle financial analysis.


The primary barrier was the difficulty in finding relevant building and trend data. In particular, drawings were missing for some of the older buildings, and many facilities lacked data for many systems.  


The results from this project show that not only is it achievable for municipal ice rinks to transition to net zero, but it is financially feasible as well. In fact, over the lifespan of an ice rink, reducing emissions has positive economic benefits when you consider the total costs to operate, maintain and renew building equipment.

The feasibility studies demonstrated that an average of 85 percent emissions reduction can be achieved. This ranges from 26 percent for purely operational measures to 99 percent in a best-case scenario. 

Collectively, by following the roadmaps, the participating municipalities and rinks will be able to lower total emissions by 2,189 tons of CO2e by 2050.

Project participants have created a guidebook in partnership with FCM on achieving net zero ice rinks, and other municipalities have been reaching out for support to conduct their own studies. 


In addition to lowering emissions, benefits of net zero building upgrades include:

  •  Additional environmental benefits, such as less pollution
  •  Waste reduction, due to maximizing the life span of infrastructure
  •  Positive social impacts, including health, worker productivity and comfort
  • Economic benefits, including lower energy bills

While these kinds of retrofits often have higher upfront capital costs than business-as-usual building maintenance, savings from lower energy bills can offset these costs, especially when calculated over the entire life span of the building. The key is to plan ahead and time energy-efficient retrofits for when equipment is already scheduled to be upgraded. 

Retrofitting buildings for energy efficiency rather than building new has the added benefit of avoiding the upfront carbon emissions1 associated with creating any new materials. 

Lessons learned

The cohort has the following recommendations for municipalities looking to create their own net zero plans:

  1. Gather building data and documentation as early as possible, to avoid slowing down the process.
  2. Plan to implement a building automation system (BAS) as early as possible. A whole-building BAS helps maximize data collection and allows for easier identification of trends and potential savings opportunities.
  3. Work collectively where possible, in a cohort with whom you can share ideas, expertise and risk. Incorporate an integrated design approach that includes all stakeholders to help with buy-in and avoid costly omissions.
  4. Plan measures over time, with operational improvements first (to achieve early results) and capital retrofits timed with budgets and planned replacements.
  5. Incorporate life cycle costing to show both emissions and cost savings over the longer term.

The team also highlighted the value of a coaching and peer-support approach to knowledge sharing. For example, one way to achieve significant emissions reductions in ice rinks is by switching from hot-water to cold-water ice resurfacing. While the cold-water method is just as effective when done properly, operators can see such a change as risky when the quality of ice is so important to facility users. Climate Challenge Network hosted a webinar on this method featuring rink operators already using the cold-water technology so that they could answer questions from their peers and offset any hesitation.

Next steps

Participating municipalities and rinks are now moving into the next phase of this project: finding funding to implement their road maps. They and Climate Challenge Network are working on various means of knowledge sharing beyond the guidebook, including webinars. In addition, plans are underway to conduct a similar cohort study on another big piece of municipal infrastructure: swimming pools. 

Want to explore all GMF-funded projects? Check out the Projects Database for a complete overview of funded projects and get inspired by municipalities of all sizes, across Canada. 

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