For many, the TransformTO Net Zero Strategy, which sees the city bring its emissions to net zero by 2040, feels relatively distant. 

But a mandated shift under the strategy – the construction of all new buildings with near-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 – means Toronto builders are actually staring down the nose of a tight deadline. 

Shifting to green building standards is no easy feat – it involves innovative thinking, fast action, and strategic budgeting, just to name a few elements at play. But Mississauga-based construction company EllisDon is poised to meet this challenge, and has been proving so for years.

Today, they're using their expertise to help build a more sustainable future.

READ: Toronto’s Net-Zero Building Goals Call for Innovative Construction

In construction, emissions come from many places: the construction process, materials, and operational strategies, to start – so of course, the work to lower these emissions must originate from multiple angles. EllisDon understands this, and – with decades of experience shaping Canadian real estate, a dedicated in-house Construction Sciences division, and having even recently branched into the development sector – their team is attacking from all sides. 

In addition to cleaner construction processes, EllisDon focuses on the adoption of mass timber. 

This laminated wood material offers a lower-carbon alternative to concrete or steel, since it doesn't only emit less carbon during production, but stores carbon within it that would otherwise be released back into the atmosphere once a tree decays. Mass timber has been used for decades in Europe for mid- and high-rise buildings, but is relatively new in Canada in that context, with the National Building Code of Canada (NBCC) only increasing the storey limit to six in 2015. By 2020, the NBCC introduced some changes to permit 12 storeys.

EllisDon's Construction Sciences division has a team specifically dedicated to mass timber, investing their time into expanding both the functional and aesthetic uses of the material -- something the company says has made them a go-to source for insights in the mass timber professional community. So much so, in fact, that they were recruited as the only North American company on a large EU-funded consortium dedicated to developing standard timber building systems. With the urban population steadily growing and climate change becoming a pressing topic, the consortium, Build-in-Wood, has the goal of drastically increasing the proportion of timber construction and offering high-quality, affordable and environmentally friendly housing.

net zeroImage via EllisDon

In the Toronto area, EllisDon is working on a number of exciting mass timber buildings, including Ontario's first-ever zero-carbon, mass timber academic building. Going up at Centennial College in Scarborough, the new building tops out at six storeys, providing 150,000 sq. ft of new learning space for the School of Engineering Technology and Applied Science.

"That was a really exciting project that had a strong Indigenous influence on the design from an Indigenous architect, Smoke Architecture," says EllisDon’s Construction Sciences Director Mark Gaglione. "It's the first large institutional mass timber project we're building in Ontario, and all the timber has now been erected, and the team is completing the finishes on the inside currently."

A two-building commercial office complex on Toronto's Sterling Road is also underway, which will reach six and eight storeys. This project in particular demonstrates an innovative mass timber solution, using an external steel braced frame instead of a structural concrete core where a building's elevator and stairs would normally go. 

Over at Humber College, EllisDon is working on the Humber Cultural Hub. The first four storeys, which house some academic programming and big open performance venues, will be made of concrete, while the remaining four storeys, home to a 300-bed student residence, will be mass timber.

"All three of these projects are very large-scale, and in total, we erected about half a million sq. ft of timber in Toronto in the last year -- which is significant," Gaglione said.

Beyond project work, EllisDon’s Construction Sciences team looks forward and projects future needs, and generates innovations that will advance the industry through research and development. Currently, they’re working on innovative housing concepts that utilize mass timber being produced at their Stoney Creek Production facility.

Further, the team recently collaborated with design firm Dialog to create a patent-pending, hybrid timber panel that allows them to build 40-ft clear across, without using a support column -- something that hadn't been done before with mass timber.

"We wanted to see if we could push the industry forward," Gaglione said.

This article is part of an ongoing series on sustainable building practices. To read more in this series, click here. Happy Earth Month!

Cover Image: Mass Timber via Jarama/Shutterstock

This article was produced in partnership with STOREYS Custom Studio.

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