Ontario Climate Change Action Plan on the Right Path

Best Summer Ever! Or Not?

If this summer is not confirmation enough, it is becoming more and more difficult to deny that climate change is happening. We have had almost 40 days this summer where temperatures exceeded 30 degrees C in Southern Ontario. On top of the heat, it has also been the sixths driest summer on record.

Now many of us also found this to be one of the best summers in recent history if hot dry sunny days are what you want. But what are the long term effects? I can say from my experience that by August I was well adapted to the high temperatures to the point that a cool day of 25 degrees was down right cold. Great for me, but what is the impact on the natural environment? We know there are impacts and we know we have to change.

Making Change is a Difficult but Necessary Action

So how do we make the necessary changes to slow down the trend if not outright reverse it? We have to change…yes change, the hardest thing for almost everyone to do. Especially considering that many of the changes circle around our carbon based society and all the conveniences and comforts this culture brings to us. Where do we start and will our efforts really make a difference?

Provincial Plan is a Great Start to Aligning Necessary Change

The Province has made a great start in publishing the Ontario Climate Change Action Plan this summer and it marks a clear change in direction that focuses on green house gas reduction goals as a universal target for creating effective change. Since the late 1990 there has been a slow but steady effort by the Province to make change and it is working…we need to now get much more engaged at a local level to help make this work.

With targets based on a 1990 emissions benchmark, reductions of 15 percent by 2020, 37 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2080 are forecast for the plan. These may appear lofty goals but I expect they are necessary and are achievable as long as everyone starts to take personal ownership.

Is Your Municipality Focusing on the Right Things?

Environmental stewardship is a priority for many municipalities with all required to develop energy management plans and incorporating best practices in making a sustainable improvement to various aspects of our environment. But can we and do we measure what impact these programs have on actually moving the bar on climate change?

The beauty of targeting green house gas emissions as a proxy to effective climate change mitigation is that as engineers we can measure this. But if you look at various municipal climate change or environmental action plans, the notion of tangible GHG reductions is not always present and if present may not be well defined as an overarching goal to achieving tangible results.

One good example is the City of Toronto were, similar to the Provincial plan, they have set targets based on a 1990 benchmark of 6 percent by 2012 (surpassed), 30 percent by 2020 (on track), and 80 percent by 2050. These targets are more aggressive then the Provincial targets and so far are being achieved.

What is your municipality doing to align itself to the Provincial plan? I believe that strong alignment will be the only way to make the necessary changes. Only by focusing on the same goals will we reach these targets. Is it time to take a look at your Environmental Strategy and make sure there is alignment on the right outcome?

Some Things Municipalities Can Align With?

There are a number of areas were the Provincial legislative framework is moving the agenda forward. Programs under Ontario Regulation 397/11, being the Energy Conservation and Demand Management Plan clearly sets out the tracking and reporting requirements for every municipality in Ontario. But are you simply following through on these submissions to met the legislative requirements or are you taking the information to heart and making real efforts to set new targets and measure real change?  After all this is what is intended by this regulation.

Can We Align with the Province on at Least One Thing?

So what has the Province identified as actions within this plan, and can municipalities find alignment as well? Here are a few actions that could easily fit within a municipal public works mandate:

  1. Installation of electric vehicle charging stations
  2. Improve commute cycling networks
  3. Showcase heritage buildings a low carbon projects
  4. Participate in Green Button Program to share and access electricity, gas and water consumption as program grows
  5. Set green development standards
  6. Make climate change a planning and engineering priority
  7. Reduce minimum parking requirements in transit corridors
  8. Participate in Provincial GHG reduction challenge fund to gain access to grants
  9. Access funds in developing Climate Action Plans from the Province
  10. Consider “low emission traffic zones” in highly congested traffic areas
  11. Rethink building energy needs and long term benefits of co-gen or ground source energy sources

Considering the legislation and attention on climate change, we should all be already doing many of these actions. If you are great…see what you can do more of. If you are not engaged in these actions, find out from your energy team where you can participate and help make the provincial targets a reality.

Winter Program Changes Improve Services and Save Money

Like every municipality we are always looking for new ways to improve service and reduce costs. For the 2015/2016 winter season we made some changes to our snow management program with these goals in mind and found some interesting successes.

Every year as part of our continuous improvement strategy, the department selects a handful of priority services and deconstructs these services based on Lean methodologies for the purpose of verifying where value is added and that the right level of service is being delivered to the right customers. Of course, being public sector and servicing a broad community, we also focus on a consistent service model for all.

Now before I give you our program details, complete this one question survey so that we can compare how the majority of readers are performing this survey.

Share your program to see how we compare


Primary Change for this Season was the elimination of Sand

We have two major road classifications in Aurora being our primary roads and secondary roads. the primary roads receive salt treatment and the secondary roads receive a 95 percent sand/salt mix and the road ratio is about 4 to 1 for secondaries.

The exercise we undertook in 2015 was to review every step of the winter operation from both a customer perspective (are we adding value to the customer experience at every step) and from a life cycle approach ( what is the full impact of each practice).

How the Program Changed

The key changes to the program were:

1. eliminate the pre-wetting operations (8 years of operation in this mode has found some significant overall disadvantages of this approach on asset life)

2. Trial a pre-treated salt product in lieu of pre-wetting

3. Shift from sand/salt mix to salt only on all routes

4. Reduce overall application rates based on new characteristics of treated product

And here is how its shaking out so far…

Service Levels Experience

The major service level improvements were noticed on the roads that shifted from sand to salt. Moving to a bare pavement objective resulted in higher positive feedback from those areas. In addition, there were comments on how much cleaner the roads and private drives were based on the absence of tracked sand. This was an immediate benefit to the community. The overall service level improvements to the customer included:

  • clearer roads
  • faster completion of routes (due to reduced loading time)
  • perception of cleaner streets (due to absence of sand on roads in spring)

Operating Experiences

The major operational improvement was reduced re-load time as the application rates for sand vs salt was almost 4:1 since much more sand needed to be applied to provide the necessary traction as snow melt was not the objective. With salt only, the objective changed from snow pack to centre bare resulting in a more visible measure for the staff.

Also, the reduction in trips to the dome drastically increased “Plow on Road” time resulting in improved completion times with the same level of equipment. This was also translated into improved service to the customer with no added equipment costs and the availability of staff to perform other valued added services to further improve the customer experience.

Another significant improvement is with the spring cleanup. We are seeing an immediate savings of approximately $30,000 as all street sweeping will now be performed internally compared to a blitz with contracted services. The blitz was previously necessary due to high complaints of street conditions with the remaining sand. Now the roads are only requiring s light sweep for debris. This savings does not include the additional savings expected with sweepings disposal which will be minimal compared to sand application volumes.

The other area where savings are expected is with catch basin cleaning. This will be verified this summer but intuitively no sand on the road means no sand in the catch basins benefiting cleaning costs.

Staff have also found the change beneficial and are very much in support of how this has simplified operations.

Environmental Stewardship Major Consideration

We were also concerned about how this change might effect the environment so our overall goal was to minimize overall salt impacts as much as possible. While application rates for the secondary roads did increase due to the removal of sand, there was an opportunity to lower application rates on primary roads due to the benefits of the pre-treated salt. We are monitoring the overall application rates and believe that we have found the right balance of public safety and environmental stewardship as we balance legislated service levels with road salt usage.

Overall this has been a great pilot and these changes will be incorporated into future operations.

Now let us know how your program works to compare results.

Survey Results- Why Strategic Initiatives Fail


First I want to thank all those who participated in the survey. The following table to a comparison of your responses to a survey that was completed by PMI called “Enabling Organizational Change Through Strategic Initiatives” and as can be expected, there are some similarities and some differences.

Continue reading Survey Results- Why Strategic Initiatives Fail

Why Strategic Initiatives Fail

One of, if not the biggest risk of achieving corporate goals is failing to effectively execute strategic initiatives. This if course is assuming your organization has a strategic agenda in the first place…but that is an entirely different topic.

Before we talk about why strategic initiatives fail, I am interested in finding out why you think strategic initiatives fail? So please give me your opinion over the next few weeks based on taking this survey based on the following potential causes of strategic initiative failure:

After the results are in I will share some interesting findings and see where the biggest opportunities really are!

Simple Rules for Smart Simplicity

In my opinion time is the most valuable resource we each have. Yet we can so easily let it slip with barely a thought. So every time I come across a useful tool or idea that helps keep me focused, I can’t help but want to share it.

I came across this video randomly and found Yves message so compelling for its simplicity. Although there are so many management approaches out there, I found these ideas straight forward and common sense. But in a profound way I also found them fundamental to creating healthy human relationships and attitude in an organization.

Take a look and tell me how you feel about his message.

Blame is not for failure…It is for failing to help or ask for help

Jorgen Vig Knudstorp, CEO of Lego

What to do about Organizational Silos? Try the Virtual Silo

We all know about silos in our organizations. You hear comments about other departments that somehow put them separate from your group or make them different. Some silos are attractive and people scramble to be part of them, and other silos are avoided at all cost.

We are also each a member of a silo although it might not feel like a silo if it is large enough or the culture is sensitive and supportive. So why do we continue to accept silos and what can we do about them?

Continue reading What to do about Organizational Silos? Try the Virtual Silo

Trash as Fashion…Why Not!

People have been making things out of recycle material for some time now. This is a great way to practice the 4 R’s but how effective is it to moving use closer to sustainability?

The fashion industry has also played along in recent years. I guess every designer is looking for that next new thing. Of course like many fashion events, the clothes that are presented are either signature pieces reserved for the wealthy or so impractical that they only serve the purpose of promoting the designer.

Continue reading Trash as Fashion…Why Not!

Winter Highway Maintenance Audit

Ontario Auditor General Report Critical on Snow Maintenance Performance

Bonnie Lysyk, Auditor General of Ontario released the Special Report on Winter Highway Maintenance April 2015 that was requested by the Standing Committee of Public Accounts. This report provides a critical eye on winter maintenance service delivery changes at the Ministry and how these changes, primarily made to reduce operating costs, have negatively impacted on service levels and potentially reduced road safety. Although specific to Ontario, I suspect many jurisdictions that deal with snow management will find value in this report.

Continue reading Winter Highway Maintenance Audit

Three Reasons Public Sector Projects Go Over Budget

Capital Projects in Public Sector are High Risk

Successful capital project delivery is a critical component of the asset growth and renewal cycle, but is is also only a small portion of the overall life cycle cost of an asset.

So how is it that capital costs (and the unfortunate experience of cost overruns) seem to attract so much attention in the public sector, yet annual operating costs generally get approved with very little attention? The primary reason for this dichotomy is the differences in these cost pools as summarized in the  following table.

Continue reading Three Reasons Public Sector Projects Go Over Budget

Co-Lab…Take a look at a new way to learn


(c ‘ l  b) n place to collaborate; share stories of your experiences on a central theme; create new ideas through new perspectives; all are equally valued in the contribution; short lived partnership for mutual benefit. v to co-lab;

By talking to people with the same interests in a small time frame, we make new connections and build new relationships.

Continue reading Co-Lab…Take a look at a new way to learn

By Municipal Engineers…For Municipal Engineers