Words: Laurence Chartrand
Photography: Adrian Knowler

Despite dealing with a population increase, having one of the largest industrial parks in the province and being home to more than 4600 companies, the Montreal borough of Saint-Laurent has managed to become a leader in Quebec in terms of reducing its greenhouse gas emissions and protecting the environment.

In January, Saint-Laurent became the first Quebec municipality with a population over 100, 000 to complete the Partners for Climate Protection (PCP) program put in place by the Federation of Canadian Municipalities. The Montreal borough has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 21 per cent since 1990 by implementing multiple measures in the district.

“We went from small actions to really huge ones,” says Aref Salem, deputy mayor of Saint-Laurent. Over the last few years, Saint-Laurent has put in place a financial assistance program for the purchase of cloth diapers, which has allowed the borough to save five tons of garbage since its implementation. The Montreal district also subsidizes the purchase of eco-friendly lawn mower by its residents.

The borough has also implemented organic waste collection in buildings with eight or fewer units, developed 56 kilometers of bicycle paths and reduced the garbage collection from once a week to once every two weeks.

Listen: Aref Salem explains what Saint-Laurent is doing in order to improve the public transportation in the borough.

Aref Salem is the deputy mayor of Saint-Laurent.

Salem says the population of Saint-Laurent has supported the borough’s administration as it took action to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions in the district. “Putting the program of composting in place is not easy, because you’re touching every house, every resident in the zone,” he explained. “When we reduced the garbage collection from once a week to once every two weeks, we thought we would see reactions from the residents, but we didn’t receive any complaints.”

A borough with eco-friendly buildings

The environmental efforts of Saint-Laurent can also be noticed directly in the borough’s buildings. Saint-Laurent only allows construction permits for projects that can be certified silver, gold or platinum LEED. Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is a green building certification system based on multiple aspects of a construction project, such as its location, water efficiency, materials and its indoor environmental quality.

One example is the Du Boisé library, which opened in 2013 and is now the second most frequented library in Montreal, after the Bibliothèque et archives nationales du Québec (BAnQ). The Du Boisé library, located next to the Marcel-Laurin Park in Saint-Laurent, is a gold LEED certified building. “There’s no traditional heating system in this library,” says Salem. The building rather uses a geothermal system: more than a hundred wells installed on the library building collect heat during the summer, which is used in the winter as a heating system.

The Du Boisé library features a walking path that leads to the forest.

The 35 million-dollar library also includes walking paths that lead directly to the forest located outside the building. “In the summer, people can go out, take a book, read, and take a walk,” Salem says. “You don’t feel in the city when you’re in this library.”

Indeed, the library consumes 62 per cent less energy than a traditional building, according to Salem. Between the Du Boisé library and the Saint-Laurent sports complex, which are located beside one another, the borough saves up to 200 tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year.

The Du Boisé library is a gold LEED certified building.

In terms of building eco-friendly installations in the borough, Saint-Laurent is now obligating its citizens who want to renovate their roofs to opt for white roofs. Unlike dark roofs, white roofs reflect the majority of the sun’s rays, which lowers the temperature in the residences. The administration also plans on renovating municipal offices by adding new eco-friendly heating systems.

A leader in Quebec and in Canada

The measures put in place by the borough of Saint-Laurent have brought results, particularly when compared to the rest of Quebec and Canada. According to the city of Montreal, the per capita greenhouse gas emissions in Saint-Laurent were 5.4 metric tons in 2017. That same year, the numbers stood at 9.6 metric tons in Quebec and 19.4 metric tons in Canada.

“When you’re the first one to put in place such programs, it takes time to put it in place and to fine tune it, so I think we could share our experience with other municipalities and save them time,” says Salem.

An objective of 30 per cent GHG reduction for 2020

The borough of Saint-Laurent plans on reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent by 2020. In order to attain this goal, the district wants to implement organic garbage collection for buildings with nine and more dwelling units, and to continue to apply bylaws and actions put in place in the last few years. For example, Saint-Laurent is going to keep on planting trees with its One Child, One Tree Program. “We dedicate a tree for every kid born in Saint-Laurent,” says Salem.

Listen: Aref Salem talks about the declaration of Saint-Laurent as a “sustainable municipal territory” in January.

However, the Saint-Laurent administration is worried the Royalmount mega mall project might interfere with the efforts the borough has put into reducing its greenhouse gas emissions. The developer behind the Royalmount project plans on building a $1.7 billion shopping district with stores, restaurants, hotels, theatres, and 6000 units of housing. The mega mall would be located at the intersection of highways 40 and 15, in the Town of Mount Royal, right next to the district of Saint-Laurent.

The mayor of Saint-Laurent, Alan DeSousa, publicly opposed the project in January. Salem says part of the concern is the traffic the mega mall project will bring. “We have concerns about having thousands of cars coming to this place every day,” he explains. Saint-Laurent is asking to put in place a committee for the project with representatives of surrounding boroughs such as Hampstead, Côte-Saint-Luc, Saint-Laurent, and the Town of Mount Royal. “At least we could share our concerns together and we could help each other to make a better project,” says Salem.

Overall, Salem says the intentions of the Saint-Laurent district in terms of reducing their ecological footprint is quite clear. “In every action, in every decision we’re making, we take care of the environment.”