A transition to a just and inclusive net zero future involves addressing many complex challenges at once: greenhouse gas emissions reductions, social equity, affordability, Reconciliation and climate adaptation to name a few. With help from HCi3’s Accelerating to Zero grant, One North End (ONE) and The ReCover Initiative collaborated on a project that aims to address two of these intersecting challenges. The first is a systemic employment gap facing the African Nova Scotian community, where members are four times more likely to be unemployed than the provincial average. The second is the need to quickly scale up the local workforce to meet Halifax’s target of conducting deep energy retrofits on all buildings by 2040.

The Deep Retrofit Training and Capacity Building for African Nova Scotians Program paired African Nova Scotians with industry professionals working on the deep energy retrofit of a community centre in Halifax. ReCover is completing a front-end engineering design study for the Harrietsfield-Williamswood Community Center to achieve a minimum 75% reduction in energy use.

The approach includes the installation of customized prefabricated panels as a new “skin” around the building exterior and upgraded internal mechanical systems, using materials that reduce embodied carbon. The upgrades are minimally disruptive for occupants and use a total cost of building ownership analysis, which includes utilities, mortgage payments, interest, property tax, carbon tax, inflation, insurance, conversion to non-fossil fuels, maintenance, and component replacement to find the best business case. This Halifax retrofit project will serve as a proof-of-concept initiative with the aim of scaling the approach across Canada.

Throughout the program, three African Nova Scotian participants received mentorship and practical job shadowing in their respective areas of interest, which included engineering, architecture, and construction management. Mentors and mentees first met in person at a kick-off Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) workshop that was open to members of both organizations. In addition to ONE and ReCover, companies represented at this workshop included Habit Studio, M&R Engineering, and RSI Projects. Pairings were not assigned until after the workshop, giving participants the opportunity to first meet potential mentors, narrow down what they were looking for and to feel safe with their pairing. Following the job shadowing, insights were collected from both mentors and mentees and a video series was co-produced to capture the experience. The videos were premiered in February 2023 at “Meeting People Where They’re At”, a public event which brought together community, HCi3 and other supporters of the program.

ONE and ReCover forged a positive and trusting relationship to make this project a reality, designing it in a way that worked for everyone involved. When asked about the relationship between the two organizations, Rodney Small, the Executive Director of ONE, stated “I work in community, and ReCover works in climate change, and now we have met halfway to work together.” Both organizations emphasize the importance of trust as the foundation for any project, including the relationship with HCi3 as a funder. Rodney stated that “It all starts with relationship building – we are going to disagree, but it shows we have a healthy relationship when we can get through it.” Emma Norton, the project lead with ReCover, focuses on the shared vision. “We all want the same thing,” says Norton. “What I imagine is everyone has housing, the city is designed for people and not cars, and that we aren’t seeing gentrification, we are seeing more affordability.”

The collaboration held equity as its core driver, led and co-designed by ONE, an embedded community organization that represents African Nova Scotians, and ReCover, an organization that embraces an anti-racist approach as a necessity for successful decarbonization at the scale and pace required. The experience of program participants and their resulting learnings offered insights into equitable program design and how it may be improved. The success of this partnership is a small but powerful example of what it means to embed equity at the centre of green workforce initiatives.

Moving forward, ONE and ReCover have secured funding from additional sources to expand the program into a next phase, ensuring that African Nova Scotians are integral members of the future of the building industry, especially as it shifts to incorporate changes like deep energy retrofits. By pouring energy into projects like these, organizations like ONE and ReCover are helping create an industry that is at its roots inclusive, anti-racist, and welcoming for all.