My favourite hotel just got even better. On our wedding night, my husband and I stayed at the iconic Fairmont Royal York in the heart of downtown Toronto. The chateau style building was a favourite for us, and seemed fitting to kick off our married life. We thought it would be good luck to stay at the most historic and longest lasting buildings in the city.

When it was built way back in 1929, featuring 28 storeys, it was the tallest building in the British Empire until the Bank of Commerce overtook it a couple of years later.

Now it has just completed the largest heritage hotel retrofit in North America – achieving a Zero Carbon Building – Performance Standard certification by the Canada Green Building Council. This transformative project will reduce the building’s carbon emissions by over 7,000 tonnes every year – the equivalent of taking 1,558 cars off the road.

Led by KingSett Capital, the transformative project provides a roadmap for completing innovative, complex and financially viable hotel deep carbon retrofits. This decarbonization project represents the largest heritage hotel retrofit of its kind within the Fairmont global brand portfolio and offers a definitive roadmap for creating sustainable energy sources for similar properties.

Details of the decarbonization retrofit project

There are a few key elements to to the new energy efficient system. Cooling is provided by cool water from deep in Lake Ontario, through connection to Toronto’s Deep Lake Water Cooling system, replacing centrifugal chillers. Heating and hot water comes from an electric heat pump installation plant; legacy steam systems have been decommissioned.

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Other innovations in energy management systems optimize efficiency. The project removes 80 per cent of direct emissions from building operations, with the remaining emissions to be addressed with offsets certified by Carbon Zero.

The historic Fairmont Royal York receives zero carbon building certification. (Credit: KingSett Capital.) 

Jon Love, founder and CEO of KingSett Capital, said, “Fairmont Royal York’s decarbonization demonstrates the potential to complete a large and complex project in a way that is environmentally impactful, socially responsible and economically viable. It is a compelling example of what can be accomplished through collaboration, innovation and creativity. For KingSett, this investment highlights how decarbonization can strengthen a key asset in our portfolio as part of our sustainability and value enhancement strategy.”

“This complex project would not have been possible without our strong partnership with Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB), PCL Construction, and Enwave Energy Corporation,” added Mr. Love.

As a destination committed to the local community, Fairmont Royal York employs over 1,200 colleagues and hosts 1.5 million guests annually, while championing the global brand’s sustainability efforts for diversity, equity and inclusion.

Fairmont Royal York - Luxury Hotel in Toronto (Canada)The 94 year old Fairmont Royal York is centrally located in Toronto, across from Union station. In recognition of its commitment to sustainability, KingSett was ranked #1 globally in the 2023 Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (GRESB) Survey for Development.

In addition to achieving the CAGBC Zero Carbon Building – Performance Standard certification, the hotel has a broad range of other sustainability initiatives. These include eliminating single-use plastics for guests, reducing food waste with AI technology and donation partners, and supporting the local ecosystem with 500,000 honeybees from the hotel’s rooftop garden and apiary.

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According to the project team, the crowning achievement is proof of concept: even large legacy buildings can transition for the sustainable century ahead.

Connie Vitello is editor of Environment Journal.

Image credits: Fairmont Royal York Hotel


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