Built for a carbon-constrained future

The goal is well defined: to stop the rise of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. With the Canadian government’s commitment to reduce carbon emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030, all emission sources come under scrutiny. Buildings – and the energy use associated with their construction, maintenance and operation – account for about one-third of greenhouse gas emissions in Canada, says Thomas Mueller, president and CEO of the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC), who believes that efforts to improve the sustainability parameters of buildings need to focus on their carbon footprint.

 Jurisdictions across Canada are looking to codes, policies and regulations for moving toward a low-carbon future. The City of Vancouver’s Zero Emissions Building Plan, for example, aims to achieve zero emissions for all new Vancouver buildings by 2030. istockphoto.com

Jurisdictions across Canada are looking to codes, policies and regulations for moving toward a low-carbon future. The City of Vancouver’s Zero Emissions Building Plan, for example, aims to achieve zero emissions for all new Vancouver buildings by 2030. istockphoto.com

“Up until now, much of the discussion about green building practices has revolved around energy efficiency, which is very important, but I believe we need a more focused approach,” says Mr. Mueller. To illustrate the point, he compares a building heated with electricity in a jurisdiction like Quebec, for example, where energy from hydro projects is 95 per cent carbon free, to an identical building with the same level of energy efficiency powered by natural gas.

“Using natural gas as an energy source produces approximately 36 times as much carbon emissions compared to a clean form of energy such as hydro or renewables. This shows that energy efficiency by itself is not a sufficient measure for calculating a building’s carbon footprint and charting a path forward,” he explains. “To address this, we developed the Zero Carbon Building (ZCB) Standard, a made-in-Canada standard with carbon as the core metric.”

The standard, which was developed in close consultation with leading experts in the field and other stakeholder organizations, offers third-party verification of compliance for zero carbon design and performance, says Mr. Mueller. The ZCB Program opened to public registration on October 31 – coming at a time when governments are looking at codes, policies and regulation for moving towards a low-carbon future.

As the national organization dedicated to leading and accelerating the shift to sustainable buildings, the CaGBC recognized the need for offering designers, landlords and operators a road map to achieving low or zero carbon building performance, says Mr. Mueller. “This is also consistent with where the government and investors are looking to go.”

The City of Vancouver’s Zero Emissions Building Plan, for example, aims to achieve zero emissions for all new Vancouver buildings by 2030, a goal that a proposed mixed-use project on West 8th and Pine is looking to achieve ahead of time, says Kirk Robinson of Delta Land Development, who owns the project.

“Although we’ve been proponents and early adopters of high performance and sustainable building features, we recognize that incremental improvement is not moving the dial far enough and that we need a fundamental and transformative shift in how we design, specify and build out our projects,” says Mr. Robinson. “With this in mind, the principles that the project team has started to identify for our 8th and Pine mixed-use development align perfectly with the CaGBC ZCB Pilot Project Program, in particular as we want this project to ultimately serve as a demonstration to the private sector development industry that these measures are viable, on-market and the way forward.”    

In order to achieve a large-scale market transformation, the standard is designed to be broadly applicable across many types of both new and existing buildings, says Mr. Mueller. When the CaGBC launched the ZCB Program earlier this year, 16 projects from across the country signed up for the pilot program, he adds. “They include different types of buildings of various sizes and types of ownership. For example, we have government-owned buildings, institutional buildings, commercial real estate and residential developments. We also have three projects that are retrofits of existing buildings. The interest from such a wide variety of projects gives us a lot of confidence in how the standard is received and that the industry is prepared to achieve zero carbon performance.”

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