carbon zero

Interest in zero carbon buildings on the rise

New tools and resources on tap amid push towards greater sustainability
Tuesday, November 20, 2018
By Fin MacDonald

After one year of operation, the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC)’s Zero Carbon Building (ZCB) Program has marked several milestones and is working to bring critical new tools and resources to the market.

Targeting greenhouse gas emissions from both new and existing buildings, CaGBC’s standard is designed to encourage a transformation in the way the industry assesses building performance, driving strategic investments in innovative low carbon technologies and changing approaches to design.

As the latest report from the recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change makes clear, this evolution of the building industry is urgently needed. This imperative is leading to growing interest in the ZCB Program: in addition to the 16 original Zero Carbon Building Pilot Program participants, an additional 10 projects have registered to pursue certification.

First certifications demonstrated viability and replicability

The first three ZCB certifications were announced in 2018, with all three projects underscoring different aspects of the Zero Carbon Building Standard and illustrating its broad application.

evolv1, a commercial office building in Waterloo, Ontario, and a ZCB Pilot Program participant, was the first project to achieve ZCB-Design certification in April 2018. Employing a highly integrated design process that incorporated active and passive systems to optimize value against construction costs, evolv1 demonstrates that a business case can be made for buildings that contribute no net carbon emissions to the atmosphere.

In May 2018, Mohawk College’s Joyce Centre for Partnership & Innovation in Hamilton (pictured) became the second project and the first institutional building in Canada to earn ZCB-Design certification. The facility is now serving as a laboratory for the next generation of green building and renewable energy professionals.

Lastly, the certification of Canada’s first-ever ZCB-Performance project in June 2018, 100 Murray St. in Ottawa, highlights how existing buildings can reach zero carbon emissions. The high-performing building, which had already obtained LEED for Existing Buildings Gold certification, built upon its proven energy performance to achieve a balance of zero carbon emissions over a 12-month period of operations, using the ZCB Standard to reduce emissions.

The building at 100 Murray St.’s achievement also showcases the synergies between LEED and the ZCB program. Many LEED projects are already highly energy efficient and carry a small carbon footprint, making them excellent candidates for ZCB certification.

Embodied carbon presents an opportunity

CaGBC’s Zero Carbon Building Standard requires projects to report the embodied carbon of their structural and envelope components. Pilot projects, and other early adopters, have reported that this is a new, eye-opening exercise and there is a clear appetite within the market to include embodied carbon in an expanded definition of a zero carbon building. It is an important source of emissions and may actually rise with efforts to decrease operational emissions.

In order to further study the challenges related to embodied carbon quantification in Canada, CaGBC recently convened a roundtable of experts and stakeholders from the pilot projects. The goal was to collect feedback on how the embodied carbon issue can be addressed within the Zero Carbon Building Standard over time. Canadian benchmarks need to be developed before targets can be set, and a consistent methodology and source of life cycle inventory (LCI) data will have to be established. There is also a desire among stakeholders to keep the process simplified. CaGBC is working with governments, stakeholders and industry experts to develop a path forward.

Research and engagement demystify process

To provide strong data on the financial viability and need for zero carbon building practices in today’s competitive market, CaGBC is working on a number of key research projects. One of these is a Zero Carbon Lifecycle Costing Study that’s focused on addressing uncertainties related to the cost of zero carbon buildings. Scheduled to be released in the New Year, the study will compare the capital and lifecycle costs of zero carbon buildings to the costs of similar code level buildings. The project is a collaboration between CaGBC, WSP, REALPAC, the Real Estate Foundation of BC, Natural Resources Canada and other Government of Canada departments.

In addition, CaGBC has received a grant from the Ontario Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development to undertake a study that will determine the skill requirements, availability and training needed for tradespeople in the construction of low carbon and zero carbon buildings in Ontario. The outcome of this study, which includes a comprehensive industry survey, will inform the development of an education and training plan to optimize uptake of low carbon building skills.

These two projects, along with zero carbon showcase events and workshops that are being held across the country, aim to offer further insights into the growing business case for zero carbon and emphasize the feasibility of undertaking these projects.

The imperative to aim for zero today

From ensuring enhanced occupant comfort and building resilience to future-proofing against changing policies and regulations, the benefits of zero carbon design and performance are significant. CaGBC is pushing for wider adoption now because the council believes that zero carbon can and will be a key tool in reaching Canada’s emissions reduction targets and avoiding costly retrofits in future.

To learn more about CaGBC’s Zero Carbon Building Program and to register a project, please visit

Fin MacDonald is manager of the Canada Green Building Council’s Zero Carbon Building Program.

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