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Moving to a zero carbon future

Retrofitting existing buildings is critical to achieve GHG emissions reductions
Monday, March 19, 2018
by Cheryl Mah

Canada has set ambitious targets for greenhouse gas emissions reduction, which will require the building sector to move to a zero carbon future.

The Pan-Canadian Framework outlines the federal government’s commitment to fight climate change and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 30 per cent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The framework has set the stage, recognizing that carbon emission targets can only be met through concerted efforts in the building sector as one of the largest contributors to climate change, according to Thomas Mueller, president and CEO, Canada Green Building Council.

Mueller was a keynote speaker at Buildex Vancouver 2018 where he discussed how green buildings can meet carbon emissions targets.

Moving the building sector to zero carbon performance is a global initiative with many countries on board including Sweden, Germany and Australia. But over the last 10 years, Canada has moved into a global leadership position through innovation and investment in LEED certified green buildings.

“I think we have a very advanced green building sector and this is an opportunity for us to stay ahead of the curve and drive innovation,” he said.

He defined a zero carbon building as “one that is highly energy-efficient and produces onsite, carbon-free renewable energy in an amount sufficient to offset the annual carbon emissions associated with operations.”

In determining the carbon footprint of a building, it is often not energy performance, but the carbon intensity of the local electrical grid and the fossil fuels used. Recognizing these differences is important, advised Mueller, as the sector looks at eliminating fossil fuels with onsite renewable energy strategies such as solar and geothermal.

Zero carbon represents the next cycle of innovation in green building, continuing Canada’s global leadership in taking tangible steps in reducing carbon emissions from buildings.

“If we build every new building over 25,000 square feet to zero carbon between now and 2030, we will save about 7.5 million tons of carbon,” said Mueller.

The challenge is that existing buildings represent more than 80 per cent of Canada’s building stock which will still be standing in 2030 and is “underestimated” to be 50 per cent of the building stock in 2050. These buildings present a greater emissions reduction opportunity than any new construction activity.

“Retrofit is critical to achieving a zero carbon future,” stressed Mueller.

Existing buildings are not only critical to achieving the targeted GHG emissions reductions, but present a massive economic opportunity. Large-scale upgrades to existing buildings will create jobs and drive the creation of new technologies.

Mueller also highlighted CaGBC’s new Zero Carbon Building Standard, which uses carbon as the key metric in assessing commercial, institutional and multi-family building performance and combines this measure with enhanced envelope performance and renewable energy options.

He discussed the four key components of the standard which include zero carbon balance, efficiency, renewable energy and low carbon materials.

Project teams are required to evaluate energy use holistically, including impacts on peak electricity, and determine the GHG emissions associated with structural and envelope materials.

“We want designers and builders to start looking at the carbon associated with materials to make better decisions,” he said. “Building with wood is a great way to sequester carbon. Cement is also finding new ways to sequester carbon.”

To date 16 pilot projects representing different building types, sizes and locations have signed on to be the first projects to achieve zero carbon performance.

“The real opportunity is not only in new buildings but in existing buildings too – we need both to move the sector forward to a zero carbon future,” he said.

Cheryl Mah is managing editor of Construction Business.




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