zero emissions

Reflections on Earth Day

Over this decade leading up to 2030, zero-carbon buildings must become the norm
Thursday, April 22, 2021
by Thomas Mueller

Earth Day provides an opportunity to reflect on what we as individuals can do to restore and care for our planet. To no surprise, at the Canada Green Building Council, it is something we think about each and every day.

There is almost no other sector here in Canada or globally that has a more pronounced and far-reaching impact on both the environment and people than the building sector. Mitigating and, where possible, eliminating any negative impacts is at the core of the green building movement.

The benefits of green building are tremendous, ranging from well-known solutions like increasing energy efficiency and promoting health and well-being to innovative opportunities including zero carbon performance and resiliency in the face of a changing climate. The LEED rating system has been a game changer and remains the most widely used green building certification in the world.

Through GBCI Canada, we are also seeing the benefits of other complementary systems, like the Sustainable Sites Initiative, a rating system designed to promote sustainable and resilient landscape development, or TRUE Zero-Waste which targets circular economy solutions and waste reduction practices.

Our world-leading Zero Carbon Building Standard offers Canadian projects an opportunity to find a pathway to zero carbon emissions from building operations. It balances rigorous targets with flexibility to achieve zero emissions outcomes for different building types and climatic regions. As a result, a wide range of buildings have now been certified under the standard – from schools and office buildings to hockey arenas and warehouses.

It is clear now that buildings play a critical role in keeping the planet from warming beyond the 1.5 degree target set in the Paris Agreement. Over this decade leading up to 2030, zero-carbon buildings must become the norm – and not just new buildings, but existing ones. Deep energy retrofits at scale must become a priority if we are to meet Canada’s carbon targets and have any hope of slowing the rise in global temperature.

In the recent federal budget and in pre-budget announcements, the government signaled the  importance of retrofits with billions in funding to accelerate energy-efficiency projects. From large commercial buildings to home retrofit programs, the government is betting on retrofits to not only contribute to carbon reductions, but to also to create new jobs and kick-start the economy. Retrofit at scale is the heavy and most significant lift to reduce carbon emissions leading up to 2030.

The green building sector will need to grow its workforce to meet the demand for new green buildings and retrofits. Newly announced federal programs focus on training the new entrants to the building industry along with the current workforce to meet the demand for zero-carbon building construction and retrofit. Industry-led initiatives like the Workforce 2030 coalition will move the needle forward and, at the same time, look to address inequalities by prioritizing underrepresented populations, like women, youth, indigenous and racialized communities as we build jobs around the low carbon economy.

This year’s Earth Day theme centres on restoring and caring for the Earth. Green building is moving in the direction of zero impact and is starting to offer a way to become regenerative with positive impacts on the environment, jobs and economic prosperity, diversity and inclusion in the post-COVID era. It is a process I’m excited to help advance with you as we build our way forward together.

Thomas Mueller is president and CEO, Canada Green Building Council.

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