Canada is the first nation emerging from the United Nations Climate Change Conference in Paris in 2015 to create comprehensive zero carbon building guidelines, with the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) announcing new standards at a recent conference in Vancouver.
CaGBC officials called their new Zero Carbon Building Standard bold and ambitious and highlighted the pivot to a focus on carbon use over energy efficiency as a crucial component of the new standard.
The standard offers different certification paths for new projects and existing buildings. To earn the designation Zero Carbon Building (ZCB)-Design, new projects will have to achieve seven different objectives, including demonstrating an annual zero carbon balance, providing a zero carbon transition plan, installing a minimum of five-per-cent onsite renewable-energy generation capacity, achieving a specific thermal-energy demand intensity (TEDI) target — that is, assessing annual heat loss — and fulfilling three reporting obligations: energy use intensity, annual peak demand and embodied carbon.
Announcing the standard in Vancouver, Thomas Mueller, president and CEO of the CaGBC, said, "While there is no doubt that Canada's building sector has been dramatically transformed over the last two decades, the time has come to be bolder and more ambitious. The CaGBC's Zero Carbon Building Standard brings focus to carbon emissions reduction, and defines new levels of building performance.
"This standard will help the building industry to show leadership in eliminating emissions from buildings and contribute to shaping Canada's climate future."
The new standard addresses carbon emissions in commercial, institutional and multi-family buildings.
CaGBC vice-president of green building programs Mark Hutchinson presented an overview of the new standard at an event hosted by the Canada Green Building Council – Greater Toronto Chapter at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto on June 13. He said in an interview, among the four components of the standards — zero carbon balance, efficiency, renewable energy and low-carbon materials — incorporating five per cent renewable-energy generation into new projects is relatively simple while measuring a project's carbon footprint will be complex.
"Zero carbon balance is far and away the most important component because it is the most complicated — if you look at the standard, half the standard is that one requirement," said Hutchinson. "So there we have to tell people, this is how you measure your carbon footprint, this is how you measure the impact of buying offsite renewable energy, we have to outline a lot of detail."
Hutchinson said there were 10 nations participating in developing ZCB standards post Paris, with Canada the first to the finish line.
"I definitely feel we are a keen country and we don't take as much credit as we should in our green building industry," he said. "Our best buildings here are as good as the best buildings anywhere."
The new zero carbon standard builds on the CaGBC's LEED programs, under which a total of 102-million square metres of buildings with LEED registrations and certifications had been recorded as of last Dec. 31.
The latest standard, LEED v4, gave higher weighting to greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions.
The CaGBC consulted with over 50 individuals in 40 organizations as it worked on the guidelines, which are just a starting point, Hutchinson said.
"We want to be quick on our feet and learn as we go, that is what we're trying to do," he said.
He told the Toronto audience, "We need a program to holistically evaluate performance and recognize leadership."
Hutchinson explained the carbon footprint of a building looks at a range of factors including energy efficiency, energy sources including local electrical grids, time of use and materials used.
The key objectives were the focus on carbon emissions, broad applicability, simplicity, flexibility and targeting critical design elements.
The industry is struggling to find a way to deal with existing buildings, he said. More than 80 per cent of existing buildings will still be in operation in 2030 and 50 per cent in 2050.
Under the new standard, existing buildings that achieve a zero carbon balance and meet other requirements earn ZCB-Performance certification based on a 12-month period of operations, the guidelines indicate, with owners reporting on peak electricity usage and determining the GHG emissions associated with structural and envelope materials, among other measures.
"The whole existing buildings retrofit conundrum is one that we as an industry are trying to wrestle to the ground," said Hutchinson. "There are so many different aspects from financing to just basic awareness from building owners that their building may not be performing as it should.
"The different levels of government realize that is going to be a harder nut to crack, and we have already had some industry engagement activity in conjunction with the government in order to try to tease out what the different constraints are and how we can overcome that."
The other presenter at the June 13 session was Lisa King of the City of Toronto City Planning Division, who reported on the city's progress towards developing its own Zero Emissions Building Framework.
She told seminar guests she was presenting interim information, representing Version 2 of the Mid to High-Rise Residential and Non-Residential Development stage as the city develops its Toronto Green Standard.