Canada’s Green Building Council updates Zero Carbon Building Standards; government review continues

A public review of Canada’s Building Codes (building, energy, and fire) was open from January 13 to March 13, 2020, under the National Research Council of Canada . The Canadian Green Building Council and the Royal Architectural Institute of Canada sent a joint letter with three recommendations :  First, that  “the code requirements should address not only energy efficiency, but also the carbon emissions associated with construction and operations.”  2. Add operational GHG intensity metrics :  “The National Model Energy Code for Buildings (NECB) and the National Building Code (NBC) should include the addition of operational GHG intensity metrics in order to better align code outcomes with the objectives of the Pan Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change.”  3. Develop embodied carbon metrics:  “The next update to the code should include embodied carbon reduction targets using a comparative approach where proposed buildings are compared to a baseline version of the same building.”

The Pembina Institute also made a Submission,  summarized in a press release on March 13 , and available in full, here.   Like the CGBC, the Pembina submission calls for GHG intensity metrics in addition to energy efficiency metrics, and goes further  in calling for  a cap, rather than targets, for the embodied carbon associated with buildings.  In a separate OpEd on April 15,  the Pembina Institute calls for government to “ramp up”  all green-building funding models over the next five years, with the goal of retrofitting half of Canada’s building stock by 2030.

Zero Carbon Building Standard v.2  released by Canadian Green Building Council

zero carbon building stnadardIn the meantime, while government deliberates over the changes to the country’s building codes, the Canadian Green Building Council released  Version 2 of its Zero Carbon Building Standard on March 10, updating the previous version from 2017. The ZCB Standard version 2 itself has two components: ZCB-Design, for  new buildings as well as the retrofit of existing structures, and ZCB-Performance, which provides a framework for annual verification that buildings have achieved zero carbon. The Zero Carbon Building Standard 2 technical documents are here    .  Updates from version 1 are highlighted in the  press release , and relate to: 1.  Embodied Carbon: (Projects must now reduce and offset carbon emissions for the building’s life-cycle including those associated with the manufacture and use of construction materials.); 2. Refrigerants: (v.2 “ encourages” best practices to minimize potential leaks of refrigerants ); 3. Energy Efficiency: ( more stringent energy efficiency and airtightness requirements), and 4. Innovation: (requires projects demonstrate two innovative strategies to reduce carbon emissions) .

The Canadian Green Building Council published its landmark study in February 2019, Making the Case for Building to Zero Carbon . It demonstrates that that zero carbon buildings can provide a positive financial return over a 25-year life-cycle, inclusive of carbon pollution pricing, and requiring only a modest capital cost premium.

LEED Green buildings deliver energy savings, reduced emissions, and health benefits – including reduced absenteeism

A new study which examined  how LEED-certified green buildings had performed over a 16 year period reported that the green buildings delivered $7.5B in energy savings, $1.4B of benefits in reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and a further $4.4B in public health benefits.  Those health benefits included an estimate of 21,000 lost days of work avoided in the U.S. alone; other health benefits derive from avoiding an estimated 172–405 premature deaths, 171 hospital admissions, 11,000 asthma exacerbations, 54,000 respiratory symptoms, and 16,000 lost days of school in the U.S.  The results are summarized in “Harvard study: Green buildings deliver nearly $6bn in health and climate benefits” ;  the full study appears as “Energy savings, emission reductions, and health co-benefits of the green building movement” in the  Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology online (Jan. 30) (restricted access).  The  study was commissioned by the engineering company United Technologies Corporation and conducted by researchers at Harvard’s Healthy Buildings program at the T.H. Chan School of Public Health.  Buildings studied were located in the U.S., China, India, Brazil , Germany and Turkey.

LEED office Burnaby Willingdon

Willingdon Office building, Burnaby B.C. – photo from the website of  Lighthouse Sustainable Building Centre

Although Canada was not included in the study, on January 22, the Canada Green Building Council  announced  that Canada ranked second amongst countries outside the U.S. for its LEED-certified buildings, with  a current total of 2,970 projects totaling more than 40.77 million gross square meters of space.  The 2017 annual Top 10 Countries and Regions for LEED list is compiled by the U.S. Green Building Council to recognize LEED  markets outside the U.S., which remains the largest market at 30,669 projects with 385.65 million gross square meters of space. China is the largest market outside the U.S., followed by Canada, followed by India, Brazil, and Germany.   In February 2018,  certification and professional credentialing services for LEED and other energy-efficiency programs in Canada will change, with the launch of a joint venture  between the Canada Green Building Council and for-profit Green Building Certification Inc. Canada ( GBCI). The relationship of the two bodies is outlined in their press release .

Net-Zero and Net-Positive Green Building: Vancouver’s New Policy, and a Pilot Project in Waterloo, Ontario

green building and bike VancouverOn May 1, the Green Building  Policy for Rezoning  took effect in the city of Vancouver, mandating that new commercial and multi-unit residential buildings  be built to standards modeled after the international Passive House standards, with airtight design, exceptional insulation, and good ventilation.  The Policy, originally approved in November 2016, is part of Vancouver’s Greenest City Action Plan and its Zero Emissions Building Plan .  Matt Horne, the city’s Climate Policy Manager, writes in an OpEd in the Vancouver Sun  that the new rules will result in buildings which emit half as much carbon pollution, with slightly lower construction and operating costs.  Vancouver’s new rezoning policy  is in line with the province-wide standard for energy efficiency in new construction, the B.C. Energy Step Code , which came into force in April, 2017 in an effort to upgrade municipal building codes across the province.

Pembina Vancouver green-buildings-jobs-2017The Pembina Institute praises Vancouver’s new Rezoning policy and its benefits for workers in “Vancouver’s green buildings policy is good news for homeowners and renters” : “Constructing new energy-efficient homes and offices will be a boon to Vancouver’s green building sector. In B.C., the sector already employs over 23,000 people, and the industry is ready to respond to increased demand. New trades training is being offered by such institutions as the British Columbia Institute of Technology, which recently launched a new hands-on High-Performance Building Lab. Passive House Canada now trains hundreds of people a year, including designers, builders, and government staff. Energy-efficient buildings are one of B.C.’s biggest opportunities for real and lasting job creation.”   A February  article in the Globe and Mail, “The Economic Case for Retrofitting Buildings” echos this “ready to work” idea in the context of retrofitting: “we have the know-how and technology to be a key player in meeting a steep challenge. Building efficiency isn’t just low hanging fruit, it’s the fruit that’s ripened and ready to fall into our lap.”

Evolv1 is a net positive building project in Waterloo Ontario, being described as a “game-changer”,“groundbreaking”, and “iconic”.    Evolv1  will generate more energy than it needs for its own operation from 1.5 acres of solar panels on the roof and carport, allowing it to power the building’s 14 electric vehicle charging stations  and sell any remaining excess  to the provincial electricity grid.  The building is also aiming for LEED Platinum certification through the use of triple-glazed glass, very high levels of insulation,  digitally-controlled LED lighting with occupancy and light level sensors, natural light, a three-storey green wall to improve air quality, and a geo-exchange system that extracts heat from the ground for winter heating and returns excess heat to the ground in the summer. Finally, the building will have direct access to the city’s light rail transit system to reduce the environmental impact of commuters.  Completion is scheduled for 2018. The project is being built by  Cora Group  construction, in partnership with Sustainable Waterloo Region and the University of Waterloo, as well as  anchor tenant, consultants  EY Canada.  The  Cora Group website provides illustrations.

Evolv1 was highlighted in the Waterloo Region Record in “An office building so green it actually produces energy”  (Feb. 17),  and in the May issue of  the Natural Resources Canada Newsletter, Heads-Up.  Sustainable Waterloo released its own press releases about the project: “Raising the Standard” , and a description of the vision for the project.

More proof that green buildings are better for workers

The health impact of  green workplaces was the subject of a new article,   The Impact of Working in a Green Certified Building on Cognitive Function and Health  , by researchers at the  Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and SUNY Upstate Medical University. Researchers studied 109 workers at 10 buildings and found that employees who worked in certified green buildings had higher cognitive function scores, fewer sick building symptoms and higher sleep quality scores than those working in non-certified buildings.  The research was sponsored by United Technologies.  For an overview of ongoing research at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health , go to its Nature, Health and the Built Environment website . Other related information is available at the World Green Building Council’s “Better Places for People” website .

From a management point of view, an article in the Harvard Business Review, “Air Pollution making office workers less productive”  (September 29) reports on the effect of air pollution on call-center workers at Ctrip, China’s largest travel agency. The authors conclude that these office  workers are 5%–6% more productive when air pollution levels are rated as “good” (an Air Quality Index of 0–50) versus when they are rated as unhealthy (an Air Quality Index of 150–200). Productivity was measured by completed calls each day, length of breaks, and time logged in.

All this points to the importance of green building.  World Green Building Week  began on September 26, 2016 – preceded by an agreement amongst the national green building councils from 10 countries (including Canada)  to adopt zero net carbon certification programs by the end of 2017.  See the World Green Building Council press release for a description of the meetings, including the definition of “zero net carbon” (ZNC)  as advanced by the architectural network, Architecture 2030   .

New Workforce Certification Guidelines for U.S. Commercial Building Occupations

The National Institute of Building Sciences and the U.S. Department of Energy have developed voluntary national guidelines to improve the quality and consistency of commercial building workforce credentials. The Better Buildings Workforce Guidelines     were introduced  in March  2015 and cover four energy-related occupations: Energy Auditor, Building Commissioning Professional, Energy Manager, and Building Operations Professional.   See the press release here.