CaGBC® Zero Carbon Building Standard:
Frequently Asked Questions

Table of Contents

  1. What has the CaGBC announced with the Zero Carbon Building Standard?
  2. What is a zero carbon building?
  3. How does the standard work?
  4. Who can use this standard?
  5. Are there any projects piloting this Standard before it opens for registration?
  6. How do you show that you are certified?
  7. Did you consult the industry?

1. What has the CaGBC announced with the Zero Carbon Building Standard?

On May 29, the CaGBC announced that it has taken a major step toward achieving Canada’s climate change commitments with the launch of the country’s first Zero Carbon Building Standard. This highly-anticipated Standard assesses carbon use in commercial, institutional, and multi-family buildings in Canada. In order to achieve large-scale market transformation, it was designed to be broadly applicable for many types of new and existing buildings across the country. It is also the only program of its kind to make carbon reductions the key indicator for building performance.

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 of Canada’s climate future.

The Standard’s focus on carbon pollution is crucial, as the most important factor in the carbon footprint of a building is often not its energy performance, but the carbon intensity of the local electrical grid and the fossil fuels used. Recognizing these differences is therefore critical to accurately assessing the impacts and guiding alternative investments in energy efficiency, heating technologies, and renewable energy.

2. What is a zero carbon building?

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

3. How does the standard work?

The Standard verifies five key components for evaluating the extent to which a building’s design reduces its carbon footprint. They are explained in brief below, but please refer to the full Standard document for detailed requirements.

  • Demonstration of Annual Zero Carbon Balance
    Central to the program requirements, GHG emissions associated with building operations must be offset with low-carbon renewable energy, either generated onsite or procured from offsite sources through a contractual arrangement.

  • Providing a Zero Carbon Transition Plan All applicants who rely on onsite combustion of fuels other than zero emissions biofuels must provide a transition plan to demonstrate how the building will decarbonize in the future, showing that they have considered appropriate building design or retrofit measures.

  • Installing a Minimum of Five Percent Onsite Renewable Energy ZCB-Design certification requires that at least five per cent of the building’s total energy consumption be met using renewable energy that is generated onsite. Generating onsite renewable energy helps to improve building resilience in the face of power outages, reduces overall demand from the electrical grid, minimizes environmental impacts from power generation facilities, and helps prepare for a distributed energy future. This requirement does not apply to ZCB-Performance certification.

  • Achieving a Thermal Energy Demand Intensity Target
    Thermal energy demand intensity (TEDI) refers to the annual heat loss from a building’s envelope and ventilation, after accounting for all passive heat gains and losses. Specific TEDI targets for ZCB-Design certification have been set, which results in greater resilience and occupant comfort, while ensuring that building designers focus on minimizing a building’s demand for energy prior to producing or procuring renewable energy.

  • Reporting of Energy Use Intensity
    The ZCB Standard requires applicants to report their Energy Use Intensity (EUI) to provide transparency and enable the industry to learn from each zero carbon building. Reporting EUI also enables the operators of a building to gauge the effectiveness of energy conservation measures and demonstrate progress over time.

  • Reporting of Annual Peak Demand
    The rationale for this component of the program is to encourage projects to track and reduce their peak demand over time, to help reduce the use of more carbon intensive electricity generation plants, decrease stress on the electrical grid and avoid the need for additional generation capacity.

  • Reporting of Embodied Carbon
    Applicants for Zero Carbon Building certification will be required to report the embodied emissions of their building’s structural and envelope materials using life-cycle assessment (LCA) software. This will help drive a better understanding of the choices of materials we make when designing or retrofitting a building.

4. Who can use this standard?

The CaGBC’s Zero Carbon Building (ZCB) Standard is designed to allow owners of both new construction projects and existing buildings to apply for certification, with unique requirements for each.

New construction projects earn Zero Carbon Building – Design certification by modeling a zero carbon balance, highly efficient envelope and ventilation systems to meet a defined threshold for thermal energy demand intensity, and onsite renewable energy systems capable of providing a minimum of 5% of building energy consumption. 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.

At its heart, the program is about demonstrating a zero carbon balance in building operations year after year. Buildings that achieve a zero carbon balance and meet the other requirements for existing buildings earn Zero Carbon Building - Performance certification. This certification is awarded based on a twelve month period of operations, and performance must be verified annually. 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. Recognizing the inherent challenges to retrofitting existing buildings, this certification does not require a minimum of onsite renewable energy or a minimum level of thermal energy demand performance.

Achieving dual-certification earns buildings the unique designation of Zero Carbon Building – Design + Performance. A building that has achieved Zero Carbon Building - Design certification can apply for Zero Carbon Building - Performance certification any time after one year of building performance data has been collected.

5. Are there any projects piloting this Standard before it opens for registration?

CaGBC recently announced that 16 pilot projects are currently participating in a two-year immersion pilot program for developers and designers undertaking near-net zero developments across Canada.

Spanning the length of the country from Dartmouth to Kelowna, the diversity of these 16 pilot projects demonstrates the broad applicability of the program with sizes ranging from 20,000 to 1.3 million sq.ft, representing both new and existing buildings. Project types include schools, offices, multi-unit residential, warehouses, a library and a fire hall. This elite group of projects was chosen for their ambitious environmental leadership, and potential to aggressively raise the bar for carbon emissions reduction in Canada.

The program is designed to support participants, recognize excellence and leadership, and inform the development of tools, resources and education to accelerate market transformation. The pilots themselves will assist CaGBC in refining the standard to ensure it can be adopted widely by the marketplace.

The CaGBC Zero Carbon Building Pilot Program projects are listed below, with the exception of those who wish to remain confidential at this time. To view project profiles, renderings and other details on the Pilot Projects, visit

Project Name Owner Location
 Zero Emission Fire Hall City of Vancouver Vancouver, BC
Wilkinson Avenue Net-Zero Heating Energy Warehouse East Port Properties Dartmouth, NS
EcoLock, Carbon Capture Mini Storage EcoLock Kelowna, BC
Joyce Centre for Partnership & Innovation Mohawk College Hamilton, ON
Health Sciences Centre (HSC) Okanagan College Okanagan College Kelowna, BC
30 Bay Street Oxford Properties Group Toronto, ON
1133 Melville Oxford Properties Group Vancouver, BC
Confidential Mixed-Use Development Perkins+Will Vancouver, BC
Arthur Meighen Building Rehabilitation, 25-55 St. Clair Avenue East Public Services and Procurement Canada Toronto, ON
New Curé-Paquin Elementary School Seigneurie-des-Mille-Îles School Board Saint-Eustache, QC
NiMa Trails – Residential, Commercial Net Zero Building TerraView Homes & Newton Group Guelph, ON
evolv1 The Cora Group Waterloo, ON
Toronto and Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) New Headquarters Toronto and Region Conservation Authority Toronto, ON
MacKimmie Complex Redevelopment University of Calgary Calgary, AB

6. How do you show that you are certified?

CaGBC has developed a certification mark that can be used on promotional material including web copy, ads and other marketing material that is related directly to the project. Buildings that achieve ZCB-Performance certification will be able to promote their accomplishment with a plaque.

7. Did you consult the industry?

This consultation process included approximately 50 individuals representing 40 organizations in the building sector. This included a Zero Carbon Buildings Working Group composed of government bodies, industry members, and academia, created specifically to inform the identification of needs and challenges associated with the development of a zero carbon building standard in Canada.

A Renewable Energy Working Group was also formed to ensure that recent and future developments in renewable energy technologies are given broad consideration in the development of the Standard requirements. To ensure the inclusion of additional sources of expertise and guidance, the CaGBC’s Energy and Engineering Technical Advisory Group and the LEED Canada Steering Committee were also consulted. Research, facilitation and reporting were all provided by Integral Group.