A conversation with outgoing CAGBC Board Chair Stephen Smith 

CAGBC Staff on June 22, 2023

Member Profiles

As we prepare for our Annual General Meeting, and outgoing Board Chair, Stephen Smith, comes to the end of his term, he recently sat down with CAGBC President and CEO Thomas Mueller to discuss the future of the commercial real estate sector with a focus on the transition to zero carbon.  

The conversation was wide ranging, and you can view the entire conversation on CAGBC’s YouTube channel. One area of focus was the need to align the sector around achieving the maximum possible carbon reductions. For CAGBC, this means focusing on large buildings, as putting them on the path to zero emissions will deliver the greatest carbon reductions.  

“We have estimated that we need to decarbonize 155,000 buildings over the next 30 years,” Mueller said. “That’s like 8-9 buildings every day. It’s not a small task. And we are not the only country that has to do that. Every country must do that.”  

Canada must scale up efforts across portfolios of large buildings in the private and public sector. New zero carbon buildings and retrofits to decarbonize existing buildings is a task everyone must take on, Mueller added.   

Smith highlighted how CAGBC has aided the market by precisely identifying and quantifying what the issue is and what the target must be.  

“We have the benefit in this country now to be able to say, with a good degree of confidence, this is exactly what it is we are trying to achieve,” Smith said. “Even the early work we did on the Road Map to Retrofits puts a focus on where the energy needs to go.”   

“To me it is all about decarbonizing as wisely as we can, so that we’re doing it as fast and inexpensively as we can,” Smith added.  

Smith and Mueller discussed the challenge of prioritizing decarbonization in a society that prioritizes reacting to current threats over planning to avoid future threats – even when those future threats are potentially catastrophic. CAGBC’s role, like that of government, is to have the longer-term view and produce evidence-based recommendations that can help the real estate sector make informed decisions around decarbonizing investments.  

CAGBC and its members have an important role to play in helping Canada reach its climate targets. We cannot reach climate targets as identified in the Paris Accord without decarbonizing the building sector. While government has stepped forward in terms of policy and put in place many programs to move the needle, Mueller asked Smith what other support he is seeking from the federal government, beyond regulatory changes.  

“Demonstrating good leadership in their work with their own portfolio, which is considerable,” Smith said. “If they are acting, it helps develop the green building industry, it builds capacity and knowledge. They are a material sector, so that helps as well.”  

Smith also highlighted the need for training and capacity building, saying, “one of the things that we’ve identified at CAGBC and is recognized in different levels of government, is that the creation of new skills and employment has value to the population at large – that’s something that the government concerns itself about. If we are asking the industry to invest in these transitions that benefit the population at large, it would be helpful if the government would in some way facilitate that with investments, tax incentives, or other measures so that industry can realize some benefits. As an asset manager, an owner, I can’t put the equation of more jobs into my math for my benefits.”  

A video of their conversation is available on the CAGBC YouTube channel, and it covers a range of topics, including: 

  • the role of third-party standards in catalyzing the zero-carbon transition,  
  • the uniquely Canadian dynamics of certifications as opposed to regulations,  
  • the critical role of industry-specific guidance on transition planning, and, 
  • how different government mechanisms can incentivize the transition to zero carbon. 

Click here to enjoy the complete conversation between Thomas and Stephen.  

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