Why Zero Carbon?

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Trading Up Cover Image

Fighting climate change requires bold actions. Actions that demand we think differently about the way we live our lives…and build our buildings.

To avoid the worst effects of climate change we need to drastically cut back on the emissions associated with the operation of new buildings by 2030, and effectively eliminate greenhouse gas emissions from all building operations by 2050. To achieve this goal, new buildings being planned today must set zero carbon emissions as their target. Retrofits of existing buildings must likewise emphasize deep emissions reductions. There is no longer time to wait, action must be taken now.

That’s why CaGBC launched the Zero Carbon Building Standard – to prioritize the pursuit of zero emissions today. The Zero Carbon Building Standard is a made-in-Canada solution to achieving our climate change commitments, providing a path for both new and existing buildings to reach zero carbon. It’s the only way we build for our future.

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Measure carbon,
not energy

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How the
Standard works

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Designed to
be achievable

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Benefits beyond
carbon reduction


A to Z

Measure carbon, not energy

For decades, energy consumption has been the key metric for assessing how “green” a building is.

As the consequences of climate change have become clearer, both governments and private sector organizations have set targets for carbon emission reductions.

Enter the Zero Carbon Building Standard (ZCB). This new standard is the only standard in North America that uses carbon as the key performance metric. This enforces the importance of energy efficiency, while also making us think carefully about the types of energy we use and encouraging more renewable energy generation both on and off the building site.

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How the Standard works

In simple terms, the CaGBC Zero Carbon Building Standard measures a zero carbon balance. This is demonstrated by achieving a net emissions balance of zero or less. This means that no net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are associated with building operations. GHG emissions are offset by generating clean, renewable energy onsite or offsite.

Read more here about how we determine what qualifies as a Zero Carbon Building, or click on the headings below for explanations.

Demonstration of Annual Zero Carbon Balance

The program requires GHG emissions associated with building operations to be offset with low-carbon renewable energy, either generated onsite or obtained from offsite sources through a contractual arrangement.

Providing a Zero Carbon Transition Plan

If you currently, or plan to, rely on onsite combustion of fuels other than zero emissions biofuels, like dedicated energy crops or ethanol and biodiesel, you must develop a transition plan to demonstrate how the building will decarbonize in the future. If it’s a new construction project you need to show that you have made provisions for de-carbonizing in the future.

Installing a Minimum of 5% Onsite Renewable Energy

The 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, such as by using solar photovoltaics (PV). 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.

Achieving a Thermal Energy Demand Intensity Target

Thermal energy demand intensity (TEDI) refers to the annual heat loss from a building’s envelope (i.e., walls, floors, roofs and doors) and ventilation, after accounting for all passive heat gains and losses. We’ve set specific TEDI targets for ZCB-Design certification, which results in greater resilience and occupant comfort, while ensuring that building designers focus on minimizing a building’s demand for energy before producing or procuring renewable energy.

Reporting of Energy Use Intensity

The ZCB Standard requires applicants to report Energy Use Intensity (EUI) in order to create 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

Zero Carbon Building projects must report peak electrical demand. This will 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 are required to report the embodied emissions of their building’s structural and envelope materials using life-cycle assessment (LCA) software. This will help better inform the choices of materials when designing or retrofitting a building.

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Designed for everyone

When we designed the Zero Carbon Building Standard we gave particular thoughts to making it flexible.

Unlike other standards that proclaim to create zero carbon projects, CaGBC’s standard is the only one in the market place that:

  1. Uses Carbon as the main performance metric.
  2. Is broadly applicable to all types of buildings, new and existing.
  3. Recognizes the inherent differences in regional energy sources, including local electricity production.
  4. Is flexible enough to allow all buildings to participate, regardless of local grid constraints.

Two great examples of this are Canada’s first Zero Carbon Building – Design certified projects, evolv1, and Mohawk College’s Joyce Centre for Partnership & Innovation. Among a group of 16 Pilot Projects, they demonstrate that zero carbon is a practical outcome.

Canada’s first Zero Carbon Building – Performance certification, 100 Murray St. in Ottawa, illustrates how existing buildings can achieve Zero Carbon through energy efficiency and a focus on clean sources of energy.

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Building Types

The Zero Carbon Building Standard was designed with everyone in mind. When we created the Standard we wanted to allow owners of both new construction projects and existing buildings to apply for certification. Our pilot projects include institutional buildings, offices, multi-unit residential and commercial warehouses ranging in size from 20,000 to 1.3 million sq. ft.

New buildings can be designed for optimal efficiency and resiliency, so these projects present the best opportunities to achieve Zero Carbon Performance and create a low carbon building stock for future generations. They can readily integrate renewable energy generation and select technologies that avoid the onsite combustion of fossil fuels, earning Zero Carbon Building – Design certification. Buildings built today that are not designed for low carbon emissions will require expensive retrofits within the first 30 years of their life.

At the same time, over 80 per cent of existing buildings will still be in operation in 2030 and 50 percent in 2050, and therefore existing buildings also need to be addressed in order to meet GHG reduction targets for the building sector. To help retrofit these buildings, as much flexibility as possible has been provided, so that buildings can achieve Zero Carbon Building – Performance certification.

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Zero Carbon Steering Committee Members

Committee members were appointed by CaGBC President & CEO from candidates identified by the senior green building staff in consultation with the ZCB Committee Chair.

Douglas Webber (Chair)
Purpose Building

Sheena Sharp
Coolearth Architecture inc.

Maeri Machado
WSP Canada

Maxime Boisclair

Ryan Zizzo

Wendy Macdonald
Stantec Consulting Ltd.

Matt Tokarik
Subterra Renewables

Darryl Neate
Oxford Properties

Arjun KC
Alberta Energy

Ed Cullinan

Mary Quintana
Brock University

Christian Cianfrone

Morgan McDonald
Ledcor Construction Ltd.

Maria McGibbon
Public Services and Procurement Canada

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