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Interview with Fin MacDonald of the CaGBC

Zero Carbon Building Standard Version 2

Fin MacDonald guided the recent launch of the second  version of the CaGBC Zero Carbon Building Standard,  which is designed to accelerate adoption of  zero carbon building practices. 

1. For context, when did the CaGBC start advocating for Zero Carbon design? 

Canada Green Building Council has always been interested in lowering the carbon footprint of Canada’s built environment and decreasing greenhouse gas emissions, as it significantly impacts the health of both people and the environment. LEED already takes into account carbon in its holistic approach, but things became much more urgent after the Paris agreement in 2016. A standard focused on prioritizing carbon emissions reduction was created at that time to recognize the role green buildings could play in avoiding the worst impacts of climate change.

2. What has the CaGBC learned that has prompted the release of the version 2 standard?

Canada’s buildings contribute 17 per cent of all carbon emissions – and a further 11 per cent when embodied carbon from construction is considered. To limit the rise in global temperature to 1.5°C, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate  Change (IPCC) updated their recommended targets to 50 per cent GHG emissions reduction by 2030 and 100 per cent reduction by 2050. The cost of not adopting a ZCB approach increases with each passing day. Every building built today that is not designed to achieve zero carbon emissions is contributing an increase in carbon emissions – and will likely require major investments to retrofit to zero. To achieve these targets, all sources of emissions need to be considered, not just the energy related emissions. The bar also needs to be raised on energy performance. That realization prompted us to make changes to the standard, that balance the rigour needed to lower carbon emissions, but also create more flexibility in how projects get there in order to open pathways to zero for a broader range of projects. We just can’t afford to wait any longer – we need all buildings to be zero carbon buildings. 

3. What does the version 2 standard entail?

Version 2 draws on learnings from over 20 real-world ZCB-projects. These projects demonstrate that the industry is ready to raise the bar on expanded requirements for embodied carbon and energy efficiency. At the same time, Version 2 aims to get more buildings to zero, faster, by providing more options for different design strategies.

The key points of the version 2 standard are:

Embodied Carbon: Projects must now take responsibility for embodied carbon, and reduce it as much as possible before offsetting. This includes the carbon emissions for the building’s life-cycle including those associated with the manufacture and use of construction materials.

Refrigerants: ZCB Standard v2 encourages best practices to minimize potential leaks of refrigerants that, when released, can have significant short-term impacts on climate change.

Energy Efficiency: ZCB Standard v2 promotes the efficient use of clean energy with more stringent energy efficiency and airtightness requirements, but maintains the flexibility and accessibility of v1.

Innovation: ZCB-Design encourages projects to develop new skills and create markets for new technologies by requiring projects to demonstrate two innovative strategies to reduce carbon emissions.

4. The CaGBC also has a Zero Carbon Performance Standard. What is that about?

The first version of the Zero Carbon Building Standard had two pathways, one for design and one for performance. With ZCB Standard v2, we’ve broken these out into two documents for ease of use. Where ZCB-Design certification has requirements that guide the design of new buildings and the retrofit of existing ones to enable them to achieve zero carbon operations (including consideration of embodied carbon, refrigerants and airtightness), ZCB-Performance certifies buildings that achieve zero carbon operations year after year—a verification that is required annually. The two certifications work well together, but ZCB-Performance can be used on its own as well.

5. Is it the objective of the CaGBC to move the construction industry to Zero Carbon building?

Absolutely. CaGBC has proven that zero carbon buildings are technically feasible and financially viable. I don’t believe it is hyperbole to say that making the move to zero carbon is critical if we are to stand a chance of slowing the worst impacts of climate change. 


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