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Interview with Michael Sugar

Starting on the path to zero

The Canada Green Building Council recently hired a new Director of Zero Carbon Buildings. Michael Sugar comes to the Council from the energy sector, with a background in clean energy and energy efficiency. Michael is heading up the Zero Carbon program at CAGBC, which includes the standards, as well as initiatives to help accelerate Canada’s shift toward zero carbon buildings and retrofits.

You recently joined CAGBC as Director of Zero Carbon buildings. What’s your mandate in this role?

As an industry-driven organization, we’re focused on helping provide solutions that enable market transformation through carbon reductions. It’s a big task, which requires Canada’s building sector aligning to global targets that include 40 percent embodied carbon reduction and complete elimination of operational carbon in new construction by 2030 – not to mention aggressively decarbonizing existing buildings.

My job is to help provide support for the sector. That’s why our Zero Carbon Building Standards were designed to provide a pathway that’s flexible, simple and works for most building types and all geographies yet can still result in achieving zero.

You’ve seen a sharp increase in registrations for ZCB certification – what’s driving that?

This year we saw a significant increase in adoption of the Zero Carbon Building Standards. In fact, we doubled the annual number of ZCB-Design certifications and tripled the annual number of ZCB-Performance certifications.

A few things are driving this shift. First, the adoption of ESG targets as a means of tracking and measuring the success of sustainability investments. Second, the rising risk posed by climate change and rising carbon costs which requires the real estate sector to future-proof investments by ensuring they are clean-energy and low-carbon ready. Access to sustainable financing products is also helping.

What role will architects play in the transition to zero carbon buildings?

Architects are integral to the shift to zero carbon buildings. Decisions made at the design stage significantly impact a project’s ability to cut operational and especially embodied carbon. Finding innovative, creative and marketable solutions will help shift zero carbon buildings and retrofits from niche to norm.

How do CAGBC’s ZCB-Design and ZCB-Performance define Transition Planning guidance? Why is it important?

To reach our climate targets, we need to start decarbonizing buildings today. But decarbonization is a process, and transition planning is something that can be done today, for every building. A Transition Plan is a costed, strategic plan that outlines how a building will adapt over time to remove combustion from building operations.

CAGBC is working with our technical committees to build out the tools and supports the building sector needs to advance transition plans and start on the journey towards zero carbon. Our goal is to remove barriers and encourage building owners to take this first step with us.