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high performance building

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.

Residential (Large) Award

SFU Affordable Housing, Burnaby, BC

Jury Comment: “Providing much needed affordable accommodation for previously under-served sectors of the student population, this project is notable for its strong community focus, the multiple opportunities it creates for interaction between residents, and its strong connection with nature. Attention to detail and comprehensive data supported impressive energy performance.”

Simon Fraser University (SFU) Affordable Housing is a high-performance, community-oriented housing project that strives to promote connection—people to one another, students to university, residents to neighbourhood, and everyone to nature.

Located near a daycare and elementary school in the UniverCity neighbourhood at SFU’s Burnaby campus, the project provides 90 below-market student rental apartments that prioritize underserved communities with accessible, adaptable, and family-oriented housing—demographics with modest incomes and limited access to transportation, amenities, and community support.

Consisting of two wood-frame buildings of four and six storeys on top of a single-storey parkade, the residences are supported by a blend of amenities to cultivate community connections including a courtyard and playground, multipurpose pavilion, shared laundries and study rooms, and a bicycle workshop to support active transportation.

Utilizing simple massing with a high-performance envelope and rigorous attention to detailing along with PHPP and THERM modelling, the project surpassed Step 4 of the BC Energy Step Code and was recognized as a Clean Net-Zero Energy Ready award winner. Completed in 2022 on a conventional wood-frame construction budget, the project continues to be leveraged as a case study for local industry and academia in the design and construction of high-performance buildings.

The project started with a complex site and client challenge to deliver Passive House performance on a conventional construction budget while prioritizing community and occupant well-being. Certification was an initial goal, but was relatively new to the market when the project was initiated in 2014, leading to disproportionately large cost premiums and constraints.

Project Credits

  • Architect  Local Practice Architecture + Design
  • Project Manager  JLL
  • Owner/Developer  SFU Community Trust
  • General Contractor  Peak Construction Group
  • Landscape Architect  space2place
  • Civil Engineer  H.Y. Engineering
  • Electrical Engineer and Structural Engineer Associated Engineering
  • Mechanical Engineer  Rocky Point Engineering
  • Fire Protection  Mfpe Engineering
  • Building Envelope  RDH Buiding Science
  • Energy Model  Tandem Architecture Écologique
  • Building Code  Jensen Hughes
  • Cost & Constructability  Heatherbrae Builders
  • Photos  Latreille Photography

Project Performance

  • Energy Intensity  49.82 KWhr/m2/year
  • Reduction in Energy Intensity  62% (Based on BCBC – 2012 Energy Step Code Level 2*)
  • Water Consumption from municipal source  67,262 litres/occupant/year
  • Reduction in Water Consumption  11%
  • Construction materials diverted from landfill  66%


Commercial/Industrial (Large) Award

Endress + Hauser Customer Experience Centre – Burlington, ON

Jury Comment: “This project is notable for setting and pursuing high environmental performance goals: achieving net Zero Carbon and awaiting confirmation of LEED Gold certification. The interior addresses the health and wellbeing of employees through its socially focused program organization and brightly lit interior spaces. The positive response has catalyzed broader changes at its parent company in Switzerland.”

The ZCB Certified, LEED Gold pending Endress+Hauser Customer Experience Centre in Burlington was designed as a gift for its employees from the Swiss-owned company. The 4400 sq. m, $24 million environment is a sunlit, open concept space, uniquely tailored for the employees and engaging for visitors who have come to experience its Process Training Unit (PTU) and calibration labs. 

The glass enclosed PTU is prominently positioned at the southeast corner, acting as the public face of the building; and offering educational engagement with the leading-edge equipment and systems it contains. The ground floor is home to a program of training spaces, calibration lab, and private employee wellness areas. The second level, accessible by a central stair, is organized into neighbourhoods around an atrium and indoor walking track. The open working environments are each slightly different based on their particular functions. The facility is punctuated with coffee nooks and seating areas to promote impromptu exchanges and casual meetings.

A large exterior patio extends along the southern façade of the second storey, with direct connections to the employee kitchen, office workstations and breakout space. Fitness centres, and exterior walking tracks, compliment the organizational focus on health and wellness.

At the outset of this project, it was clear sustainable leadership was central to the company’s culture and identity. The design team pitched a business case, offering Endress + Hauser a way to exceed its standard commitment to LEED Silver certification. 

Project Credits

  • Owner/Developer  Endress + Hauser
  • Architect  McCallum Sather
  • General Contractor  G.S. Wark Construction
  • Landscape Architect  GSP Group
  • Civil Engineer  MTE
  • Electrical and Structural Engineer WSP
  • Mechanical Engineer  McCallum Sather
  • Commissioning Agent  CFMS-West Consulting Inc.
  • Other Engineering Service RWDI
  • Photos  Philip Castleton

Project Performance

  • Energy Intensity  73.95 KWhr/m2/year
  • Reduction in Energy Intensity  26.05% (Based on NECB 2015)
  • Reduction in Water Consumption  33.2%
  • Construction materials diverted
  • from landfill 76.38%


Interview with Jeff Gold of Nexus Circular LLC

Jeff Gold is the COO/founder of Nexus, the leading circular waste-plastics solution company based in Atlanta that converts landfill-bound plastics to reusable plastics.

1. What does Nexus do exactly?

Nexus converts waste plastics that are typically bound for a landfill or incineration into chemical feedstocks that are used to create new, virgin plastics.  We take the polyethylene, polypropylene, and polystyrene that cannot be economically recycled through mechanical systems and transform them into valuable liquids and waxes that our partners use to create a huge range of new plastic products.  Our process is very energy efficient and by directing our output into new plastics versus fuel products that are burned, we sequester the carbon in those plastics and prevent their entry into the environment as harmful greenhouse gases.

2. How does the waste plastics conversion work?

Nexus uses a process known as pyrolysis, or “thermal depolymerization” to transform waste plastic back into its basic molecular forms. This process works by applying heat to the plastic but excluding all oxygen so that instead of burning, the plastic simply liquefies and decomposes into a variety of hydrocarbon molecules. Most plastics are made of long hydrocarbon chains and pyrolysis provides a way to “cut” those chains into smaller pieces that become liquids or waxes once they are cooled.  It is these liquids and waxes that can then be used in the industrial systems that make new plastic resins.

3. Is the conversion process truly a ‘closed loop’?

We consider our process to be “closed loop” because all the plastic that goes into the system is converted into a new product that is captured at various points in the system.  For example, most of the incoming plastic is converted to liquids and a wax product that is collected and shipped off directly to our off-take partners.  The process also produces a flammable gas that we likewise capture and then use to heat the pyrolysis reactors.  A fourth product that results from the process is a carbon-black char material that forms in the reactors from small amounts of paper and cardboard that are mixed in with the plastic feedstock and from normal decomposition of plastic when it contacts very hot surfaces.  This char is collected and can be used as an asphalt additive. In this way, all the products formed from the plastic feedstock are converted, captured, and used in some way making the process truly closed loop.

4. What have been the challenges you have encountered?

Converting waste plastic at a commercial scale into useful products and doing so economically is very hard.

The principle technical challenges we have encountered revolve primarily around feedstock in terms of collection, contamination, and composition. The challenge has been to create a highly adaptable system that can accept a wide variation of inputs and produce a uniform, consistent, high-quality output.  Maintaining reactor performance in the face of a variable feedstock stream has also posed technical challenges around managing heat distribution to yield our desired products while minimizing energy consumption which is why we have taken all the learnings from our first plant and are now applying them to a third- generation design.

Another challenge involves proving that chemical recycling is a viable technology in the fight against plastic pollution.  There have been numerous press releases and announcements by groups in the chemical recycling space touting a solution that fails to materialize and when this happens often enough, a perception is created that this is something that does not really work.  While there is a lot of progress yet to be made, Nexus has shown that the technology can be effective and that it merits serious consideration.

5. What is the future? How far to do you see an operation like yours going?

We feel very optimistic about the future!  We have a team in place that has built an innovative and economic process that addresses the pressing environmental issue of plastic pollution and we have proven that Nexus is one of the few companies that can deliver our product at commercial scale and consistent quality.

Demand for our products is extremely high as many companies work towards satisfying consumer demands to increase the amount of certified recycled content in their products and take positive steps to improve the planet’s environmental quality.  Our challenge now is to scale the business at a rate that can keep pace with our customer’s needs, and to that end, we are working very hard to establish new locations both at home and overseas. Given that the use of plastics is expected to continue its upward trend over the next several,Nexus is poised to expand on its industry leadership position and play a major role in combatting plastic pollution for years to come.


Montreal Biodome

Interior redesign complements extant architecture with minimal use of materials

Housed in the former Velodrome constructed for the Montréal 1976 Olympic Games, the Biodome opened in 1992 and is a jewel in the crown of a consortium of facilities that collectively account for the most visited museum spaces in Canada.

After winning an international architectural competition in 2014, KANVA, co-founded by Rami Bebawi and Tudor Radulescu, was commissioned for the $25 million project by Space for Life, the body charged with overseeing operations of the Biodome, Planetarium, Insectarium, and Botanical Garden.

“Our mandate was to enhance the immersive experience between visitors and the museum’s distinct ecosystems, as well as to transform the building’s public spaces,” notes Rami Bebawi, a partner of KANVA and the project’s lead architect. “In doing so, we embraced the role that the Biodome plays in sensitizing humans to the intricacies of natural environments, particularly in the current context of climate change and the importance of understanding its effects.”

KANVA studied the complexity of both building and program, a living entity comprised of ecosystems and complex machinery critical to supporting life. They realized that any intervention they proposed must be very delicate, and would require careful coordination and management within a truly collaborative design process. The success of this approach serves as a model for the future to better address the environmental issues in design.

The team began by targeting spaces that could be transformed in ways that would maximize the value of the building’s architectural heritage. The carving of a new core combined with the demolition of the low ceiling at the main entrance opened the space skyward to the extraordinary roof, composed of massive skylight panels that infuse the building with an abundance of natural light.

This massive open space became the circulation core between the ecosystems. To guide visitors, KANVA worked with Montreal-based Sollertia, on the parametric design and construction of a lightweight fabric living skin [1] that could be wrapped around the ecosystems to guide visitors, differentiate spaces and modulate the multi-sensory experience of the exhibits. The fabric walls total 500 metres in length, with the largest section being 18m x 18m.

The complex curvature of this biophilic skin, with its aluminum supporting structure, required sophisticated engineering and minutely precise prefabrication. Using a combination of tension, cantilevers, and triangular beams for suspension, the system is anchored to a primary steel structure. Mechanical junctions accommodate a variety of movements and allow for on-site adjustments.

Text edited by SABMag editior Jim Taggart, FRAIC from material supplied by the project team.


  • Design Architect and Project Manager  KANVA
  • Collaborating Architect  NEUF architects
  • Textile Architecture Specialist/Fabricator  Sollertia
  • Electromechanical Engineers  Bouthillette Parizeau Inc.
  • Structural Engineer  NCK Inc.
  • Building Code and Cost Consultant  Groupe GLT+
  • Specification writer  Atelier 6
  • Lighting Design Consultant  LightFactor
  • Collaborating Exhibition Designer  La bande à Paul
  • Collaborating Set Designer  Anick La Bissonnière
  • Collaborating Museologist  Nathalie Matte
  • Wayfinding Specialist  Bélanger Design
  • Land Surveyor  Topo 3D
  • Acoustics Specialist  Soft dB
  • Photos  James Brittain

The complex curvature of the fabric membrane walls, with their aluminum supporting structure, required sophisticated engineering and precise prefabrication. The membrane chosen for the Biodome (Alphalia Silent AW by Sollertia) has acoustic properties which reduce sound reverberation and improve the comfort of the visitors.


Materials selection elevates buildings


A healthy building is made of healthy building blocks. Using sustainable materials that comply with building codes today – and those decades in the future – really help a project stand out.

Over the last decade the building sector has been redefined by innovations in building materials and an increased interest for materials transparency. Occupants are concerned about their exposure to the chemical components of the building materials; owners want to understand what materials are present in their building; and designers and architects are no longer content to simply specify a product without understanding the holistic attributes of that product. Where design and budget constraints traditionally determined materials selection, now a growing awareness and interest in sustainability is driving new behaviours.

Increasingly, manufacturers are offering more sustainable, durable, and resilient materials. By pursuing the highest sustainability standards, manufacturers are diversifying their products with greener alternatives to classic building materials. As a result, more project teams are able to earn credits towards certification for rating systems and standards such Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED®) or CaGBC’s Zero Carbon Building (ZCB) Standard®.

Today, architects and project teams can access detailed information about building materials and products. This allows them to weigh their options against the building’s sustainability goals and keep LEED Building Product Disclosure and Optimization (BPDO) credits in sight. Information like that included in Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) or Heath Product Declarations (HPDs) provides full disclosure of any potential areas of concern in a product, helping projects limit potential negative impacts on the environment and building occupant health.


The Passive Narrowtive House

Infill project a model of gentle densification and adaptability to changing needs

By Nick Bray Architecture

“The Passive Narrowtive” is located on a narrow infill lot near the centre of Vancouver. The house is lived in by the architect’s young family, with a tenant living in the garden suite below.

The intent was to demonstrate that a certified Passive House could be built on a small and challenging site, rethink housing design, and test innovative products and technologies.

The size and orientation of the site presented unique challenges, being long and narrow with the south elevation limited to a width of only 5.5 metres. More critically, its location in a peat bog with a high water table, required an innovative, low-impact foundation system to maintain the natural hydrology and comply with new environmental regulations. The house sits on a grid of beams spanning between 46-12m deep piles, its basement waterproofed with a durable, high quality tanking membrane.

The original one-bedroom house was beyond repair and was deconstructed, with over 90% of materials recycled. The elongated plan of the new house, with a depth of 14.6 metres, resulted in a high surface to volume ratio and hence a less than ideal form factor for the Passive House energy modelling. The narrow south-facing elevation was designed with large windows and deep solar-shading canopies to provide sufficient natural light, winter-solar-gain, and to prevent overheating in summer.

Space-efficiency was a critical design objective, the main consideration being to minimize the environmental impact of the building over its anticipated 100-year service life.  The 246m²  home contains five spacious bedrooms and five bathrooms.

The above-grade walls built with pre-fabricated structural insulated panels. The air barrier used on the house, the NS-A250 barrier by Naturaseal, is an eco-friendly waterproof, vapour resistant, UV stable elastomeric coating that is cold-applied using a spray system.

Large glazed doors bring natural light into the basement apartment. The high performance triple-glazed wood windows and doors, and the HRV ventilation system, were supplied by Vetta Building Technologies.


  • Owner/Developer/Architect  Nick Bray Architecture Ltd
  • Contractor  JDL Homes Vancouver / Black Thumb Contracting
  • Structural Engineer  Miskimmin Structural Engineering
  • Commissioning Agent  Rudy Sawatzky
  • Photos  Martin Knowles Photo / Media


  • Total energy Intensity (base building and process energy) = 54.5 KWhr/m²/year


Multifaith Housing Initiative: Veterans’ House

Higher standard building enclosure and materials provide healthier living, lower operating costs

Jessie Smith and Stephen Pope

MHI Veterans’ House: The Andy Carswell Building is Canada’s first community housing project specifically designed for veterans.  Located on the former Rockcliffe Air Base, this three-storey, 40-unit apartment building provides safe, healthy, and affordable housing for veterans. The project is part of a contemporary mixed-use community that is walkable, cycling-supportive, transit-oriented, and built at a human scale.

Twenty percent of the units and all common amenity spaces inside Veterans House are fully accessible, while the remaining suites are ‘visitable’. Partnering non-profit organizations have access to shared office space on the ground floor, enabling them to provide a variety of support services for veterans as they adjust to civilian life. Communal spaces, including a multipurpose room, a fitness room, and a shared kitchen promote community engagement and healthy living.

In preparation for this project, MHI invited Ottawa Salus Corporation and several veteran-focused groups to attend a ‘Plan of Care’ charette to discuss the design features that would best support the needs of veterans. Of particular importance was the provision of extensive landscaping to ensure residents would have easy visual and physical access to nature.

In response, the site was designed to maximize the amount of green space on the property. This has provided individual suites unobstructed views and access to abundant daylight. Walking paths and a dog run surround the building to promote a healthy lifestyle. The landscape design also includes healing, meditation, and vegetable gardens to provide a place of respite for those suffering from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) who may find comfort in the solitude.

Inside the building, finishes were selected to avoid trigger colours for those suffering from PTSD. Exposed wood accents are used throughout the building, including large mass timber canopies, to evoke a sense of calm.

MHI chose to follow the Passive House standard for the design and construction of the building. Extra investment was made to achieve high levels of air tightness and thermal control of the building envelope. Ventilation air is provided by premium energy recovery ventilators, supplying continuous and balanced outdoor fresh air. Energy modeling shows that the building has a 43% energy use reduction and 57% carbon reduction relative to the National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings (NECB) 2015 reference model.


  • Owner/Developer  Multifaith Housing Initiative
  • Architect  CSV Architects
  • General contractor  McDonald Brothers Construction
  • Landscape Architect  Lashley & Associates
  • Civil Engineer McIntosh Perry
  • Mechanical/Electrical Engineer  Smith & Andersen
  • Structural engineer  Cunliffe and Associates
  • Commissioning Agent Geo-Energie
  • Photos  Krista Jahnke Photography, CSV Architects

The main entrance. Windows by NZP Fenestration are certified for Passive House.


Doig River Cultural Centre

Community building brings superb energy performance to northern climate

By Peter Hildebrand 

The Doig River Cultural Centre in Rose Prairie, BC is among Canada’s most northerly PHI-certified projects and the first certified First Nations community building completed. The main level comprises 250m² of community-oriented space with an upper mezzanine for additional seating and a lower level comprising a daycare and an Elders lounge. The design, which allows for multiple uses within a single building, was intended to promote inter-generational interaction and fulfill the community’s desire for a safe and healthy space for all its members.

In such a small and remote community, a close network of buildings is crucial to establish a central gathering place and create a critical mass for community functions. The project’s site locates the Centre close to the existing community administration building to create a somewhat civic centre. This proximity also minimized the need for major infrastructure expansion.

Nestled into the slope in a grove of birch and aspen trees, the building complements its natural surroundings and offers a gesture of welcome at the entrance to the community. The slope also facilitates grade access to both levels, which eliminates the need for an elevator or wheelchair lift.

The choice of building form and orientation were critical, with a large south-facing roof and extensive glazing required to maximize winter solar heat gain and optimize PV panel exposure. This orientation also creates a dynamic display of light and shadow across the splayed walls as the melting snow constantly shifts and changes shape as it makes its way down the surface of the glass. The compact two-level plus mezzanine organization of the program minimizes the building’s footprint, reduces the surface-to-volume ratio, and lessens the environmental impact of the building on the site.

The structure is a hybrid of site-built and prefabricated components, thus increasing quality and precision. The primary structural system consists of glue-laminated arches with prefabricated panels between them that arrived on site with pre-installed insulation. An additional 300mm of insulation was added around the entire perimeter of the building, which was secured using wood strapping and 350mm screws.

The screws were oriented at opposing angles in a truss-like configuration to ensure vertical rigidity and prevent the insulation from sagging. Fastening the thick layer of insulation to the face of the sheathing required careful detailing and a new approach to the cladding system design. The exterior cladding materials comprise standing seam metal roof and wall cladding, and a composite shake product made from recycled plastic and wood fibres that comes with a 50-year warranty.

The sleek, straight-lined Prolok profile of the metal cladding, supplied by Westform, provides long-term durability in unlimited colour options.


  • Architect  Iredale Architecture
  • Owner/Developer  Doig River First Nation
  • General Contractor  Erik Olofsson Construction Inc.
  • Landscape Architect  Urban Systems
  • Civil Engineer Urban Systems
  • Electrical Engineer  EDG Corporation
  • Mechanical Engineer  Rocky Point Engineering Ltd.
  • Structural engineer  Equilibrium Consulting Inc.
  • Passive House Consultant  RDH Building Science
  • Passive House Certifier  Edsco
  • Geotechnical Engineer  Golder Associates


A BLANKET OF WARMTH – Star Blanket Cree Nation, SK

Technical Award

MacPherson Engineering Inc.

Jury Comment: “This simple, affordable and highly transferable design solution to the substandard indoor environmental quality in much of the First Nations housing stock across the country, is notable for its collaborative approach and the inspiration it takes from traditional Aboriginal structures. The transition from forced air to radiant heat brings multiple benefits, with a payback period of less than 10 years.”

To address the mould issue, MacPherson Engineering partnered with universities, industry leaders, psychologists, Knowledge Keepers, engineers, and businesses. The project needed to be affordable, ecofriendly, incorporate Indigenous knowledge, and create positive social values of inclusion, cooperation, and respect.

The project broadened responsible consumption and production with the installation of the hybrid heating system on 75% of the concrete perimeter basement walls.

Aligning with the United Nations goals, the retrofitting of conventional HVAC with a system that was simple to install and operate improved efficiency and sustainability.

After installation, a comparative study was done, proving that radiant heating is a feasible solution to address air quality, thermal comfort, and energy use and humidity problems, performing much better than traditional HVAC systems. 


  • Owner / Developer  Star Blanket Cree Nation
  • Mechanical Engineer  MacPherson Engineering Inc.
  • Plumbing and Heating  Anaquod Plumbing and Heating
  • Construction  J McNaughton Construction
  • University of Regina  Dr Arm Henni & Capstone students
  • Photos  Aura Lee MacPherson