The Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) wants the federal government’s 2020 budget to include three investments it believes will drive the transition to a low-carbon economy.
“Buildings make up 17 per cent of Canada’s carbon footprint, so building to zero carbon is an important priority,” CaGBC vice-president of advocacy and market development Akua Schatz told Sustainable Biz. “But we also must think about existing buildings, given their long life.
“That’s where retrofits come in. It’s estimated that 80 per cent of the buildings in existence today will still be in use in 2030. If we are to achieve carbon reduction, retrofitting existing buildings must be a high priority.”
The CaGBC brief contains recommendations for building construction, retrofits and worker training.
The CaGBC recommends that the federal government invest $20 million over two years for workforce development and training to build Canada’s low-carbon buildings.
Buildings which are properly designed, built and commissioned can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 91 per cent compared to traditional designs and practices, according to the CaGBC. However, high-performing smart buildings are a relatively new concept not well-understood by industry or government when it comes to training, implementation and efficient operation.
“Simply put, without adequate training for all people involved in green building, it’s possible that buildings won’t perform as designed — in other words will not be as energy-efficient and low-carbon as hoped and needed,” said Schatz. “Such a gap would erode confidence in retrofits, and potentially detract investors, impacting Canada’s ability to meet is global carbon reduction targets.”
The Canadian Home Builders’ Association anticipates the loss of 122,100 workers by 2027 in the residential sector alone. Building officials, engineers, architects, designers, project managers, energy modellers and building operators will also need to upgrade their skills.
Schatz said a $20-million training investment would be an excellent start, but more will be needed to help the labour force adapt to the installation of new technologies and low-emission mechanical systems such as geo-thermal energy, photovoltaics, biomass boilers, ground source heat pumps, high-efficiency lighting technologies or similar equipment for heating, cooling, ventilation and air-conditioning.
“Ideally, the CaGBC would like to see a consistent funding model of $100 million over 10 years,” said Schatz. “However, by starting with a two-year window, we feel the industry and the government will have an opportunity to understand what works and test ways to bring low-carbon skills training to market.”
The CaGBC estimates that, by 2030, the green building sector will employ almost 261,000 people and contribute $32.5 billion directly and indirectly to Canada’s gross domestic product.
“We believe low-carbon buildings and retrofits have the potential to be a significant job engine,” said Schatz.
CIB should finance building retrofits
The CaGBC also recommends that the feds instruct the Canada Infrastructure Bank (CIB) to use $1 billion of its $35-billion allocation to finance retrofits of commercial and multi-residential buildings.
Recent CaGBC research shows well-executed retrofits offer significantly reduced energy consumption and emissions, producing lower operating costs and enhanced property values. Retrofits also improve conditions for occupants, create employment and develop new expertise within the real estate sector, while generating attractive returns for lenders and investors.
However, these improvements require incentives to help owners cover upfront capital investments.
The CIB currently has no involvement with retrofits, as it’s focused on new infrastructure. Schatz believes a $1-billion infusion would have a huge impact in kick-starting the retrofit economy.
“We need to move past simple grants and rebates and invest significantly to create the infrastructure required to transform Canada’s built environment — and help contribute to the carbon reductions that will help us meet our global commitments under the Paris Accord.”
The CaGBC introduced the Investor Confidence Project (ICP) in early 2018 to try and de-risk investments in retrofits. It assembles existing standards and practices into a consistent process for underwriting, developing and measuring energy efficiency retrofit projects that support the assessment of risk and expected outcomes. This provides confidence that a project will achieve its stated energy efficiency or carbon reduction targets.
While the ICP is still targeting early adopters, Schatz is optimistic that there will soon be meaningful uptake.
Committing to zero-carbon buildings
Finally, CaGBC is asking the federal government to continue its “greening government” strategy and commit to constructing and operating new buildings as zero-carbon. It also recommends adopting CaGBC’s Zero-Carbon Building Standard at all newly owned or leased federal buildings, along with an updated LEED Platinum policy.
“It takes time to build up projects, but the outlook is very good based on the interest we’re seeing and the number of projects considering the standard,” said Schatz. “This follows the pathway for adoption of the LEED standard. We now have thousands of buildings certified, but it took efforts to get to those penetration rates.
“For example, LEED was introduced in 2002, and went from 31 certified buildings in Canada in 2005 to a cumulative total of 2,576 by 2015.”
CaGBC research shows zero-carbon buildings are both technologically feasible using readily available technologies, and financially viable. On average, zero-carbon buildings can achieve a positive financial return of one per cent over a 25-year life cycle, inclusive of carbon pricing. Should the cost of carbon rise over time, the business case for zero-carbon buildings grows stronger.
Every building built today that’s not designed accordingly will inevitably require major investments in mechanical equipment, ventilation systems and building envelopes by 2050 to meet Canada’s greenhouse reduction targets. These retrofits will need to occur before the normal span of life cycle re-investments, which will be costly and disruptive to building owners, operators and tenants.
If Canada starts now, more than 12 metric tons per year of carbon dioxide equivalent could be avoided through zero-carbon buildings by 2050, the CaGBC estimates.
Schatz said the CaGBC will “continue to work with whatever government is elected at the federal and provincial levels to ensure that the green building industry has a voice that’s focused on carbon reduction, sustainable and innovative buildings, and job creation — something all parties support.”