Carbon Neutral Buildings and Tenants: A Canadian Initiative

With little fanfare and almost no media attention the Canadian Standards Association (CSA) launched the CSA Registered Carbon Neutral Program™ in June 2011. The program, which sets out a process where organizations, tenants and building owners can declare carbon neutrality, is a homegrown initiative originating with CSA through discussions with James Baskin Managing Partner and Co-founder of Green Business Standards based in Toronto. From this humble beginning this carbon neutral program is destined to become a globally applied performance label.

The CSA Registered Carbon Neutral Program™ establishes a way for a business to declare carbon neutrality – the achievement of zero net greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – receive recognition in a public registry maintained by CSA and get authorization for use of a CSA label. Registration may be achieved for a calendar or fiscal year and registration of a carbon neutral year is permanent. Registration is for one specific carbon neutral year at a time. Carbon neutrality where zero net GHG emissions are achieved through the acquisition of carbon offsets is not the same as Zero Emissions.

The CSA is the secretariat and administrator for the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) Association Technical Committee 207 responsible for Environmental Management and the ISO 14000 family of standards. The 14000 family includes ISO 14064 GHG measurement and reporting standards hence the prospect that while hatched in Canada the carbon neutral program is bound for global recognition.

Tenant and Building Labels

Synonymous with the development and launch of the CSA Registered Carbon Neutral Program™, James Baskin’s company Integrity Energy collaborated with Cushman & Wakefield Ltd. to form Green Business Standards (GBS). The alliance, announced on July 19th, 2011, is to provide a wide range of services to support commercial real estate property owner’s sustainability goals as well as filling ‘a leadership role’ in supporting CSA’s carbon neutral program for buildings and tenants. Geoff Moffat is the Cushman and Wakefield GBS business partner.

The Green Business Standards partnership emerged from established business relationships between James Baskin’s Integrity Energy Services and the real estate industry. These alliances were generated through Integrity’s delivery of energy efficiency solutions particularly the sale and installation of HPS-G Window Retrofits explained Baskin. HPS-G Window Retrofits are described as “a cost-effective, nano-technology-based retrofit for existing commercial buildings” on the Integrity website.

A few years ago Baskin realized that there are many small organizations, “80% of the business out there” he said, who struggle with how to contribute to reducing the impact of climate change. He described how once a company has tapped out the obvious initiatives — recycling, inducements for employee commuting, energy conservation — they hit a wall with respect to what to do next. He noted most small businesses are tenants who may or may not have a building owner engaged in greening the property.

Self declared carbon neutrality has been an option for business however the absence of credible validation meant it wasn’t taken seriously. With this realization in mind Baskin, along with the Cushman and Wakefield GBS Partner, Geoff Moffat approached the CSA in early 2011 with the idea of the carbon neutral program.

One of the benefits of the program, Baskin explained is that it establishes a benchmark for green house gas emissions that provides a tangible goal for a company to maintain or reduce. It also represents a commitment on the part of the owner to environmental issues that is appreciated by existing and prospective employees, suppliers and customers.

For building owners Baskin sees it as a marketing tool where the CSA label can be used to confirm environmental achievements and help to attract and maintain tenants.

While Baskin’s original concept was to benefit small organizations, corporations who prepare CSR reports and declare GHG emissions through the Carbon Disclosure Project, for example, are also interested in the carbon neutral program. According to Erik Veldman, Project Manager Environment and Climate Change with CSA, the advisory group engaged to assist with the Program’s design included pension funds, institutional investors and other large organizations that unanimously agreed with its development.

CSA currently maintains an International public registry for corporate GHG emissions called the GHG CleanStart Registry that has been available for about 4 years. CSA also administers the Government of Alberta’s GHG offsets project registry for large emitters where CSA literally numbers and tracks every tonne of carbon eligible for use as offsets under the reported under the Provinces Specified Gas Emitters Regulation. Veldman implied that the Carbon Neutral Program from an administrative perspective is a natural offshoot of these existing responsibilities and like the CleanStart™ Registry has International appeal.

An International Energy Management System standard ISO 50001 which was also adopted by CSA in June of 2011 is not a requirement of the CSA’s carbon neutral program said Veldman.

Another CSA program that pre-existed and complements the Carbon Neutral Program is a standard and registry for carbon offset companies called the GHG CleanProjects™ Registry explained Veldman. A concern arose in the business community about ‘fly-by-night’ carbon offset companies where the validity of GHG emission reports was at best questionable. CSA responded with the CleanProjects™ Registry and provides a list of projects on its website.

The concept of purchasing carbon offsets to establish carbon neutrality is controversial. Some people oppose the idea on the grounds that GHG accounting is a murky ill-defined measurement and organizations should simply focus on energy reduction and replacement with renewables. They would argue that if the emission numbers are vague when one organization is involved it is further exacerbated by involving the purchase of an offset. While not eliminating this criticism the CSA program for registering carbon-offset projects, helps to alleviate the objection to the credibility of the reporting and measurement of GHG reductions.

The real estate sector expressed interest in the program to compliment what was out there, said Erik Veldman. It was not an attempt to displace rating systems like LEED and BOMA BESt or efforts to become environmentally sustainable and energy efficient. “The CSA Registered Carbon Neutral™ Program is a simple pass or fail program for carbon neutral claims based on international GHG management standards and does not assess GHG management strategies overall,” said Veldman.

Walking the talk, James Baskin has offered up one of his companies Pragmatic Conferencing, an audio, web, video conferencing and webcasting service to kick start the CSA Registered Carbon™ Neutral Program. He is currently pursing the requirements of the program standard to familiarize himself with the procedures, work out any bugs and to be the first in World to receive the label.

In the future CSA is planning to offer other carbon neutral programs for other types of services such as events said Veldman.


Ann launched RENX in 2001 as a part-time venture and has grown the publication to become a primary source of online news for the Canadian real estate industry. Prior to…

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Ann launched RENX in 2001 as a part-time venture and has grown the publication to become a primary source of online news for the Canadian real estate industry. Prior to…

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