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Fiera sets industrial Zero Carbon Building certifications record

Fiera Real Estate has the most certified zero-carbon industrial real estate by space and the largest single asset

450 March Rd., in the West Ottawa community of Kanata, is one of five Fiera Real Estate properties to earn Zero Carbon Building certifications. (Google Maps)
450 March Rd., in the West Ottawa community of Kanata, is one of five Fiera Real Estate properties to earn Zero Carbon Building certifications. (Google Maps)

Fiera Real Estate has certified its first assets under the Zero Carbon Building - Performance standard, setting two Canadian records for certified industrial real estate and establishing a foothold for its 2040 net-zero carbon blueprint.

The Zero Carbon Building – Performance standard was awarded to four of Fiera Real Estate’s properties in Ontario (450 March Road, Ottawa; 2655 Bristol Circle, Oakville; 3500 Steeles Avenue East, Markham; 4087 Harvester Road, Burlington) and one in Alberta (6510 20th Street NW, Edmonton).

450 March, 2655 Bristol Circle and 3500 Steeles are office assets, while 4087 Harvester and 6510 20th Street NW are industrial assets. They total just over one million square feet of leasable space.

In doing so, Fiera Real Estate became the landlord with the most certified industrial space, and 6510 20th Street NW is the largest certified industrial asset in Canada, at 161,697 square feet. A third-party consultant verified the claims, according to Jag Singh, director of ESG at Fiera Real Estate.

In an interview with SustainableBiz, Singh said the company sought to demonstrate that certification is possible both in a clean electricity environment such as Ontario, and an emissions-intensive environment such as Alberta. The firm focused on “reshaping a narrative” around the perception of industrial real estate as a difficult-to-abate asset class.

“Sometimes in the office space, it’s not a manufacturing environment, it’s not as energy intensive as how a manufacturing environment can be. We wanted to show it was possible in an environment where you are actually using a lot of energy.”

Fiera Real Estate is an investment firm managing $8 billion of commercial real estate in North America and Europe, with approximately 21 million square feet in Canada. It is owned by Montreal-headquartered Fiera Capital Corporation, a global asset management firm.

Achieving Zero Carbon Building certifications

The Zero Carbon Building certification for performance is administered by the Canada Green Building Council (CAGBC) to recognize buildings with zero-carbon operations.

To achieve the certification, Singh said Fiera Real Estate had to start by examining emissions sources for its building operations. Then it had to drive down emissions through conservation measures and identifying opportunities to mitigate carbon on site.

Those conservation efforts took the form of switching out inefficient technologies to reduce electricity consumption, plugging heat leaks in building envelopes, and evaluating the potential use of renewable energy such as solar panels and geothermal energy.

The CAGBC website for the Zero Carbon Building – Performance standard says the requirements entails goals such as achieving a zero-carbon balance and offsetting embodied carbon and refrigerant leaks.

Fiera had to create a transition plan to move the buildings away from fossil fuel consumption and establish a ‘zero-carbon balance,’ which was achieved by purchasing “high-quality carbon offsets until we execute on the decarbonization of the assets,” Singh said.

The buildings are in the process of decarbonization, with some continuing to use natural gas. To transition away from natural gas, Fiera Real Estate is eliminating rooftop units or transitioning to electrical heat generation.

“Bellwether” for the Net Zero Carbon Pathway

More broadly for Fiera Real Estate, the five certified properties serve as “bellwether sites” for its efforts to reach net-zero carbon by 2040.

“We learned quite a bit about the decarbonization process by having these properties go through the certification process,” Singh said. “They help us template what our process is going to be for future sites.”

In February, Fiera Real Estate published its Net Zero Carbon Pathway for its CORE Fund and Industrial Fund. Fiera Real Estate set an interim target of cutting its Scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions by 50 per cent by 2030 from a 2019 baseline. From 2031 to 2040, Fiera Real Estate aspires to complete portfolio-level electrification, have all its new developments to be net-zero and offset remaining emissions.

It will be achieved through measures such as:

  • engaging with its occupants to “collaboratively reduce carbon emissions across the portfolio";
  • including green lease clauses within any new leases;
  • installing solar panels within its portfolio; and
  • developing a carbon offsetting strategy for remaining emissions from its operations.

Singh offered more specific actions for the pathway, such as building envelope improvements, retrofits, using low-carbon heating and cooling options, and evaluating or implementing renewable energy on site.

"Challenge the industry"

By setting a zero-carbon goal for 2040, Singh said it pushes the real estate industry to be more ambitious on climate concerns.

“It’s incumbent on us to challenge the industry to move further. Real estate is a very significant source of emissions globally. By us establishing a target that’s a little bit ahead of what the scientists are suggesting that we all need to do, we’re hoping to motivate and inspire our peers in the industry and pushing the needle to be a little bit more aggressive.”

As of Fiera Real Estate’s latest sustainability report covering 2021, it managed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by five per cent globally, or 29,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent.

Singh attributed this drop to the electrification of some of the portfolio and LED lighting-related upgrades that impacted its greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption.

Fiera Real Estate is also engaging with tenants to understand what they need from a landlord to reduce electricity use on site.

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