There’s been a lot of momentum in the realm of energy efficient construction over the last few years. Improving building performance is a critical component in reaching the Paris climate goals, and the good news is that green building projects are on the rise worldwide – including Canada.

To reach these targets in time, however, we need to do more and we need to do it quickly. Whether it’s building retrofits that significantly reduce energy and carbon emissions or constructing net-zero carbon buildings and neighbourhoods, the sense of urgency at this year’s Canadian Green Building Council (CaGBC) conference was inspiring.

Aptly titled Building Lasting Change, this important annual conference brings together hundreds of green building professionals from across the country – and this year’s edition in Vancouver was no exception.

New zero-carbon building standard

This year’s conference focused on actionable solutions to climate change and began with the unveiling of CaGBC’s new Zero Carbon Building Standard. This new standard provides guidance for new and existing buildings on reaching zero carbon emissions.

Let’s take a closer look:

  • Pillars of the standard include demonstrating a zero carbon balance, maximizing energy efficiency and driving down thermal energy demand, installing onsite renewable energy, and using low-carbon materials.
  • Zero Carbon Building – Design certification targets new construction and focuses on highly efficient building envelope and ventilation systems that meet thermal energy demand intensity (or TEDI) thresholds , with on-site renewable energy systems providing at least 5 per of building energy consumption
  • Zero Carbon Building – Performance targets existing buildings, awarded based on 12 months of operations and verified performance.


Action        ZCB-Design

(new construction)

ZCB- Performance

(existing buildings

Demonstrate Zero Carbon Balance Yes Yes
Provide Zero Carbon Transition Plan* Yes Every 5 years
Install Minimum 5% Onsite Renewable Energy Yes No requirement
Achieve Thermal Energy Demand Intensity Target Yes No requirement
Report Energy Use Intensity Yes Yes
Report Peak Demand Yes Yes
Report Embodied Carbon Yes Yes


Putting the new standard into practice

Having such a new building standard is important, but as we know it’s all about implementing actual changes in the real world. That’s why a total of 16 new projects will be participating in a two-year pilot to roll out and further refine this new standard. The projects include both existing building renovations and new construction and variety of building types (offices, multi-residential, institutional). These pilot projects will provide a wealth of information that will help inform future developments of the Zero Carbon Building Standard and how it’s implemented across Canada.

Four of the 16 pilots are located in the GTHA and preliminary case study information is already available for the pilot project at Mohawk College. Located at the college’s Fennell campus, the new Joyce Centre for Partnership & Innovation will be Hamilton’s first net-zero energy institutional building. The 90,000 square-foot building is slated for completion in 2018.

Going to scale

A number of presentations focused on carbon targets and their implications for buildings. The key questions framing the discussion focused on how to bring about large scale transformation towards significant carbon reductions and how to factor in the lifecycle impacts of materials and systems. A look at what’s happening internationally is very telling. An innovative program from the Netherlands called EnergieSprong (‘energy jump’) retrofits existing residential buildings into net-zero – on a mass scale. It has now branched out to four European countries and New York state.

More than just carbon savings

Although there was a focus on carbon emissions, health and wellness benefits that net-zero carbon buildings provide with their comfortable and healthy indoor environments were recurring themes. And one of the highlights tying in everything was Jeremy Rifkin’s keynote talk. The U.S. economic, social theorist and writer highlighted the importance buildings have in the coming post-carbon world.