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The Future of Infrastructure is Green

Tall, green buildings
Tall, green buildings

Thomas Mueller

Founding Director, Canada Green Building Council

Thomas Mueller is a Founding Director of the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC), and is currently leading the Council’s national green building strategy, programs, and standards along with its advocacy and policy initiatives. This non-for-profit, national organization works to advance green building and sustainable community development practices as well as to accelerate the transformation to high-performing, healthy green buildings and homes.

Mediaplanet: What’s the importance of green building in terms of achieving Canada’s climate change commitments?

Thomas Mueller: According to the recent Environment and Climate Change Canada (ECCC)’s Advisory Council on Climate Action (ACCA) report, the built environment and transportation sectors account for over a third of Canada’s green house gas (GHG) emissions. While we’re bringing those emissions down, the report is clear that at this pace, we won’t meet Canada’s 2030 emissions reduction target of 30% below 2005 levels under the Paris Agreement. 

The built environment alone accounts for 12% of current emissions, making it critical to any reduction strategy. On average, green buildings outperform conventional buildings by upwards of 30% in energy efficiency. However, if we’re to pick up the pace, gains in energy efficiency can’t come from new buildings alone. It’s estimated that existing buildings will represent 75 to 80% of the stock in 2030 — meaning it’s imperative that we retrofit Canada’s existing buildings if we are to come close to meeting our carbon reduction targets. 

CaGBC research proves that retrofits can significantly reduce energy consumption and emissions, can lower ongoing operating costs, can enhance property values, and that it can all be done cost-effectively. As carbon pricing goes up, those benefits will only increase while producing attractive returns for lenders and investors.

Together with industry and governments at every level, we’re mobilizing the building industry to support the transition to a low-carbon economy. We’re achieving this by advancing energy benchmarking, supporting reporting and disclosure initiatives, driving the skills shift required for a low-carbon economy, and advocating for financial mechanisms to encourage investment in energy-efficiency improvements. 

What are some of the actionable solutions that CaGBC is leading to eliminate GHG emissions and advocate for green development standards?

The CaGBC is accelerating the transformation to high-performing, healthy green buildings, homes, and communities in Canada. The Council is supporting stronger, more robust standards that encourage investment in green retrofits as well as highly-efficient new builds. The benefits of green buildings are many, including lowering or eliminating GHG emissions, developing strategies for waste reduction and zero waste, concerving water, and enhancing occupant health.

The CaGBC’s Zero Carbon Building Standard is a made-in-Canada solution that provides a path for new and existing buildings to reach zero carbon emissions. We’ve successfully delivered the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design® (LEED) rating system in Canada since 2004, with a total of 4,025 buildings certified to date, representing 548,302,617 sq. ft. of green buildings. LEED has revolutionized the industry and today is recognized as the international mark of excellence and the leading global standard for green building in over 160 countries. LEED works because it drives sustainability from a holistic perspective, balancing a reduction in environmental impacts from energy, water, waste, and land development with human health and resiliency strategies. LEED applies to all building types and sets rigorous standards for their design, construction, and operation. 

Fighting climate change requires bold action, which means that we need to think differently about the way we build, retrofit, and manage our buildings.

What’s the role that innovation and foresight play in achieving these goals?

Fighting climate change requires bold action, which means that we need to think differently about the way we build, retrofit, and manage our buildings. Our recommendations help advance innovation in Canada’s green building industry by developing leading green building standards, expertise, products, and technologies that are paving the way for international trade and job creation in a trillion-dollar-a-year global construction sector. 

At home, our research indicates that the retrofit economy is a $30 billion economic driver, able to create more than 260,000 new jobs. However, large building retrofits are woefully under-performing. If we’re to achieve the carbon reductions in the building sector needed to help Canada meet its obligations, we need to undertake deep retrofits at 50,000 to 60,000 buildings over the next 10 years, especially knowing that 75 to 80% of existing buildings will still be in operation in 2030 and at least 50% in 2050. 

It will take visionary and innovative approaches to help Canada meet its carbon reduction targets. We’re pushing that innovation forward in a few critical ways: 

  • Developing appropriate financing products and risk management solutions to meet the need for a retrofit economy over the next 10 to 30 years.
  • Creating pathways for all large buildings to be zero carbon — including existing buildings.
  • Preparing and building the workforce to meet the demand for green building skills in the low-carbon economy.
  • Asking governments and industry to make carbon emissions the key metric for building performance.
  • Increasing our understanding of actual building performance by championing data transparency and benchmarking industry-wide. 
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