Green Building  - the Why and the How

The city of Vancouver has an ambitious green action plan.  As of 2020 all new buildings will need to be carbon neutral in their operations. 

The specific definition of a carbon neutral building varies somewhat in the building community but the key element is that building operations produce much less greenhouse gas emissions.  In Ontario commercial and residential buildings account for about 23% of the provinces greenhouse gas emissions. In Thunder Bay in 2011, the commercial and residential sector accounted for 40% of the greenhouse gas emissions. The source of these emissions are the combustion of heating fuels such as natural gas and oil and from using electricity. 

The Vancouver green action plan, called the Greenest City 2020 Action Plan, describes carbon neutral buildings as properties that use a low or zero carbon source for heating and hot water systems, and use 50 per cent less electricity than the city’s current building code.

But the plan does not just include new construction.  It includes reducing emissions from existing buildings by 20 per cent from 2007 levels by 2020.  Their plan is strategic.  They have examined their building stock, and which sectors would most benefit from new approaches.  They have identified large industry, large commercial, large multiunit residential buildings and detached houses as those sectors that offer the best opportunities to efficiently apply City tools for significant GHG reductions. The tools will be tailored for each of these sectors. Some sectors such as government owned buildings already have policies and programs regarding energy improvements and are not included in their strategy and others have more challenging market barriers.

While Vancouver’s plan is one of the most ambitious, similar strategies are being developed in many cities across the country.  Many buildings in particular in the institutional sector have undergone energy retrofits where provincial programs or new regulations are in place.  Each city will have to examine their building stock, their climate and energy sources to find opportunities to make most change.

Vancouver has the advantage of mild winters and easily available hydroelectricity.  Thunder Bay however, has more sunshine and can take more advantage of the various forms of solar energy. Improvements in the building envelope – primarily insulation – can achieve significant savings during winter.

Initial costs for a high-performance building will be offset through reduced operation costs – namely reduced energy bills and increased building durability. There is a push from tenants and socially responsible corporations for green buildings. Pension funds are also investing in LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified buildings as part of their strategies.

A barrier to preventing carbon neutral buildings from quickly becoming mainstream is economics. There are few incentives for developers as there are no strong regulations against carbon in Canada and natural gas is currently not expensive. Carbon pricing schemes will likely in time be implemented in all provinces and gradually involve all sectors.  Ontario is the latest province  -  recently announcing a cap and trade pricing as well as plans to promote ongoing energy efficiencies in the building sector.

Environment North is very pleased to announce that local architect John Stephenson will be the guest speaker at our Environmental Knowledge Learning and Sharing Seminar on Thursday April 30, 2015. 

John Stephenson has over 33 years of experience as an architect. He has experience with building projects that cover the continuum of care for seniors and with restoration and adaptive re-use of heritage buildings. Mr. Stephenson has experience in managing design decisions and approval process and has been involved with a number of public /private partnerships across Northwestern Ontario.  He was the lead architect of the Sister Margaret Smith Centre which achieved LEED® Canada for New Construction Gold Certification. He was also lead architect for the Isabella Retirement Living residence. The building received the City of Thunder Bay's Clean Green Beautiful Gold Level Award.

John Stephenson’s presentation is titled “Building Carbon Neutral: the Why and the How”.  His discussion will include some of the best practices in building design and techniques for achieving carbon neutrality.

The event will begin at 7:30 at Mary J L Black Library.  The event is free and all are welcome. Come early and attend our Environment North Annual General Meeting where we review our activities over the past year.  Kerstin Muth is a member of Environment North.