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FGIA: First steps taken

There is still work to be done, such as advancing low-embodied materials, before technical solutions can be proposed.

August 31, 2023  By Amy Roberts


FGIA Summer Conference attendees heard the results of a member survey on sustainable construction issues.

The Canadian Board for Harmonized Construction Codes recently concluded a set of public consultations on policy recommendations about including provisions for greenhouse gas emissions in the national model codes. While the 2020 National Energy Code of Canada for Buildings and National Building Code of Canada have energy-efficiency tiers (measures that progressively increase energy efficiency and reduce the amount of energy needed to operate a building), they do not address the type or quality of energy source used by buildings and houses (operational emissions) or embodied carbon, which are “emissions associated with materials and construction processes throughout a building’s life cycle,” as defined by the Canada Green Building Council.

In November 2022, CBHCC decided, in accordance with the direction set by the Canadian Commission on Building and Fire Codes, to draft measures related to operational GHG emissions for inclusion in the 2025 national model codes and embodied GHG emissions for the 2030 edition. Embodied carbon-related provisions have been deferred to 2030. One of the reasons is that there is still work to be done in that area, such as advancing low-embodied materials, before technical solutions can be proposed. It is well known that it is challenging to source low-embodied-carbon materials in northern and remote areas. We need more data and environmental product declarations for embodied carbon. A standard method of analysis for embodied carbon must also be determined. There are many policies focusing on emissions mitigation across various jurisdictions in Canada, but very little regulations on embodied emissions.

CBHCC is also recommending including a tiered framework that progresses toward the ultimate goal of net zero emissions buildings or houses in the NBC. A net zero emissions building or house has minimal operational and embodied GHG emissions, with remaining emissions offset through various mechanisms. This framework will provide provinces and territories with some flexibility to address different energy source issues.

British Columbia recently added new energy-efficiency regulations to the B.C. Building Code. The government hopes these steps will ensure cleaner, more efficient buildings are constructed in line with its commitment to zero-carbon new construction by 2030. BCBC now requires 20 percent better energy efficiency for most new buildings throughout the province. The Zero Carbon Step Code provides tools for local governments to encourage or require lower emissions in new buildings. The new regulations meet the province’s commitments to gradually lower emissions from buildings until all new construction is zero carbon by 2030 and net-zero-energy-ready by 2032, per the CleanBC Roadmap. Zero carbon refers to carbon dioxide emissions, while a net-zero-energy-ready building is using 80 percent less energy than typical new construction.

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The higher energy-efficiency requirements are a progression of the B.C. Energy Step Code, which was introduced in 2017. Local governments can use the B.C. Energy Step Code to encourage or require energy efficiency that goes beyond BCBC requirements. It is important to note the B.C. Energy Step Code enhances energy efficiency in new construction, while the Zero Carbon Step Code focuses on emissions reductions from new construction.

The reasons for including GHG-related provisions in the NBC are compelling. Approximately 27 per cent of Canada’s GHG emissions are due to buildings. According to the Canada Green Buildings Strategy by Natural Resources Canada, 18 of the 27 percent is operational GHG emissions including electricity-related emissions. Approximately nine per cent relates to embodied GHG emissions according to a global estimate per the 2022 Global Status Report for Buildings and Construction: Towards a Zero-emission, Efficient and Resilient Buildings and Construction Sector report by the United Nations Environment Program. Addressing these types of emissions in the NBC is an important step toward mitigating global warming and supporting Canada’s climate goals. Canada has committed to reducing total GHG emissions to 40 to 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 and reaching net zero by 2050. Additionally, the 2025/2030 NBC will be an appropriate tool to use for reducing operational and embodied GHG emissions of buildings and houses, as it creates a minimum standard and plays a foundational role in building design and construction across the country.

NRC believes the implementation of new GHG emissions objectives and requirements will result in increased commercial activity in the construction sector, supporting a low-carbon economy while helping to achieve our GHG emissions reductions goals. 

The FGIA plans to take an active role in all CBHCC and NRC industry consultations about these issues going forward. To better understand the needs of our industry, a survey was sent to FGIA members to ask how the association could best help with their sustainability needs and the results were presented at our recent Summer Conference in Vancouver. Among members’ top priorities were guidance on how to obtain and prepare Product Category Rules and Life Cycle Analysis documents. Understanding the impact of glass and glazing systems on overall embodied carbon in construction was also identified as a priority.•


Amy Roberts is FGIA director of Canadian and technical glass operations


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