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Big 7 firms partner on carbon action plan

Don Wall
Big 7 firms partner on carbon action plan

Governments and NGOs have done their parts to create policy frameworks on climate change and now it’s time for the construction sector to translate policy into actions.

That’s the view from Andrew Bowerbank, global director of sustainable building services at EllisDon, who was instrumental in bringing his firm and six other major industry stakeholders together to create the Carbon Impact Initiative (CII).

Following the election of the Trudeau government last October and the Paris Climate Change Conference of November-December, where Canada confirmed support for new greenhouse gas reductions, Bowerbank and colleagues from EllisDon got together with representatives from six other sectoral leaders — BASF Canada, WSP Group, the Cement Association of Canada, Cricket Energy, Enbridge Gas Distribution and Cisco Systems — with the goal of kickstarting action on climate change.

In February, 70 senior executives went through a roundtable exercise with Bowerbank, hired in 2015 by EllisDon with credentials that include a stint as executive director/CEO of the World Green Building Council and with a mandate to take dynamic action, he says, serving as facilitator and stressing the need to move forward.

The result was the Carbon Impact Initiative Action Plan, unveiled at a media conference held in Mississauga June 15. The report provides an overview of worldwide movements towards reducing carbon use and then urges action in four areas: net-zero building, carbon accounting, clean-tech innovation and identifying returns on investment.

"The Carbon Impact Initiative will not be rolled out as a not- for-profit promotional strategy or advocacy position," the report states. "We will be building projects, testing technologies and more through real-world applications and industry objectives."

Speaking a week after the launch, Bowerbank said the partnership already has a handful of jobs identified to serve as possible pilot projects. The idea is for the partners, acting individually or ideally jointly, to take policy goals, such as Ontario’s recently stated mandate to build solely net-zero energy homes after 2030, figure what they mean in practice and then start building.

"We need to get our hands into building towards these aggressive targets like net-zero energy," said Bowerbank. "It’s still an unknown even from a cost-estimating point of view. What is the practical technology, at what size and scale of building, does net-zero building become impractical? Can you do it in a large tower? Probably not, but how close can we get?"

In the former Prime Minister Stephen Harper era, Canada fell behind as a world player in sustainable building but we are now catching up, believes Bowerbank.

"There is lots of leadership internationally," he said. "There is a lot of money internationally, in the billions and trillions of dollars, in carbon trading, in commodities, in different initiatives, in clean technology. China right now is the biggest investor in clean-tech in the world."

The seven partners all have enough resources that they can make investments, he said, without being too concerned over the bottom line of every pilot project they might get involved in. They also have international reach and are tremendous domestic players as well, so much so that other groups like the steel industry and Waterfront Toronto want to jump on board.

"We are doing a net-zero energy building, we need to have systems that work so well with each other, we need Cisco," said Bowerbank, explaining how the partners have synergies.

Besides taking practical action, said Bowerbank, other imperatives for the CII group are that they work quickly, that they broadly embrace innovation, and that they work collaboratively.

On this last point, Bowerbank says beyond the importance of the members, and other potential new partners, pooling their expertise and resources,  there are several government agencies and individual politicians who have shown keen interest in the CII. The federal Natural Resources ministry has been interested in climate change for years, he says – and now, with the federal Liberals accelerating their efforts, the minister is out making announcements and policy makers in the ministry tell Bowerbank they need to keep up, he says. Provincial funding — $75 million — from the Ontario Centres for Excellence for renewables and climate change adaptation is valuable, he said. And then there are individuals like Ontario’s Minister of Environment Glen Murray, said Bowerbank, who showed up uninvited but welcomed at the launch.

"Minister Murray shows up, unannounced," said Bowerbank. "He got up and said, this is the type of initiative we have been looking for, and we are putting all of our efforts behind this. I was just amazed by that.Government aggressiveness doesn’t always mean money, it could mean in-kind, acknowledging leadership and awareness, it could be fast-tracking permits," said Bowerbank.

Discussing one of the four CII action items, carbon accounting — referring to addressing all emissions from a firm’s construction activities — the practice has broad potential applications, said Bowerbank. It could be a simple as developing an app used on a tablet that is brought to the construction site each day to monitor materials and processes.

"There are two opportunities here," he said. "Knowledge is power, and the more you know, the better you are able to influence next steps.

"I just want to know what the number looks like. Then we will see what that conversation looks like."

Then, in dealing with government, said Bowerbank, "We might be able to say to them, is there a way to get financing from the cap and trade money to potentially offset the added cost of taking a building to net zero energy? And that is what Mr. Murray really likes."

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