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Net-zero goals a necessity, but expensive, ORBA panellist says

Don Wall
Net-zero goals a necessity, but expensive, ORBA panellist says
DON WALL — A recent ORBA sustainable construction panel included Jolene McLaughlin, director of corporate sustainability with EllisDon (left), Green Infrastructure Partners executive Anthony Rossi and Lara Yousif, product development manager with Lafarge Canada.

The drive to net-zero in Canada’s construction sector will tolerate no laggards says the country’s largest public procurer as well as its biggest cement supplier.

“I believe we are at a moment in time where we all realize and understand the requirements for sustainable design and construction practices in order to build the infrastructure of tomorrow,” stated Green Infrastructure Partners executive Anthony Rossi, the moderator of a panel discussion held during day one of the Ontario Road Builders’ Association (ORBA) conference held earlier this month.

The ORBA sustainable construction panel featured Nick Xenos, executive director of the Centre for Greening Government, an agency of the federal government; Jolene McLaughlin, director of corporate sustainability with EllisDon; and Lara Yousif, product development manager with Lafarge Canada.

The panellists suggested there can be no holding back as large firms and governments embrace ESG objectives.

Xenos explained the mandate of the Centre for Greening Government is to provide aggressive leadership toward net-zero, climate-resilient and green Government of Canada operations and assets. The federal government owns 30,000 buildings and 20,000 in infrastructure assets, making it the largest property owner in the country.

“If we’re asking Canadians to be zero carbon and climate resilient, we need to do it as well in our own infrastructure,” said Xenos.

As part of the Greening Government Strategy, federal departments are being required to develop a real property portfolio plan to determine the most cost-effective pathway to achieve net-zero, climate-resilient real property operations by 2050.

Two other areas of focus will be the government’s fleet — it owns 40,000 vehicles as well as aircraft and ships — and its procurement practices.

In future, Xenos said, no government building will be constructed without net-zero targets. All new federal buildings including build-to-lease and public-private partnerships will be net-zero carbon, and all major building retrofits, including significant energy performance contracts, will require a GHG reduction life-cycle cost analysis.

Among other measures the federal government has mandated: starting in 2030, 75 per cent of domestic office new lease and lease renewal floor space must be in net-zero carbon, climate-resilient buildings; and by 2025, at the latest, departments must be using 100-per-cent clean electricity.

The Canadian government is also working with the U.S. and U.K. governments on procurement agreements to buy cleaner construction materials, Xenos said.

“None of us want to work for a company that pollutes the planet,” he said.

McLaughlin said the EllisDon executive team has decided the company wants to take a leadership role in helping to transform the industry to a low-carbon future.

Two initial steps were to look in-house to identify and build sustainability skills, and to conduct an inventory of its GHG emissions across the entire company. What it learned was that it had little direct control over its own emissions on sites.

“But when you look at the materials that we procure, and then the operational energy of the buildings, most of the buildings that we build, it becomes more than 90 per cent” of emissions under the control of partners, said McLaughlin.

EllisDon’s conclusion, she explained, was that it needed to boost collaboration with its partners including suppliers like Lafarge and project designers.

Programs undertaken so far include a pilot project tracking fuel use, deliveries and materials; seeking alternative fuel options in equipment; PV use on sites in trailers; and developing internal expertise on low carbon materials and building tools to compare carbon.

“We have to walk the talk,” McLaughlin said, outlining collaborations.

Lafarge’s parent company Holcim is committed to reducing the CO2 footprint of its concrete, Yousif said, but the road to becoming climate neutral by 2050 will require major spending. Its largest CO2 contributor is clinker in its cement production.

“That is the key question, profitability versus sustainability. Let’s just point out the elephant in the room,” said Yousif.

“Within Ontario and Quebec, we have three cement plants, one of which we are spending almost $300 million on improving operational energy, as well as electrification of whatever equipment that we can at the cement plants,” she said. “That will make a huge difference.”

Holcim is attempting to develop a net-zero cement plant by 2030, Yousif said, and is investing heavily in carbon capture, use and storage with 30 pilot projects.

“This stuff costs a lot of money and this stuff is not necessarily approved in standards or specifications,” she said. “That’s why we have to talk about it, because we want this long-term goal to be achieved.”

Follow the author on Twitter @DonWall_DCN.

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