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Creating a zero carbon world from the bottom up

Warren Frey
Creating a zero carbon world from the bottom up

A zero carbon world is going to come from the bottom up. Edward Mazria, founder of the Architecture 2030 initiative, said innovation and reduction of greenhouse gases (GHG) will happen through smaller, local means rather than through national and international initiatives.

"The action is happening from the bottom up, with local governments and individuals. The rubber meets the road in places like this, the architectural community, builders and planners," Mazria told the audience during the recent Royal Architectural Institute of Canada conference in Ottawa.

Most new construction happens in urban environments, which is also where the bulk of GHG emissions occur.

"That’s why the architectural sector is key for the future of greenhouse gas reduction," he said.

Phasing out CO2 emissions by 2030 is a three-step plan, he said.

New high performance building designs should be adopted, along with deep efficiency renovations and then employing renewable energy to power those buildings.

New building stock is "well on its way" to hitting the 2030 goal, he said, with 70 per cent of buildings already adhering to the standard by 2015. By 2030, most, if not all, new buildings should be carbon neutral.

Canada’s energy consumption has levelled out since 2003 thanks to new building codes, Mazria explained, and the same drop has occurred in GHGs due to switching to cleaner fuels.

But to bend the curve further downward, he said, deep efficiency renovations should take place at "building intervention points," when construction is scheduled. Such points include resiliency upgrades, flood mitigation, or zoning changes. Otherwise, if tenants are involved in the process, "it’s a nightmare," he said.

Another optimal upgrade point is when buildings are bought or sold, Mazria said. Small buildings have a high annual transaction rate, but use under 35 per cent of total energy consumption in the building sector.

Large buildings by contrast consume over 65 per cent of the energy in the building sector, but have a low transaction rate and make up less than 10 per cent of building stock.

"So a policy has to address both areas," Mazria said.

A policy should require a Building Energy Asset Score or Energuide score at point of sale or listing for smaller (under 20,000-square-foot) buildings, he said, and provide incentives for deep energy efficiency renovation.

"With large buildings, a progressive cycle of upgrades makes more sense, with offset purchasing used to upgrade public housing and other projects," Mazria said. "Alternative compliance options should also be in place, since some buildings will not renovate for a long time."

Other methods to "move the market" include building certifications, which Mazria said "tell the market where it’s going and what it’s thinking."

He added many cities are already signing onto these goals and China is also moving towards Zero Net Carbon.

Academia also needs to prepare students for a low carbon future, Mazria said, by changing studio culture. Internships and awards are one way to change that culture, and he cited Innovation 2030, a student competition to transform design by addressing energy and emissions, adaptation and resilience.

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