Accelerating Canada’s Path to Zero-Carbon Buildings 

Written by Brent Gilmour, Chief Operating Officer, Canada Green Building Council 

In this critical decade of climate action, it is clear that all nations must reduce carbon emissions to avoid the worst impacts of climate change.  Under the Paris Agreement, Canada has committed to reaching a 30 per cent reduction below 2005 levels of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and with the goal of achieving net-zero emissions by 2050.

This goal puts a target on carbon-intensive industries, among which is the building and construction industry.  Building operations represent 17 per cent of Canada’s carbon emissions, but closer to 30 per cent when materials and construction are considered. 

If Canada is to reach its goals, we must change how buildings are designed, built or renovated, and operated. 

Zero-Carbon Building Solution

As the Canada Green Building Council, we know that zero-carbon buildings represent the best opportunity for emissions reductions.  These buildings are technically achievable and cost-effective – and something Canada is able to action right now to make a significant impact on carbon. 

However, zero-carbon buildings require a shift in how we design, construct, renovate, and operate buildings.  They demand that project teams work much more collaboratively if they are to achieve the high performance required to earn the name “zero carbon.” 

In this sense, achieving Canada’s carbon targets comes down, in a large part, to people.  The building industry must have access to zero-carbon education and training if we are to shift toward zero-carbon building at the scale needed. 

Yet, despite the potential of zero-carbon buildings for the climate, and the low-carbon, future-proof jobs they could bring, barriers still exist to acquiring the needed zero-carbon skills.

Uncovering the Skills Gap to Accelerate to Zero 

CaGBC has studied this gap in the skills needed to achieve zero-carbon buildings.  We started by looking at the trades, covering both Ontario and Alberta.  More recently, we’ve examined the zero-carbon building skills essential for engineers, architects, and renewable energy specialists. 

These building professionals are critical to achieving zero-carbon performance.  Their decisions early in the building process have a direct impact that cascades down through design, construction, and operations.

In Accelerating to Zero: Upskilling for Engineers, Architects, and Renewable Energy Specialists we established a baseline of the zero-carbon skills and knowledge among this group, and then, examining resources available, identified knowledge and skills gaps, with a focus on continuing education and continuing professional development. 

It references CaGBC’s Zero Carbon Building Standard to define the core competencies and sub-competencies needed to effectively evaluate the skills and knowledge required to deliver zero carbon building, including competencies that covered zero carbon balance, energy efficiency, renewable energy, low carbon materials, and future weather impacts. 

While the report details insights into each of these competencies and related competencies to define the skills gaps, we also went beyond to make recommendations on how to fill the gaps and ready the industry’s professionals to meet the demands of zero carbon building.  Already, we are working to put some of these suggestions into action, working with the industry to accelerate workforce development, including in Ontario with the Workforce 2030 coalition.  The learnings there will be help us support other regions as they begin to roll out their workforce transitions toward a low carbon economy. 

Here are some of the key takeaways from the report; 

1. Focus on training relevance and accessibility 

  • Ensure education and training curricula address zero carbon building competencies.  Training organizations and educators need to address high-priority knowledge gaps for engineers, architects, and renewable energy specialists, and then leverage industry partnerships to accelerate curriculum updates so that content is relevant and keeps pace with a rapidly changing building industry.   
  • Support upskilling by establishing common terminology for courses and by investing in self-assessment tools.  Industry groups and associations need to work with accredited education and training providers to establish common terminology to make it easier to identify courses related to zero carbon building competencies. 
  • Drive enhanced professional credentialing requirements.  Accreditation bodies or certified education and training providers need to support the development of zero carbon building skills by incentivizing their members to upgrade their knowledge and training to reflect the required competencies. 
  • Invest in, develop and support multiple delivery methods and formats.  Zero carbon education and training providers need to offer a variety of delivery methods and formats to deliver more choice, increase knowledge transfer, and to effectively address zero carbon building knowledge and skills gaps for building-industry professionals.

2. Support and invest in education and training for zero carbon

  • Demonstrate leadership through government-wide learning.  Make zero carbon building competencies part of the core public sector training curriculum to strengthen Canada’s capacity for innovation as well as drive the market transformation towards a zero carbon future. 
  • Address gap for in-person learning with targeted incentives.  While in-person training is a preferred option for most building-industry professionals, access zero-carbon training opportunities remain limited.  Governments can help by directing capacity-building incentives, especially for small and mid-sized enterprises and self-employed professionals.   
  • Support the adoption of zero carbon building codes and related training and education.  Governments will need to accelerate the adoption of building codes that support zero carbon buildings.  Aside from provincial approvals, governments can minimize delays and encourage the uptake and application of new codes by ensuring there are capacity-building programs in place that support the needs of professionals.

Already, we are working to put some of these recommendations into action, most notably working with the industry and educators to accelerate workforce development, such as through the Workforce 2030 coalition.  Working together, Canada’s education and training providers, accreditation and professional bodies, and policy decision-makers can provide the leadership needed to create a highly educated and empowered professional workforce – one able to support Canada’s transition to a zero carbon. 

Access the full report here:

Accelerating Canada’s Path to Zero-Carbon Buildings

About the Author

As Chief Commercial Officer at CaGBC — Brent Gilmour provides direction for market-facing programs and groundbreaking initiatives that are driving the growth and demand for high performance, healthy green buildings in Canada.

Brent has more than fifteen years of leadership experience and, before joining CaGBC, was the Executive Director of QUEST, the voice for the Smart Energy Communities marketplace.  A passionate champion for sustainable development, Brent has also worked with the Canadian Urban Institute, the University of Toronto’s Sustainability Office, and as an independent research consultant.

In 2018, Brent was made a recipient of the Clean50 Outstanding Contribution to Clean Capitalism for Cities. 

Accelerating Canada’s Path to Zero-Carbon Buildings

About the Canada Green Building Council

The Canada Green Building Council is a not-for-profit, national organization that has been working since 2002 to advance green building and sustainable community development practices in Canada.  As a result of the advocacy, education, and the hard work of its members, thousands of commercial and government buildings, schools, homes, community centres, and historical structures have been retrofitted or newly constructed to green building standards.

Since 2005, these LEED buildings have eliminated 2,490,000 CO2e tonnes of GHG emissions annually, diverted nearly three million tonnes of waste from landfill, and saved 24 billion litres of water per year; benefiting all Canadians.