Making the Most of your Environmental Procurement Criteria for Construction Projects.

The CCSP sat for the third peer exchange of the year on May 11th. This month’s topic: environmental impacts in construction. Read on to learn about certifications, lowering impacts of construction, embodied carbon, and some industry leaders in green building. 

With almost 40% of annual global emissions coming from the built environment1, there is an opportunity for the construction industry to become a pioneer in reducing global carbon emissions. Speakers from WSP, Mantle Developments and UBC enlightened CCSP members on the importance of setting sustainability priorities, reducing embodied carbon and planning for climate resilience.

Historically, focus has been on creating energy efficient buildings to reduce their operating carbon emissions. However more recently, with modern buildings, focus is shifting towards reducing embodied carbon, which has a significant impact on the total carbon footprint of the building. Emissions from embodied carbon occur from any non-operation-based activities like manufacturing, transportation, installation and end of life management. In Canada, there are pre-existing certifications, like the globally recognized LEED Certification, which prioritizes reducing embodied carbon, fostering health and welfare, and promoting circular economy. But are these certifications enough? How can public sector organizations use their procurement practices to compliment certifications and achieve environmental project objectives.


The Mismatch Between Certifications and Priorities

Juhee Oh from WSP, a globally recognized professional and engineering services firm, shed light on the importance of developing sustainability priorities early in the project process to ensure you have the right procurement criteria that can optimize sustainability needs.

She began by introducing widely known, traditional “buckets” for green buildings. These included sweeping topics like water efficiency or GHG emissions. Nowadays, this traditional incorporation of sustainability is not specific enough to catch the unique array of goals that organizations may set. To adequately address all criteria across these buckets would require a budget many times the size of the typical portion allotted towards sustainability and would result in less than adequate outcomes in all buckets.

To ensure the most meaningful approach to achieving sustainability goals, Juhee advised organizations to set targets focussing in two main areas: climate change mitigation and adaptation/resilience. Design and material choices in these two areas positively impact other buckets like health and wellness, water and energy efficiency, landscape, and waste. So, by concentrating effort, organizations can make the most of project budgets while achieving farther reaching outcomes.

When setting these goals, certifications are a good starting point, but often don’t reflect the detailed and unique priorities of the organization. Thus, certifications should be used as a guiding framework rather than an end goal. Equally as important is to bolster stakeholder engagement early in the planning phase to help identify priorities and assist the budget mapping process.


From Energy Efficiency to Embodied Carbon

Ryan Zizzo from Mantle Developments, a climate-smart developments consulting company emphasized the importance of reducing embodied carbon in construction projects. He described these types of emissions as primarily “upfront”, meaning emissions that occur at the beginning of the construction process, such as those from the manufacturing of cement and steel, and transportation of materials.

For buildings of the past, operational carbon emissions were significantly higher than embodied. However, with the advancement of operational energy efficiency, now embodied carbon is eating up a larger portion of the emissions pie – especially in the first 10 years of a building’s life. This means it’s time to focus on reducing embodied carbon, particularly considering globally shared goals of reducing GHG emissions by 50% by 2030 and achieving net-zero by 2050. Ryan highlighted that organizations need to treat this reduction with the same intensity as they treat energy efficiency,.

One of the most effective methods for doing this is by substituting typical construction materials for lower-carbon options. In Toronto, Mantle aided two city-owned buildings to reduce their embodied carbon by 26% from switching the type of insulation, concrete, steel, wood, and other materials used with minimal impact on budget. Mantle has published a report containing design and materials strategies, along with other recommendations and templates for reducing building embodied emissions; which can be downloaded here.

The City of Toronto has established themselves a leader in this space with the recent announcement of new emissions cap standards for their buildings. To read more about this, check out this blog.


Weathering for Climate Resilience

Penny Martyn, Green Building Manager from the University of British Columbia (UBC) educated us on a recent building retrofit done at UBC, focusing on climate resilience and modernist design.

With UBC’s aggressive action plan to reduce all building carbon emissions by 100% by 2035, focusing on existing buildings in addition to new builds will be imperative.

Beyond reducing emissions to help mitigate climate change, UBC has Climate Ready Building Requirements with key design strategies to reduce the risks and costs to UBC’s buildings due to the climate changes predicted for the region. Thus, buildings being built or retrofitted must be designed with a future weather state in mind; these include:

  • Thermal comfort – designing for 2050 temperatures,
  • Rainwater management – designing for 2100 rainfall patterns,
  • Indoor air quality – designing for 2050 levels of air particulate and pollution, and
  • Water reduction – designing a climate resilience landscape for 2050 levels of drought and watering.

The retrofit Penny discussed incorporated measures to achieve LEED Gold, a new envelop design to improve shading, passive heating, and passive lighting along with updated heating, cooling, and ventilation systems. These updates greatly improved the building’s energy efficiency and climate change readiness.


Action by Design

All three speakers placed heavy emphasis on clear cut project design. Recommendations for establishing this design included:

  • Use certifications as a starting point, but not a project map.
  • Create specific, sustainability-related priorities and targets but allowing project engineers and consultants to identify the most cost-effective way to achieve them.
  • Engage stakeholders early in the project process and facilitate clear communication throughout the process.,materials%20%E2%80%94%20is%20a%20significant%20offender