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Buildings are large, stationary users of energy – and they're usually built to last. In light of their very long lifespans, Mark Hutchinson, vice-president of green building programs at the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC), considers them prime places for investing in solutions that reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

But can green building practices and technology – such as efficient envelope and ventilation systems and onsite renewable energy systems – really help to achieve a carbon-neutral balance? The answer comes from the CaGBC's new Zero Carbon Building (ZCB) Standard, which maps out a path for both new and existing buildings to reach ambitious greenhouse gas emission targets.

The impact of a focused effort on sustainability performance can be significant, says Mr. Hutchinson. An example is the Mohawk College's Joyce Centre for Partnership and Innovation, which is envisioned to be the country's largest and Ontario's first net zero institutional building when it opens in 2018. "The 92,000-square-feet building encompasses a variety of spaces, including lecture halls and labs, on five levels. And because it is a college, the plan is to leave some of the infrastructure exposed, so it can serve as a living lab for students, faculty and industry partners," says Mr. Hutchinson.

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Environmental technologies include a high-performance building envelope to maximize heating, cooling and natural lights, solar panel arrays, geothermal wells and storm water harvesting, with impressive projected results. "The energy demand is going to be less than 75 equivalent kilo-watt hours per square metre per year," says Mr. Hutchinson. "There are very few buildings that perform at that level in Canada. The average Canadian building is more in the neighbourhood of 300 equivalent kilo-watt hours [per square metre per year]. That means that the project's energy needs are going to be around 75 per cent lower than average, which is a dramatic improvement."

The Joyce Centre for Partnership and Innovation was chosen as one of the pilot projects working towards ZCB certification, says Mr. Hutchinson. The pilot program offers a two-year immersion for developers and designers who are attempting to achieve zero carbon in new or existing buildings.

Mr. Hutchinson says that participants gain support and access to tools, research and education, and the CaGBC will use the examples to evaluate and highlight a range of solutions that can help to accelerate market transformation. "We want to learn as much as we can from the experiences of the pilot projects and convey how these kinds of performance levels can be achieved, so everyone can benefit from the learning curve," he says.

Participating projects span the entirety of the country and represent different owners and different kinds of buildings. "We'll show that green buildings also come out ahead in energy use and cost of operation," says Mr. Hutchinson.

This content was produced by Randall Anthony Communications, in partnership with The Globe and Mail's advertising department. The Globe's editorial department was not involved in its creation.

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