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Building a Greener Future: The Importance of Carbon Intensity in Canada's Real Estate Sector


In an era marked by climate crises, the onus of curbing global emissions rests heavily on industries with a large carbon footprint, including the realm of real estate. As headlines chronicle floods, fires, and climate events, it's evident that buildings play an intrinsic role in decarbonizing the future. Why? Because they are responsible for a staggering 27% of annual global emissions.


Yet, amidst this challenge lies an opportunity for unprecedented change.


The Metric that Matters: Understanding Carbon Intensity

As the world gears up to add an equivalent of Paris in new construction every week for the next 40 years, understanding and measuring building emissions becomes paramount. While many are familiar with Energy Use Intensity (EUI), which measures energy consumption, it doesn't quite capture the whole picture of a building's environmental footprint. This is where Carbon Intensity (CI) comes into play.


Defined as the ratio of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e) emissions to building floor space, CI provides a holistic view of a building’s environmental impact. It shifts the narrative from simply gauging energy consumption to evaluating the actual carbon emissions, which is more indicative of a building’s role in climate change. To illustrate, a building might be energy-efficient in Alberta, but its CI could be high due to the province's dependence on fossil fuels for electricity, compared to Quebec's hydropower-rich grid.


A real-time grid intensity map, such as that provided by Wattime, further emphasizes the regional variances in grid intensity, reinforcing the importance of CI.

The Regulatory Wave: CI in Policy

Given CI's potential as an accurate environmental barometer, regulators worldwide are recognizing its significance. Jurisdictions like California and New York City have already taken steps in this direction, while the UK government has implemented Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting (SECR) regulations. Global initiatives like the United Nations Global Compact (UNGC) and building certifications such as LEED and BREEAM are also integrating CI as a vital parameter for sustainability and transparency.


The Canadian Context: Embracing CI for a Greener Tomorrow

In Canada, where energy conservation for large buildings is a focal concern, understanding and reducing CI can usher in a new era of sustainable real estate. It’s not just about compliance or cost savings – it's about setting the foundation for a greener future.


By prioritizing CI, the Canadian real estate industry can pave the way for a more resilient, competitive, and sustainable future. It’s a step beyond assessing environmental impact; it's a commitment to ensuring a sustainable legacy for future generations.


To quote David Suzuki, a renowned Canadian environmental activist, "We are all interconnected and that is a beautiful thing. We have an opportunity to build systems that better address local needs while respecting the global imperatives we now face."


By focusing on carbon intensity in our buildings, Canada can rise to this challenge and lead the way in creating sustainable urban landscapes.

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