Ask the Expert: Vancouver’s REFM department
& government leadership

City of Vancouver, Civic Buildings
Government Leadership Award

This year, Canada Green Building Council recognized the City of Vancouver’s Real Estate and Facilities Management (REFM) department with the 2020 Government Leadership Award.

The award recognizes a deserving individual, team, department, or organization that has developed policies or programs that advance green building in Canada. The recipient also shows leadership within the public sector to improve performance in sustainable building practices.

This year’s recipient, Vancouver’s REFM department, sets an example for other Canadian municipalities. It has adopting aggressive strategies that encourage the design and construction of leading-edge green buildings. These strategies include LEED® Gold Certification since 2004, a zero emission new building policy since 2016, piloting CaGBC’s Zero Carbon Building Standard and, in 2019, adopting a strategy to measure and reduce embodied carbon in new construction projects.

Learn more about Vancouver’s approach to green building in our Ask the Expert interview with by Craig Edwards, Manager, Energy and Utilities, Real Estate & Facilities Management, City of Vancouver.

1. Tell us about the City of Vancouver’s Real Estate and Facilities Management (REFM) department and your role within?

The City of Vancouver’s Real Estate and Facilities Management department provides real estate, planning and development, and operations and maintenance services for city owned buildings and properties. My role, as the Manager of Energy and Utilities, is to develop strategies and implement projects within the City owned portfolio of facilities, to show internal leadership in achieving the goals of the City’s sustainability strategies, including the Renewable City Strategy, Greenest City Action Plan, Zero Emissions building plan, and Climate Emergency Response Plan. In doing so I help set the sustainability design requirements for new construction projects, manage energy retrofit projects to reduce GHG emissions, and manage the purchase of utilities for city owned buildings to reduce GHG emissions and operating costs.

2. Vancouver is a green building leader in Canada. What do you think drives the city’s focus on green building?

The City has a history of very strong leadership at the Mayor, Council and Staff levels, focused on leading the way on environmental issues. Because the City is regulated under the Vancouver Charter, a provincial statute, it has greater flexibility in creating bylaws than other municipalities have under the Local Government Act. It has taken advantage of this flexibility to consistently create increasingly innovative Green Rezoning and Building Bylaws that exceed the energy and sustainability requirements of the provincial building code. To demonstrate how to achieve these higher performance standards and to help transform the market, the City has consistently adopted even higher performance targets for its new City-owned buildings, well in advance of requiring increasing levels of performance in Green Rezoning and Vancouver Building Bylaws. To date, the City has approximately 40 City-owned new construction projects that have been designed and built to be certified to LEED gold, Zero Carbon Building, Living Building Challenge, or Passive House standards.

3. What challenges / opportunities do you see for Vancouver as we move closer to 2030 and meeting Canada’s carbon targets – how is Vancouver prioritizing carbon in city-owned buildings?

Vancouver is fortunate to be located in a part of the country where electricity is primarily hydro power based, making it very low in greenhouse (GHG) emissions, and a climate that makes it practical to heat and cool buildings with air source heat pumps, and to design buildings to meet aggressive standards for reducing heating energy demand. To take advantage of these opportunities the City has adopted a strategy of requiring Passive House certification and the use of no fossil fuels, or compliance to an alternative zero emissions standard, in new city owned buildings. It has also adopted a carbon pricing policy, which adds an internal price on carbon when evaluating the economic viability of new and retrofit building design decisions.

The most recent building related climate challenge the City is focusing on is reducing embodied carbon in new construction, which is becoming relatively more important as operating energy-related GHG emissions are significantly reduced. For new City-owned buildings we have adopted a strategy of measuring embodied carbon and targeting a 40 per cent reduction, to demonstrate leadership and help learn what is practical for setting embodied carbon requirements for future changes to rezoning and building bylaws.

4. Is there a particular City of Vancouver project that you are proud of that reflects the city’s approach to sustainability?

The Coal Harbour School/Childcare/Affordable Housing project which is currently under design is a great example incorporating our latest sustainability design requirements. The project is a partnership between the City of Vancouver and the Vancouver School Board, with the City managing design and construction. The project consists of an elementary school, childcare, and six storeys of affordable housing. The entire project is being designed to be certified to the Passive House standard and LEED Gold, to use no fossil fuels, and to target a 40 per cent reduction in embodied carbon.

5. What advice could Vancouver give other cities looking to prioritize green building among their owned assets?

It is very important for municipalities to incorporate sustainability targets for new city-owned buildings and retrofits into high level plans and strategies that are endorsed by council, such as climate emergency response plans, or renewable city strategies, so that staff and design teams are given clear direction on what sustainability targets to aim for. Adoption of a carbon pricing policy and using it in life-cycle financial analysis is also extremely useful to help justify extra capital costs.

6. REFM was recently honoured for Government Leadership as part of CaGBC’s Leadership and Green Building Excellence Awards. What does it mean to the department to be recognized in this way?

REFM staff are thrilled to be recognized for their efforts in trying to lead the way in advancing the green building design and construction industry in Canada. They are proud of the progress they have made in reducing GHG emissions and other environmental impacts from their portfolio of buildings, while providing the best possible municipal services in Vancouver.