The Government of Canada has committed that all new federal buildings will be net-zero ready, to support its pathway to achieve a target of net-zero emissions by 2050 as part of the Greening Government Strategy.
This commitment requires the adoption of new and innovative construction materials and practices. Federal divisions, agencies, organizations, and contractors must update their design and planning processes for all new construction projects. A central challenge is that solely following minimum guidance from codes, standards, and prescriptive guides will not guarantee that the buildings are net-zero ready. Instead, there is a need for collaboration and innovation, with lessons from successful projects being shared and emulated.
A recent example of a successfully executed low-carbon federal construction project is three buildings recently commissioned by Canadian Nuclear Laboratories (CNL) at their Chalk River Laboratories site (Chalk River). In constructing the three new buildings, the Science Collaboration Centre, the Minwamon Building, and the Support Facility, the federal government successfully demonstrated the use of mass timber, an innovative structural material. Mass timber has less material-related carbon relative to other structural alternatives like steel or concrete. The energy performance of the three buildings is also well below federal baselines.
By conducting a whole building life cycle assessment (wbLCA), it was determined that each of CNL’s buildings exceeded the federal targets of reducing their greenhouse gas intensity (GHGi) by 80% from their 2005 baseline. The project success goes beyond environmental performance. From an execution and administration perspective, CNL’s three new buildings were deemed a unanimous success by the project owner and team members. The project was completed nearly on budget, even as its schedule was reduced, and there was minimal scope creep or change orders during construction. The exposed natural wood also enhances the project’s aesthetic and provides certain health benefits for CNL staff. At the time of construction, this was the largest mass timber project to be undertaken in the federal government’s portfolio.
At the core of the project’s success was a shared vision and collaborative effort. This enabled the team to challenge pre-existing assumptions and test ideas using first principles of design and engineering. The collaborative environment was credited to the use of integrated project delivery (IPD) as a contractual format and project delivery method.