Under the Paris Agreement, Canada committed to reducing its greenhouse gas emissions by 30% below 2005 levels by 2030. The Pan-Canadian Framework on Clean Growth and Climate Change was developed with the provinces and territories and through engagement with Indigenous Peoples to meet Canada's emissions reduction targets. The goal of this framework was to identify opportunities to innovate the economy through clean technological solutions.
Further, in 2022, the Government of Canada released its 2030 Emissions Reduction Plan which describes existing actions and new measures to reach an updated emissions reduction target of 40 to 45 percent below 2005 levels by 2030 and net-zero emissions by 2050.
The Government of Canada also has a Greening Government Strategy in place to drive green procurement. The strategy seeks to achieve a 40% reduction in operational emissions by 2030 and 30% reduction in embodied carbon in structural construction materials by 2025.
To help achieve these targets, between 2019 and 2023, the Low-carbon assets through life cycle assessment (LCA2) initiative developed important outputs that created a science-based approach to support the selection of materials and designs that offer the lowest carbon footprint while considering the total cost of ownership. Led by the NRC and managed collaboratively by the NRC's Energy, Mining and Environment Research Centre and the Construction Research Centre, this initiative directly supported and impacted a number of Government of Canada initiatives, commitments and government priorities. A steering committee, formed from consortium members, provided strategic direction and ensured outputs were aligned with the needs of design, engineering, and procurement professionals.
The LCA2 initiative included collaboration with the NRC and other federal government departments, academia, non-government organizations, industry partners, and low-carbon asset experts from across Canada. The initiative was supported by funding from the Treasury Board Secretariat, as well as Infrastructure Canada, Environment and Climate Change Canada, Natural Resources Canada and the NRC.
The NRC led a consortium on low-carbon built assets for real property investments, focused primarily on buildings. It also expanded to include roads, bridges and other civil infrastructure.
The steering committee provided input and direction on achieving project goals and supported the direction setting of nationally led projects that could be undertaken with existing public- and private-sector stakeholders and industry experts to:
- raise awareness of life cycle assessment and life cycle inventory in industry and government
- build capacity for LCA analysis
- develop and launch a repository for Canadian LCI datasets
- conduct pilot projects
- coordinate the management of existing environmental product declaration programs to support this initiative
- develop a framework for LCA and total cost of ownership (TCO) estimation, as well as guidance methodologies and documents for specific categories of assets
- support or propose new LCA tools, or revise existing tools, that use the above framework and methodologies to create comparable whole-life carbon and TCO assessments for built assets
The LCA2 initiative supported low-carbon procurement. Its outputs were collaboratively developed by a balanced stakeholder consortium. Key outcomes included a centralized repository for Canadian life cycle inventory (LCI) datasets of primary construction materials, including:
- Cement: Environmental Product Declaration (EPD) for the general use (GU) and portland-limestone (GUL) cements
- Ready-mix concrete, including Environmental Product Declarations (EPD's) for the following provinces and region:
- British Columbia: Concrete BC Member Industry-Wide EPD for ready-mixed concrete
- Alberta: Concrete Alberta Member Industry-Wide EPD for ready-mixed concrete
- Saskatchewan: Concrete Saskatchewan Member Industry-Wide EPD for ready-mixed concrete
- Manitoba: Concrete Manitoba Member Industry-Wide EPD for ready-mixed concrete
- Ontario: Concrete Ontario Member Industry-Wide EPD for ready-mixed concrete
- Québec: Association béton Québec (ABQ) Member Industry-Wide EPD for ready-mixed concrete
- Atlantic: Atlantic Concrete Member Industry-Wide EPD for ready-mixed concrete
- Precast and prestressed concrete elements; including EPD's for the following products:
- Concrete masonry block, including a Canadian industry-average EPD
This repository will help with the selection of the lowest GHG options within a class of construction material. More importantly, it is the foundational data that is needed when performing whole building life-cycle assessment to obtain life-cycle GHG estimates for different design strategies employing different types of structural materials.
The repository will be accessible to the public, transparent, science-focused, regionally relevant and will continue to grow as new information becomes available. Other construction materials are in the process of being added to the LCI dataset repository. These include:
- Wood products
- Clay brick masonry
- Concrete pipes
The LCI dataset repository will also have the potential to expand to include additional low-carbon opportunities in transportation, fuel pathways and more.
National guidelines for whole-building life cycle assessment
Under the LCA2 initiative, the NRC also published National guidelines for whole-building life cycle assessment.
These guidelines will leverage the LCI datasets, stimulate innovation in low-carbon materials, technologies and design, and contribute to aligning capital investment decisions with sustainability policies across Canada.
Support for federal government procurement
Under the LCA2 initiative, the NRC collaborated with Mantle Developments to develop new Strategies for low carbon concrete: a primer for federal government procurement.
This guide includes procurement strategies to help reduce carbon footprint. Many of these strategies can be accomplished at no additional cost and with minimal performance and schedule impacts for public and private building and infrastructure decision makers. It has been developed to assist both project owners and government officials to better understand carbon reduction strategies.
The NRC has recently launched a new research Platform to Decarbonize the Construction Sector at Scale and a new Low Carbon Built Environment Challenge Program as part of this Platform.
This also includes a newly developed Centre of Excellence in Construction Life Cycle Assessment (CECLA) at the NRC's Construction Research Centre, which builds on the work that was completed under the LCA2 initiative.