Commercial Buildings and Climate Change
“Climate change is no longer a doomsday prophecy, it’s a reality.”
– Astrid Heiberg
Through Eco-Growth Environmental, we’re revolutionizing the way we think about our carbon footprint with our latest innovative concept – reporting the carbon intensity of goods and services provided. In order to gain an in-depth understanding of this concept, several factors must be considered.
The Canadian commercial building sector is known to consume a large amount of energy in the form of electricity, natural gas, and water. Energy intensity is often expressed as gigajoules per square meter (GJ/m2) of office space. According to the National Round Table on the Environment and the Economy, the Commercial Building Sector represents 14% of Canada’s carbon emissions. As we look to reduce overall carbon emissions, energy inputs have become the proxy measure. However, as we begin to better understand the intricacies of external costs, it’s clear that the true carbon footprint associated with operating a commercial building is greatly increased.
If one considers the carbon intensity of non-energy supplies and services that go into operating a commercial building, along with landfill-destined wastes that leave, the true carbon footprint might be significantly higher.
Carbon Footprint for Consumption of Goods & Services
Up to 80% of the waste leaving a commercial building (organics, paper, and cardboard) can be classified as highly compostable, which has a predictable propensity to decompose in landfills into methane gas.
Methane, or CH4, is considered 25 times more potent as a greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide (CO2). Algorithms suggest that organics in landfills contribute 2.6 metric tonnes of atmospheric CO2e for each metric tonne in the landfill, not including the additional carbon associated with collection and handling.
For example, a Class A building produces 160,000 kg of organic waste and 80,000 kg of paper and cardboard waste per year, 100% of which eventually ends up in a landfill. The mathematical models suggest that this will contribute 624,000 kg of atmospheric CO2e. The same formulas can be applied to relatively inert and mildly compostable waste streams.
When operating a commercial building, a myriad of goods and services are required. From floor matting to restroom and breakroom supplies to snow removal – all have an associated carbon footprint and contribute to the building’s overall carbon footprint.
Unlike with waste removal and energy inputs, calculating the carbon intensity of non-energy inputs to a commercial building is almost impossible. Procurement professionals could insist on suppliers reporting the carbon intensity of each respective good or service on their invoices. This would allow purchasers to reward low carbon products or services while ultimately reducing their associated carbon footprint.
For example, Service Provider A might offer a lower price, which comes with a significantly higher carbon footprint than Service Provider B. If the carbon intensity can be accurately calculated and monetized (CO2 is scheduled to trade at $50 per metric tonne), it may be beneficial to choose the higher priced service provider with the lower carbon footprint.
In conclusion, commercial building operators should insist that suppliers report carbon intensity of goods and services provided, so that true costs can be accurately factored into the purchasing process.