Carbon neutral buildings: how to proceed?

By Nicolas Vincent, eng. jr., M.Env., GHG-V, PA LEED

You might have already been asked to declare the distance you traveled to participate to an event that wants to offset the greenhouse gases (GHG) emissions resulting of its holding. It is more and more common for sporting and cultural events to become carbon neutral. This was the case with the Canada Summer Games – Sherbrooke 2013 and the Festival International de Jazz de Montreal. The concept of carbon neutrality has made its way to event planners, but what about building managers? Does this concept is also practicable?

It should be known that in Quebec, GHG emissions from residential, commercial and institutional sector, mainly consisting of buildings related emissions, accounts for nearly 11% (8.95 million tonnes of equivalents CO2) of Quebec total GHG emissions[1]. As for Canada, this proportion increased to 28%[2]. GHG emissions reductions definitely seem to be possible in this area, but how a building manager should proceed?

Building managers are generally well aware, through their consultants and financial incentives programs, of measures required to obtain substantial reductions in the energy consumption of their buildings, and therefore related GHG emissions.

However, at some point, it is no longer feasible to further reduce the energy consumption or avoid leakage emissions from refrigeration systems. In this situation, offsetting the GHG emissions is the solution to reach carbon neutrality. The concept is relatively simple: the building manager finances one or more projects that will result in GHG emission reductions equivalent to the emissions that cannot be avoided. By means of a contractual agreement to purchase an amount of equivalent CO2, the building manager becomes the owner of these carbon credits. Then, those credits are used to offset the emissions of the building that will therefore become carbon neutral.

Although the process of becoming carbon neutral seems relatively simple, it is important to be careful at each step of the whole initiative to ensure its credibility. First, ISO 14064-1 is an internationally recognized method to produce GHG inventory, which will give the right amount of GHG emissions to offset. Depending on the level of knowledge of the building manager, it may be useful to hire a consultant accustomed to produce this kind of studies and reports. In fact, quantification of GHG emissions includes some elements that can become rapidly harsh for the uninitiated. Also, the building manager that will buy carbon credits must be vigilant about the quality of projects he plans to finance. It is always best to buy certified credits from projects developed according to a recognized standard, such as VCS[3] and verified by an independent third party ISO 14065 accredited by an accreditation body such as the Standards Council of Canada.

Besides, what are the benefits of carbon neutrality for a building manager? First, it is a recognized means to demonstrate its leadership on climate change. In addition, the purchase of carbon credits will help the implementation of a GHG reduction project that without this additional funding would not have occurred. Carbon neutrality can also leads to recognition, such as Carbon CareTM certification, that represents a credible means of communicating the initiative undertaken. Finally, offsetting its GHG emissions will give the opportunity to get an additional point in the new version of LEED® certification, LEED® V4.


[2] Perkins + Will Canada, CBDCa, LEED Canada BD+C 2009: Technical Review – Energy and Atmosphere

[3] Verified Carbon Standard (

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