A “small but mighty” private member’s bill mandating the greenest possible building materials for federal infrastructure in Canada has passed in the House of Commons with unanimous consent, following a strategic concession to get the steel and concrete industries onside.
Ten years in the making, Bill S-222 is meant to represent a well-balanced compromise, explains iPolitics. It addresses the pressing need to reduce embodied carbon in buildings—a focus that had a previous iteration of the bill mandating the use of wood as the main material. The version that eventually passed with 326 votes in favour and zero against avoids alienating longstanding stakeholders, particularly those in the steel and concrete industries.
Wood has a lower carbon footprint and its sole use would have supported the domestic industry, but then the other material industries “were not happy,” explained the bill’s sponsor, MP Richard Cannings (NDP, South Okanagan—West Kootenay). Describing the eventual solution as “very elegant,” Cannings said the bill is agnostic about building materials. It requires only that the minister responsible for procurement “consider any potential reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and any other environmental benefits and may allow the use of wood or any other thing—including a material, product, or sustainable resource—that achieves such benefits.”
Which means that, “essentially, now all new federal builds will be required to examine which materials will most benefit the environment and the fight against climate change,” explains iPolitics.
The decision to level the playing field was okay with the forestry sector, Cannings said, summarizing their position as: “we can easily compete there because we’re an inherently more environmentally friendly product.”
But ongoing innovation within the steel and concrete industries with “very interesting new products” means these sectors could try to beat wood at the green building game, Cannings added.
In that sense, Bill S-222 will help spur innovation in building materials and construction, which Smart Cities Dive notes account for 11% of energy-related carbon emissions around the world.
In the United States, key government actions can accelerate decarbonization in the construction industry, states a new report by the U.S. Green Building Council and RMI. It points to a “surge” of federal and state efforts to reduce embodied carbon in building materials, including Buy Clean initiatives targeting materials with high levels of embodied carbon, like steel and concrete.
But the report says governments must be careful that mandates to “buy clean” do not unintentionally constrain carbon-cutting investments for these sectors. “This could drive segments of the industry out of business without lowering the overall emissions intensity of the industry, or even leak emissions abroad.”
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