Thank you very much and good morning. Thank you to the committee for inviting us today. I certainly hope that we can be of service to you.
I'm Jennifer O'Connor and I'm the president of the Athena Sustainable Materials Institute. I'm joined here by my colleague, Jamie Meil, who's our research principal.
I want to take a moment to tell you a little bit about the Athena Institute to help frame the questions later. We are a non-profit research and advocacy group in life-cycle assessment, or LCA. Our mandate is to advance LCA for a more sustainable built environment.
I just want to give you a little glimpse of our history. The organization started about 30 years ago as a research project at an organization called Forintek, Canada's wood products research lab. It's now known as FPInnovations. The work started because there was an interest there in broadening the dialogue, the environmental conversation, about wood products. That led to life-cycle assessment, and that led to gathering up representatives from across different material industries. It eventually became quite clear that, if that work was going to gain acceptance, advance, and be seen as credible, it would have to leave the wood industry, so 21 years ago the Athena Institute was launched as an independent non-profit research institute. Over that time, those 21 years, we have built a substantial reputation. We're seen as an international leader and pioneer in life-cycle assessment applied to the built environment. Our work has directly enabled the uptake of LCA in practice and policy in North America.
One of the key reasons I think that we've been effective and so successful is our ability to put together multi-stakeholder collaborations, to get multi-stakeholder engagement. It's really key to our credibility. It's key to our objectivity. You can see that on our board of directors, where we have representation from across material industries, and these groups are then coming together on our board helping to move the agenda forward, because they all want to be part of the solution in reducing environmental impacts of the built environment.
Just to tell you a little bit more about myself and Jamie, Jamie's bringing here deep expertise in LCA and in materials manufacturing. I'm bringing to you a background in architecture and engineering, and also a very deep background in wood product sustainability and market research, because I spent a good piece of my career at FPInnovations.
The scope of our remarks today will be limited. I note that the bill has two objectives, one of which is to support the wood products industry and promote more wood construction. We are not going to focus on that part of the bill. Our comments are focused on the part of the bill that references reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, GHGs. I would like to share remarks with you that are building on what you have already heard here in committee, what you've already discussed. I'd like to summarize and support that. I've read the transcripts. I'm impressed at the committee's interest in reducing the embodied impacts of construction.
I know you've heard from the wood industry. I appreciate that they've talked to you about embodied impacts. They've talked to you about LCA already. That industry is a long-time champion of cradle-to-grave scientific accounting of GHGs. You heard from them about the value of performance-based policy versus prescriptive policy. You heard from them about the value of using data to ensure that intended GHG reductions actually happen. What I'd like to do is take those messages and share with you how those are reflected in some leading-edge policy today.
Right here, in our own federal government, we've seen a lot of movement over the last couple of years towards evidence-based policy, towards data-driven policy, and life-cycle thinking. We've just seen in January the announcement from the Treasury Board Secretariat that greening government strategy has a strong emphasis on cradle-to-grave, full-scope LCA, and over the past couple of years, there's been some interest in greening infrastructure.
We had MP Andy Fillmore’s motion 45 a couple of years back and we had Joyce Murray’s accountable green lens initiative. Both of those were about bringing GHG accounting to infrastructure spending. A number of initiatives at the provincial and municipal levels are happening along these lines. Overseas, particularly in northern Europe, there's some policy already there.
The question is this: how do you implement an accountable green lens, or the carbon test that you've been referencing here, in policy? How do you go about doing that? We certainly agree that a carbon test is critical, but how do you do that in way that achieves the objectives?
I would like to encourage you to step back and consider this the way that we've been thinking about it—that is, what sort of policy gets put in place to encourage the sorts of actions that have verifiable GHG reductions? You might want to see an encouraging of product improvements across the board, including wood products. You'd want to encourage innovation in industry and in design. You'd like to encourage the reduction in the use of materials. The idea is to optimize, not maximize, material use. You'd want to be sure you had a robust, fair, and transparent system for doing the accounting, with stakeholder buy-in for credibility and acceptance. That requires a really strong technical foundation.
We have a number of ideas about what constitutes that foundation. It involves really good data. It involves standard methods so that we all follow the same rules. It involves tools and all that. I've captured a summary of those comments in a briefing note that I hope you've had a chance to see.
That concludes my remarks, Mr. Chairman.
Thank you, Mr. Chair and members of the committee.
My name is Adam Auer, and I'm the vice-president of environment and sustainability with the Cement Association of Canada. I'm joined by my colleague Steve Morrissey, executive vice-president at the CAC. Thank you for the opportunity to present our views on Bill .
First, let me state that the Canadian cement industry unequivocally supports the notion that federal procurement of infrastructure, whether direct or indirect through investment transfers to other levels of government, can and should influence construction markets toward low-carbon and climate-resilient design. We also agree with, and in fact have consistently championed, the use of life-cycle tools as the best tools, although not yet perfected, for advancing sustainability in the built environment.
Our issue with Bill is that it calls on the federal government to leverage its enormous purchasing power to “give preference to projects that promote the use of wood”. The bill appears to be attempting to serve two objectives—first, to support Canada's forest sector, which is suffering under a number of pressures, including softwood lumber tariffs; and second, to help reduce the greenhouse gases associated with buildings in Canada.
Let me start with the first objective. When governments arbitrarily give preference to one product or technology over another, it has a clear distortionary effect on the market, undermining the healthy, fair, and open competition that defines successful modern economies. Canada's forest industry already benefits from tremendous federal and provincial support. The 2017 federal budget alone offered some $40 million to support the promotion of wood. Such wood-related organizations as FPInnovations benefit from substantial support from the Canadian Forest Service in just about every province and territory. Taxpayer dollars have played an instrumental role in code development and demonstration projects related to tall wood buildings. Governments have also taken the unusual step of leveraging political authority to change building codes to allow taller wood structures. Finally, the wood industry has actively promoted preferential treatment of wood through such policies as “wood first” in British Columbia.
All things being equal, it would be hard to fault governments for looking after the interests of major domestic industries. In reality, however, such measures often simply rob Peter to pay Paul, artificially shifting economic activity from one domestic industry to another.
I would remind committee members that concrete and steel are also important to Canada's economy. My sector alone employs some 150,000 Canadians and contributes some $73 billion in economic activity. Because concrete is an inherently local material, our economic impact directly benefits just about every community across Canada. Like forestry, we are also under tremendous economic pressure. For example, in B.C. our sector has lost some 40% of market share to Asian and U.S. imports because those imports are able to bypass B.C.'s carbon tax. Canadian steel is also struggling in the global economy despite producing some of the highest-quality and most environmentally responsible steel in the world.
While there are things government can do to help balance these pressures, never have we suggested, and nor will we suggest, the preferential treatment of concrete over other materials as being among those measures. History has taught us that picking winners is bad policy. It's bad for the economy and fiscally inefficient. Perhaps most importantly, when it comes to transformative challenges like climate change, it disrupts natural innovation cycles that are constantly pushing competing industries to do better. In the case of cement and concrete, this means dampened investment in a raft of transformative low-carbon technologies, including low-carbon fuels and the burgeoning trillion-dollar market for carbon capture and utilization technologies.
Let me use that as a segue into the second stated purpose of the bill, which is reducing greenhouse gases from buildings. First, it is important to understand that carbon emissions from buildings are overwhelmingly associated with the operation of those buildings, primarily heating and cooling. While I would not argue that materials are unimportant, they represent as little as 4% of any given building's global warming potential. In fact, in a well-designed energy-efficient structure, the most important variable in determining climate impacts is longevity. In a high-efficiency, long service life structure, the impact of materials is vanishingly small.
Wood advocates argue that wood buildings yield a net carbon benefit over alternatives. These claims are based on an assumed zero-sum balance between commercial logging and afforestation. You cut a tree and a new one grows in its place. You cut a forest and an ecologically equivalent forest grows in its place. This is a misleading oversimplification of forest carbon cycles and a misrepresentation of the real-world success of reforestation programs, particularly in Canada, where most logging occurs in first-growth forests.
In fact, recent science suggests that when land use change impacts of deforestation are taken into account, even accounting for the regrowth of new trees, some 13 tonnes of greenhouse gases are lost to the atmosphere for every tonne sequestered in a wood product. While life-cycle assessment is the best tool we have to account for a carbon built environment, current standards around the treatment of land use impacts are out of sync with this emerging science. All whole building LCAs of wood buildings, including some of the best tools like the ones advanced by our colleagues at Athena, are restricted by these standards and their assumptions.
Let me end by supporting a notion forwarded by Mr. Giroux of the Wood Council about hybrid buildings in his appearance before this committee. Many of the most interesting, innovative, and sustainable buildings standing today utilize a variety of materials, including concrete, steel, and wood, not because government required any particular material to be used, but because of the natural process of market innovation increasingly directed towards sustainability. It is this very concept the life-cycle integration and optimization of materials and design that must dominate the discussion on low-carbon, climate resilient construction. All three levels of government purchase directly and indirectly some 60% of building materials consumed in Canada. A balanced approach to reducing greenhouse gases from the production and use of all of those materials is the only sensible policy.
Thank you very much for your attention.
Good morning, Mr. Chair. Thank you very much for the opportunity to talk to members of the committee about Bill . I will speak on behalf of the Quebec Forest Industry Council.
I run the program of the Centre d'expertise sur la construction commerciale en bois (Cecobois) in Quebec. This organization was born in 2007 out of the Government of Quebec's desire to diversify Quebec's forestry economy. The rest of the country was experiencing the same problems.
As you know, in 2007, Canada's forest industry faced an unprecedented economic crisis. To maintain jobs in the regions, the government set up a consultation process on the diversification of the forest industry. Soon, the non-residential construction market emerged.
Let me explain. When I talk about non-residential construction, I'm referring to everything other than single-family homes, where 99% of the wood is used. The single-family housing market is experiencing a sharp decline, in favour of the multi-family housing sector. Wood may become an increasingly important material in non-residential sectors. So I mean institutional construction projects, such as schools, the commercial sector and multi-family housing.
Cecobois' mandate is to provide technical services and communication tools to architects and engineers to help them integrate wood in construction. It must also be noted that Canadian universities do not teach the use of wood as a building material. We do a lot of work to get professors to offer those courses, so that students in civil engineering or architecture can have training on all materials that can be used in construction, such as concrete and steel but also wood.
Cecobois has been around for 10 years. We have become involved with students, professors and professionals to help them, which has significantly helped increase the wood market in Quebec. Every two years, we will see the progress made in this market. In 2001, wood was used in non-residential construction about 15% of the time. A recent study published in September 2017 demonstrates that, in 2016, the wood market share in that sector had reached 28%. The figure was confirmed by a survey of engineers and architects.
According to the same survey, 40% of engineers and architects said that they intended to use wood for the main structure of the buildings they wanted to build. There is still a lot of work to be done to amend the code, although some amendments have already been made. We know that the process is very long. People in the forest industry, Cecobois and the Canadian Wood Council do not want to cut corners. We want to make sure that changes to the code will be based on technical and scientific data. Regulatory authorities, whether Canadian or provincial, must take action to ensure that wood is recognized as a building material.
Earlier, I mentioned the transformation of the market in terms of the use of wood. In 2001, single-family home construction accounted for over 60% of the Canadian housing market. The market has changed a great deal. Today, 73% of construction in the housing sector is multi-family dwellings. We must diversify our designs and use different types of materials to reduce the environmental footprint of those buildings. They significantly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions, which the federal government and other governments are committed to reducing.
Wood has a number of advantages. By using wood, we reduce the environmental footprint of buildings and we store carbon. This is recognized by a number of international agencies. As early as 2007, a report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change confirmed that the forest sector in general could make a significant contribution to reducing greenhouse gases, when they are stored by trees during their growth or when they are sequestered throughout the life of the building.
I am going to follow up on Ms. O'Connor's comments on the life cycle analysis.
A number of those studies show that wood sequesters more carbon than other materials, and even has a positive carbon footprint. To this end, let me refer to a study that compares beams made of different materials, but able to support the same load, so having the same mechanical strength in use. One cubic metre of wood emits 60 kilograms of carbon, compared to 345 kilograms for the same volume of concrete and 252 kilograms for steel. You calculate the ratio, but it is clearly established. These are studies by internationally recognized third parties.
Furthermore, wood has very positive effects on people's health, which has been demonstrated in several international studies. I am talking about a decrease in blood pressure and heart rate, and also a marked decrease in the recovery period. In the workplace, wood, which is a natural element, promotes creativity. In schools, it stimulates concentration and attention, while decreasing the aggressiveness of the occupants. Those effects are very appealing.
To explain why we are in favour of a form of wood charter at the federal level, I would like to talk about what has been done in Quebec.
In 2015, the Government of Quebec recognized the Wood Charter as a political commitment, which raised the awareness of government stakeholders and brought them together to reflect on the increased use of wood in public buildings. It seems that this had a major impact on what happened next.
The Wood Charter states that, in every project financed by public funds, the project manager must consider the possibility of using wood. It does not say that wood must be used, but that it must be considered as a building material. A few days ago, Minister Blanchette confirmed that more than 54% of the 188 projects identified had incorporated wood in the final design, which is very interesting. Furthermore, 75% of those projects used wood for the structure, and the others used it as a material for cosmetic purposes.
Why promote wood in Quebec and Canada? It is a local resource that helps create jobs along the entire value chain in rural communities in all provinces. In addition, many entrepreneurs have taken up the challenge of designing new products to help designers create high performance buildings with a reduced environmental footprint.
We say yes to Bill , which we think seeks to be a policy to use wood. This bill recognizes the benefits of wood for economic development, but also its positive effects, especially on the quality of life of the occupants. It also addresses Canadians' need for greater use of wood. The bill builds on what is already being done in several provinces, including Quebec, British Columbia, Ontario and Alberta. I also know that Nova Scotia is considering a similar program.
In response to the remarks by Ms. O'Connor and the representatives from the Cement Association of Canada, I would like to point out that we must promote wood, but not under any conditions.
We must quickly improve the normative environment so that the choice of materials is guided more by their carbon footprint, energy efficiency and embodied energy for the life of a building.
At the same time, it is important to promote the adoption of green technologies and solutions. Your government is very committed to that. We are talking about buildings with an environmental footprint that is much more carbon-efficient. You are involved in the construction of high-rise buildings; we must demonstrate that wood can be an effective and efficient material.
Furthermore, the appearance wood market, architectural woodwork, employs tens of thousands of people in Canada. It is a popular market for architects and engineers who want to use those materials. For us, this is a very attractive area in which we want to continue to design new products.
Wood represents a very good opportunity for regional economic development. Let me give you some significant figures. A cubic metre of wood in a plant's yard is worth about $69, but when it is converted into structural products installed in a building, such as cross-laminated timber, it is worth more than $2,200. By increasing the value of wood from $69 to $2,200, wealth is created in all regions of Quebec and all along the value chain, in addition to reducing the environmental footprint of buildings.
That brings me to the end of my presentation.
Thank you, Mr. Chair.
Mr. Whalen, thank you very much for the question.
It's not a matter of procurement policies requiring that wood be used. We are talking about the government setting an example. We are calling upon the regions to mobilize in order to create jobs from local resources. We also want to reduce the carbon footprint.
With the Wood Charter, the Government of Quebec does not impose the use of wood as a material, but asks people to consider the possibility of using it.
Let me remind you that, in 1941, the National Building Code prohibited the use of wood in buildings with more than four storeys. It was in the very particular context of fire safety.
In virtually every port city in the country, buildings made of solid wood and more than 100 years old have been converted into offices or apartments, and they are still very resilient.
The idea is to make sure that the use of wood is considered. This is no longer the natural reaction of decision-makers, since their studies did not teach them to use wood in the design of buildings.
The idea is not to favour one material over another, but to ensure that the use of wood is considered in the design of buildings and that we can demonstrate that—
You are right. Thank you for the question, Mr. Cannings.
The Wood Charter is very important to help change the thinking of the construction sector. Now, when the government invests in building projects, it asks that the choice of wood be considered. It's not about giving priority to wood over any other material. The government is only asking to consider the possibility of using wood and to document the decision of choosing or not choosing wood.
The idea is not to say that we no longer want steel or concrete. We want the local resource, which is produced in Quebec and creates jobs for us, to be considered in construction, in compliance with all the changes that have been made to the National Building Code. The message is very clear: wood must not be favoured, but it must be considered. That's very important. The message is also clear to professionals: if they want to work on public projects, they will have to learn more about how to integrate wood.
Universities do not teach it. Only a few have started making it mandatory in their courses. This includes Université du Québec à Chicoutimi and Laval University, which offers a wood engineering program. I will not comment on the overall situation in Canada, but the other civil engineering faculties in Quebec do not provide compulsory training on wood as a material.
If we want to engage in a conversation about the multi-material approach while fully considering environmental performance and greenhouse gases, it is illogical not to have compulsory training on wood as a building material, especially since knowledge and technologies have evolved and now recognize the performance of wood as a building material outside single-family homes.
I hope I have answered your question.
A number of examples come to mind, but let me quickly give you two.
When you build a six-storey building, which the Quebec building code now permits, as do codes in other provinces, the staircases must be made of non-combustible materials. As a result, when designers design a building, they have to install steel or concrete staircases. You see, wood is considered a combustible material, no matter the technologies used to make staircases with it. That is the one disadvantage that wood is at, despite our proof that solid timber complies with fire safety requirements. We are in the process of completing a series of tests along those lines.
In high buildings, although once again we have succeeded in demonstrating the fire-resistant qualities of wood, the requirement is for solid timber to be entirely enclosed in gypsum. The occupants are not happy about that, since they would like to see the wood partially, though not entirely, exposed. After all, they are buying the building for its ecological value, including the ability to enjoy the beauty of wood.
Those are two specific examples. We work with the rest of the sector every day to have the regulations amended. We have lots—
We go on, so that it would read:
||(1.1) In developing requirements with respect to the construction, maintenance or repair of public works, federal real property or federal immovables, the Minister shall
This is where the second amendment comes in, removing “give preference to projects that promote” and replace that with “consider any reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and any other environmental benefits that may allow”.
I'm proposing this modification, again, to be respectful of our various international trade agreements and to also respect discretion that is afforded to a minister when he or she makes decisions on individual projects. The projects are going to differ across the country, and I think a blanket statement about one material may not help with that particular support. It's also to meet our trade agreements internationally. That is the rationale for the second modification.
I'll just pick up, and it would then read:
||the Minister shall consider any reduction in greenhouse gas emissions and any other environmental benefits and may allow the use of wood
This is where the third one is. I propose we remove the rest of that sentence and add, “or any other thing—including a material, product, or sustainable resource—that achieves such benefits”.
This third edit is really intended to emphasize the goal of GHG reduction. We've heard throughout a lot of testimony that the benefits of a consideration for wood as a material will accomplish that objective. Again, to the earlier statement of just limiting, it may not work as well, so this is really intended to give us that support, while at the same time ensuring that there are other considerations that also come into play here.
I think with these three edits, the bill has the potential to encourage a whole suite of the next generation of innovations, research, discovery, and usage of green building materials and green innovation to the traditional industries.
I guess in order for us to have time to consult with legislative counsel on how those two proposed changes would work....
The first one, proposed by Mr. Falk, would be to delete the words “staying—including a”, and then add a comma after “resource”, or maybe not add a comma after “resource”, depending on what legislative counsel tells us; and then where could be an appropriate place to add words something like, “shall also consider safety impacts of wood or any such other thing or material”, or whatever is the appropriate way to draft those two changes.
I think Tuesday is open in the schedule, so we can come back on Tuesday to discuss this. From my personal perspective, I sort of agree with Mr. Falk about the drafting style in that third-last line and the change, but I'd like to hear the rationale from legislative counsel on that.
In terms of the other one, we did hear a lot of stuff about safety. My own view is that paragraph 7(1)(c) of the act already includes the necessary fettering of the minister's discretion around safety. The standards and specifications, as we heard from the testimony, include things like the national building code, which impacts safety. I'm confident that the minister's discretion is already so fettered with respect to safety and that, if we read section 7 as a whole, we're fine.
But I'm also prepared to meet on Tuesday so that we get the answers. I want the legislation to be as good as it can be.