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OAA Headquarters: Embodied Energy and Efficiency

Making Sustainable Choices

The OAA’s Renew+Refresh Project sets an important example by addressing the impact of embodied energy and carbon emissions on climate change. Rather than replacing its Headquarters, the Association decided to pursue a renewal process, minimizing embodied energy while also seeking to meet a goal of zero net carbon—meeting the 2030 Challenge’s emissions targets a decade ahead of schedule. 
Three months ago, staff returned to the OAA Headquarters and its revitalized working and meeting spaces. Building operations will be monitored and fine-tuned to ensure they remain on target.  
Recently, the OAA has received questions about consideration for embodied energy of materials used for insulation—both in its own building and in other retrofits and new construction. This conversation is still in its infancy, with no standards or targets currently set, and is broader than just insulation. 
When insulation is maximized, it increases embodied carbon while minimizing operating energy. Over the life cycle of a building, the savings in operating energy is much greater than the embodied energy in insulation, decreasing the dependence on carbon-emitting fuels for heating. The result is a significant carbon dividend. 
However, the timing of carbon emissions is very important. Embodied carbon coming at the front end is critical as carbon emissions need to be lowered as soon as possible. The attention placed on reducing operational emissions is beginning to have an impact on long-term targets. Essentially, embodied energy is taking up a larger portion of the pie. 
Decreasing embodied energy is an issue urgently requiring attention; its timelines—as well as those for carbon emissions—have been tightening substantially due to the acceleration of global warming. 
Organizations like the Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) are currently collecting data about embodied energy to develop approaches to addressing the issue. Similarly, Shoshanna Saxe, a University of Toronto professor, is using crowd sourcing to investigate the embodied energy in materials selected for buildings and infrastructure. (Those willing to share 3D and 2D data can reach her at s.saxe@utoronto.ca.) 
The OAA remains deeply concerned about the climate crisis. It is committed to the knowledge that architecture can promote safe, sustainable built environments that support established targets for reducing energy and carbon use—whether through its own Renew+Refresh Project or through the work of sustainable-minded architects throughout the province. 
The OAA’s Sustainable Built Environment Committee (SBEC) is currently seeking OAA members interested in participating in its work. Established to serve in an advisory role to OAA Council regarding matters of sustainable design and environmental issues, SBEC reviews and assesses areas on which the OAA can focus to demonstrate leadership from the architectural profession on this area. If interested, please forward your cv and Indication of Interest to Sara Trotta, Policy Analyst.