Developers are seeing increasing pressure from regulators to pursue net zero energy and carbon in their new construction. There are also incentives for operators of existing buildings to pursue a net zero energy goal.

A third-party certification serves as a back-check on sustainability efforts. While the combination of a certification and an ambitious net zero goal could seem daunting – the entire process can bring significant business values if decisions are made in alignment with the owner’s goals. In other words, the certification efforts should not drive business strategy. Rather, business strategy should drive the selection of the third-party certification.


The third-party certifications for net zero energy goals that are currently the most credible and widely adopted include:

  • LEED Zero from USGBC
  • Zero Energy from ILFI
  • Net Zero Certification from Green Communities
  • Net Zero from Built Green

Here are the characteristics that make each certification unique:

LEED Zero from USGBC

LEED Zero compliments and builds on the LEED certification framework. LEED Zero is open to all LEED projects certified under the BD+C, ID+C, or O+M rating systems; or projects registered to pursue LEED O+M certification. LEED projects can achieve LEED Zero certification when they demonstrate at least one of the following: net zero carbon emissions, net zero energy use, net zero water use or net zero waste. This is part of a vision to ensure that the next phase of USGBC’s efforts will be LEED Positive, where buildings actually generate more energy than they use, and removing more carbon than they produce.

Zero Energy from ILFI

The ILFI Zero Energy Building (ZEB) Certification is the only international zero energy certification. Certification requires that the building is operated as claimed, harnessing energy from the sun, wind, or earth to produce a net annual energy demand. One hundred percent of the building’s energy needs must be supplied by on-site renewable energy on a net annual basis, and certification is based on actual performance.


Net Zero Certification from Green Communities

Launched in 2006, the Living building challenge offers a rigorous net zero building certification. It differs from other green certification programs in that there is a third-party performance-based audit performed after 12 months of building operation to verify energy production and consumption, to ensure compliance with the net zero certification. Competing programs rely solely on individual project modeling and a point-based system to obtain and display their green certifications.

Net Zero from Built Green

Homes are a focus for this label. The Built Green Net Zero Energy Label indicates that a project has demonstrated results through an energy model. The renewable energy focuses on solar panels, and Built Green requires that energy data from the utility be shared with the program.


Net Zero is Here

Here are a few signs that Net Zero is the next chapter in sustainable real estate:

  • The Green New Deal bill aims to move US to 100% renewable energy, net-zero emissions
  • Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Colorado, and Arkansas are retaining standards to promote zero-efficiency buildings. (source)
  • Some of the fastest growing businesses in America are in energy efficiency and renewable energy
  • Renewable energy, energy storage, micro grids and smart grids are supporting a transition away from fossil fuels
  • Net zero projects range from single family homes to multifamily developments, and innovative examples are popping up all over the globe.

Whether you are going for net zero or simply want to improve your energy performance over the baseline, there are steps you can take.

  1. Download our white paper about Net Zero energy for new and existing buildings is an excellent resource. Download it here.
  2. Get an energy audit or retro-commission your existing building. Contact us for a quote.
  3. If you have a project that needs to achieve net zero or near net zero performance, our consultants can help.


Additional Resources

Case studies about net zero: The Tower at PNC Plaza and The Brando Eco-Resort

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