In a broad sense, net-zero refers to achieving an overall balance between resources demanded and resources returned, and USGBC has launched a certification option called LEED Zero, which defines net-zero goals for energy, carbon, water, and/or waste.

Here is how USGBC defines the net-zero goals for each category within the LEED Zero framework:

Energy: Achieving LEED Zero Energy means producing energy from renewable resources, and/or purchasing Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) to offset the energy used on-site over the course of a year.

Carbon: Achieving LEED Zero Carbon means offsetting the greenhouse gases (CO2 equivalent) emitted from energy consumption and occupant transportation by purchasing carbon credits that fund carbon reduction or sequestration projects. GBCI plans to expand future versions of the LEED Zero Carbon certification to account for carbon generated from water consumption, waste generation, and embodied carbon in materials.

Water: Achieving LEED Zero Water means limiting the use of potable water resources, supplementing with alternative water supplies (such as rainwater and greywater reuse), and returning water back to the original source to achieve a water use balance over the course of a year.

Waste: Achieving LEED Zero Waste means reducing, reusing, and recovering waste streams to convert them to valuable resources with zero solid waste sent to landfills over the course of a year. LEED Zero Waste relies on the TRUE Zero Waste (Platinum) certification.

The LEED Zero program builds upon LEED certification, open to all projects under the BD+C or O+M rating systems. Notably, there is not a minimum LEED certification level required to achieve a LEED Zero recognition. For instance, a project that has achieved LEED Certified can also achieve LEED Zero Energy. In that case, it would be identified as LEED Certified with a LEED Zero recognition for energy.

To achieve the LEED Zero rating, projects need to provide 12 months of performance data in the desired category through the LEED Arc program and/or TRUE Zero Waste certification program and initiate the GBCI review process. To maintain the certification, projects continue to track and report their annual net-zero achievements.

Our take:

In all cases, we guide our clients to use certifications as a back-check on project achievements, rather than as a driver. What we like about LEED Zero is that it empowers project teams to tailor their priorities and concentrate their effort on the green building issues that are most meaningful to the owner and project constituents.

We are seeing regulatory interest from jurisdictions considering LEED Zero incentives for new construction projects – so design teams and developers should think about how an incentive might shift strategies for upcoming projects.

“We like LEED Zero because it provides a common vocabulary and framework for the nebulous concept of net-zero – and not just for energy – but for water, waste, and carbon. Clearly identifying the best practices around net-zero makes it more approachable and attainable for projects looking to build upon and go beyond a LEED certification, moving the market in a positive direction. “ Hanna Swaintek

Paladino’s here to help you determine how your values and vision align with the various certification options. If you have a LEED BD+C or O+M project interested in exploring opportunities to push beyond LEED and achieve validation for your energy, water, carbon, and/or waste performance tracking, LEED Zero could be a good fit.

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