Globally, green building is becoming more and more of a mainstream concept, and political leaders, stakeholders, organisations and businesses touching every sector are starting to embrace green building and sustainability as a crucial strategy to meet their sustainability, climate and corporate social responsibility goals and address pressing issues impacting human health and the environment. These leaders recognise that green building is a powerful tool that they can leverage to lower carbon emissions, conserve resources and reduce operating costs, while also prioritising sustainable practices and creating a healthier environment.
In fact, green building itself has grown into a trillion-dollar industry. And thanks to the emergence of green building certification programs like LEED (or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the most widely used green building program in the world, millions of us are living, working and learning in green buildings around the globe. These spaces are using less energy and water. They’re mitigating the environmental burden on their communities. They’re saving money. And they are offering the people who occupy them a better quality of life.
That reality is changing the way all of us think about buildings—not as inanimate structures, but as opportunities to help create a healthier, more sustainable future. That hasn’t happened by chance. It is a culmination of countless small-scale changes that have come together over decades, structure-by-structure and block-by-block. And together, they’ve inspired people around the world and have ignited a fundamental shift in the way we think about our buildings and communities.
As green building continues to gain momentum, net zero buildings have also recently started to emerge as a trend. Net zero energy buildings produce as much energy as a building consumes through the use of innovative and highly efficient materials, technologies and practices. And while this concept can seem daunting at first, those seeking to achieve net zero can get started by turning to their heating and cooling systems. HVAC efficiency is a crucial factor in net zero energy and the HVAC industry continues to create innovative technologies and products designed to maximise energy efficiency.
The first step in creating a net zero energy building lies in an integrated and thoughtful design. From an HVAC perspective, this means adopting passive design principles and incorporating adaptive comfort and relaxed design conditions for heating and cooling, which will result in a lower HVAC load. Incorporating this at the design stage is important because it allows you to use high efficiency equipment and controls to achieve higher energy efficiency and lower demand for energy. And once the demand for energy is low, it also becomes very cost effective and technically feasible to use renewable energy to further offset conventional energy use and have net zero demand for energy from conventional and non-renewable energy sources.
Getting to zero
Recognising the growing importance of net zero in the building industry, we at the US Green Building Council have recently intensified our efforts to support and advance global collaboration to decarbonise buildings, grids and communities by investing our resources and leveraging our tools and technology towards a positive vision. As the developers of the LEED green building program, we believe net zero is a powerful target that will move the entire industry forward. For years, we’ve witnessed LEED projects around the world aspire to net zero energy, net zero water and net zero waste milestones. It’s time we recognise the leadership of those projects—and formalise the commitment to net zero across the entire LEED community.
That’s why we recently launched a net zero certification program that gives the green building community a new standard to strive for: LEED Zero. This new certification will help reinforce the leadership behind these visionary projects, while improving performance, accountability and transparency. LEED projects can achieve LEED Zero certification when they demonstrate net zero for any or one of the following: carbon emissions, energy use, water use or waste. Collectively, these new certification programs will encourage a holistic approach for buildings and places to contribute to a regenerative future and enhance the health and well-being for not only building occupants, but all of humanity. Vision is to ensure that, in the future, green buildings are actually generating more energy than they use, and removing more carbon than they produce.
A case study in zero energy
The first building to certify using LEED Zero for energy was the 440-square metre headquarters of Petinelli, a Brazilian engineering and green building consulting firm. LEED Zero energy certification recognises buildings or spaces that achieve a source energy use balance of zero over a period of twelve months. In order to achieve certification, all energy at Petinelli’s office is produced on-site, with an energy use intensity for the site of only 25 kilowatt hours per square meter per year. A
15 kilowatt photovoltaic array provides around 125 per cent of the energy needed to run the 25 person office.
The opportunity for India
India has been a long-time leader in sustainability, and, now, net zero presents a unique opportunity that our country can take a leadership role in. We are steadily scaling up our green building footprint and India is now the fourth largest market in the world for LEED certification. This has set in place a good framework and pathway for adopting net zero energy buildings. In addition to a growing interest in green building, we’ve also set ambitious sustainability targets and adopting net zero buildings provides an additional pathway toward achieving these. For instance, our government has committed to reducing emissions to 35 per cent by 2030, increasing our non-fossil-based power capacity to 40 per cent and reducing carbon by almost three billion tons by 2030. We are also becoming a leader in the production and manufacturing of renewable energy – and these new technologies will play a critical role in scaling up our net zero building stock.
Managing Director of Green Business Certification Institute Pvt. Ltd. and
Senior Vice President,
U.S. Green Building Council