How LEED Zero Verifies Strategies That Will Help Slow Climate Change

USGBC's LEED Zero creates a platform to help existing buildings move from low environmental impact to no environmental impact.

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By Selina Holmes

It has long been stated that doing “less bad” will not slow climate change— although it is a necessary part of getting there. Companies, organizations, governments and individual citizens around the world have come to acknowledge that the situation has gone beyond what incremental change can solve. During the pandemic, we saw climate action being prioritized in COVID-19 recovery strategies. In the first nine months of 2020, the number of commitments to reach net zero emissions roughly doubled to 823 cities, 101 regions and 1,541 companies—and these are commitments made through the world’s nine largest climate action reporting platforms, which means that the number could be even greater. The cities and regions represent a total of over 846 million people, equivalent to 11% of the global population, while the company commitments have a combined revenue of US$ 11.4 trillion, equivalent to more than half of the GDP of the United States.

With these commitments comes a need to establish pathways to fulfill them, as well as a need for a verification system. Enter LEED Zero, a complement to LEED that verifies the achievement of net zero goals in existing buildings.

Introduced in 2018, LEED Zero provides a platform to verify and acknowledge the achievement of net zero goals in buildings in four key areas:

• LEED Zero Carbon recognizes net zero carbon emissions from energy consumption through carbon emissions avoided or offset over a period of 12 months. Certification provides transparent accounting of the carbon balance, looking at carbon emissions generated from energy consumption and occupant transportation to carbon emissions avoided or offset.

• LEED Zero Energy recognizes a source energy use balance of zero over a period of 12 months. This certification uses a source energy metric; the source energy metric enables a more equitable comparison for projects using different sources of energy and encourages teams to understand the impacts of their energy use beyond the project boundary.

Total energy delivered addresses all energy crossing the project boundary, minus renewable energy generated and consumed on-site. Total nonrenewable energy displaced addresses on-site renewable energy that is generated and exported back to the grid, and off-site renewable energy procurement.



Entegrity’s Arkansas headquarters, is the first LEED Zero-certified project in the United States. (Photos © Entegrity)

• LEED Zero Water recognizes a potable water use balance of zero over a period of 12 months. The water balance equals total potable water consumed minus total alternative water used and water returned to original source.

• LEED Zero Waste recognizes buildings that achieve GBCI’s TRUE certification at the Platinum level. TRUE (Total Resource Use and Efficiency) certification requires projects to have a zero waste policy in place, achieve an average of 90% or greater overall diversion from landfill, incineration (waste-to-energy) and the environment for solid, nonhazardous wastes for the most recent 12 months, and fulfill minimum program requirements.

Quick Facts About LEED Zero

  • Certification is valid for three years
  • Projects provide 12 months of operating data
  • Projects must have earned LEED for Building Design and Construction (BD+C) or LEED for Operations and Maintenance (O+M) certification prior to completing LEED Zero certification

The 35 LEED Zero certifications earned across 24 projects is not only impressive, it is also diverse, including office buildings, publicly funded schools, manufacturing facilities, a hotel and even a historic building. Currently certified projects include a school, manufacturing facilities, a model home, offices and even an exhibition center—and of those, several have gone further to attain net positive results.

LEED Zero builds on more than two decades of experience in setting standards for efficiency and sustainability, creating a platform to help buildings move from low environmental impact to no environmental impact.

LEED ZeroSelina Holmes is the Vice President of LEED Marketing at the U.S. Green Building Council and champion for LEED, the most widely used green building rating system in the world. In her role, she drives marketing strategy to increase awareness and adoption of LEED and all associated products and initiatives. She holds a Master of Business Administration, from the University of Maryland, University College and a Bachelor of Science in Marketing from the University of Maryland, College Park.