Federal government officials say the Department of Energy (DOE) will further define what a “zero-emissions” building is. The Fed’s push to clarify how to construct energy-efficient buildings is an effort to untangle various state and local rules and make it easier to standardize building concepts. The definition is expected to be released in January 2024 by DOE.

The proposed standard will feature three pillars. It will recommend buildings be energy-efficient, produce no onsite emissions and use 100% renewable energy. Photo courtesy of Zane Lee.

The news was first revealed by The Washington Post (WaPo), which spoke to the Administration’s national climate adviser Ali Zaidi at the Greenbuild International Conference and Expo.

According to reports, the proposed standard will feature three pillars, recommending buildings be:

  • Energy efficient;
  • Produce no onsite emissions; and
  • Use 100% renewable energy.

“Getting to zero emissions does not need to be a premium product. We know how to do this,” Zaidi told WaPo. “It just has to get to scale, which I think a common definition will facilitate.”

The standard will not be legally binding, but it could help developers better construct buildings in states with their own sustainability regulations. This patchwork set of rules adds to the confusion that developers face, Duane Desiderio, senior vice president and counsel at the Real Estate Roundtable, told WaPo.

Without an umbrella rule, several states have established local regulations for sustainable buildings, including California and New York.

“A workable, usable federal definition of zero-emission buildings can bring some desperately needed uniformity and consistency to a chaotic regulatory landscape,” said Desiderio.

President Joe Biden signed an executive order in 2021 to establish a path to achieve a net-zero emissions-building goal by 2045, including a 50% reduction by 2032. The order also seeks to reduce procurement emissions to net zero by 2050. To achieve this, the federal government will work across new building construction, major renovations and existing real property to electrify systems and decrease energy use.

This includes “deep energy” retrofits and whole building commissions on a minimum of 30% of covered facilities by 2030. The order also targets new construction and major modernization projects that entered into planning after Sept. 30, 2021. The federal government wants those buildings to be constructed with leading sustainable design standards.

For federal buildings, all new and renewed leases over 25,000 rentable square feet (RSF) in size that entered planning after Sept. 30, 2023, will be green leases. By 2030, all leases greater than 25,000 RSF will be net-zero-emission buildings.

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) officials state these steps are vital to reducing overall emissions. EPA data indicates that commercial and residential buildings account for nearly a third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions.

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