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US DOE Sets National Definition for Zero Emissions Building

The U.S. Department of Energy has developed a National Definition of a Zero Emissions Building—a building that is highly energy efficient, does not emit greenhouse gases directly from energy use and is powered solely by clean energy.

Residential and commercial buildings are among the largest sources of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, responsible for more than one-third of total U.S. emissions. DOE’s Decarbonizing the U.S. Economy by 2050: A National Blueprint for the Buildings Sector outlines a strategy to reduce U.S. building emissions 65% by 2035 and 90% by 2050.

The standardized, consistent and measurable minimum criteria set forth in the National Definition of a Zero Emissions Building aims to support the buildings sector moving toward zero emissions and advance public- and private-sector climate goals.

National Definition of a Zero Emissions Building, Part 1: Operational Emissions from Energy Use, Version 1

Part 1 of the definition sets criteria for a building with zero emissions from energy used for building operations. It applies to existing buildings and new construction and covers commercial and residential buildings not owned by the U.S. federal government.

At a minimum, a building that achieves zero operational emissions from energy use must be:

  1. Energy efficient.
  2. Free of on-site emissions from energy use.
  3. Powered solely from clean energy.

Implementation guidance included with the definition provides additional information on the criteria.

The definition is not a regulatory standard. It is guidance that public and private entities may adopt to determine whether a building has zero emissions from operational energy use, including emissions from tenants. Public and private entities can use the definition to demonstrate climate and clean energy leadership by adopting or exceeding the guidance.

Future parts of this definition may address emissions from producing, transporting, installing and disposing of building materials; minimizing the impacts of refrigerants; and additional considerations. Other definitions and policies apply to greenhouse gas emissions from federally owned buildings.

The definition was finalized after industry, academia, research laboratories, government agencies and other stakeholders responded to a request for information seeking feedback on a draft definition. The request for information was published on EERE Exchange and the Federal Register in January 2024 and comments were accepted through March 6, 2024.

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