LEED Zero: 4 Ways to Add Net Zero to Your LEED Certification

Feb. 21, 2019

The launch of LEED Zero lets project teams add a net-zero designation to their LEED certification. Here’s what it takes to earn LEED Zero.

Project teams pursuing LEED certification for buildings now have a new option: LEED Zero.

The new designation recognizes net-zero operation in energy, water, waste and carbon while aligning easily with existing LEED requirements. Here’s how you can benefit.

What’s in LEED Zero

Currently in beta, the certification is available to any project that has previously earned a LEED for Building Design & Construction or LEED for Operations and Maintenance certification. Projects that are registered to pursue O&M certification are also eligible.

The requirements for all four zero resource designations are straightforward and require 12 months of data. They include:

1. Carbon

“LEED Zero Carbon looks at the carbon emissions caused by both building energy consumption and building occupant transportation and provides a transparent accounting of the carbon generated vs. carbon emissions that are avoided or offset,” explains Emma Hughes, a project manager for LEED and a member of the LEED technical development team.

2. Energy

LEED’s net-zero energy designation requires a source energy balance of zero. Typically, buildings achieve this by implementing ultra-efficient energy management strategies coupled with on-site renewable energy generation.


LEED Zero: New Designation for Net Zero

Listen to Emma Hughes, project manager for LEED, as she speaks with Janelle Penny about this new LEED Zero designation. 

3. Water

The building must maintain a potable water use balance of zero.

4. Waste

LEED Zero Waste is awarded to buildings that achieve the TRUE Zero Waste certification at the platinum level.

[Related: Net Zero Energy: How It Could Save You Money]

“We’re asking teams to test it out and share recommendations on ways we can evolve the program to make it useful and meaningful for all projects,” Hughes says. “We’re hoping to assess and explore ways we can expand the program and make it available to more diverse project types over the course of the beta.”

Why Launch LEED Zero?

The idea behind LEED Zero is similar to the original idea behind the LEED rating system — pushing the market to address climate change and advancing strategies that are environmentally and socially responsible.

“Our users and our members have expressed interest in a program like this, so we think LEED Zero is the next evolution,” says Hughes. “We’re seeing net zero buildings become more common in the marketplace. We felt there was a real opportunity to highlight those projects with this type of certification and then be able to lift them up as examples and encourage others to strive for higher levels of sustainable performance.”

LEED Zero isn’t the first certification for net zero energy, water, waste or carbon, but its attachment to LEED means it will be easier for LEED-certified projects to take the next step.

[Check this out: Arctic Circle — the world’s first energy positive hotel]

The requirements for LEED certification already require tracking things like water and energy consumption, so teams pursuing LEED Zero will likely find it easy to simply continue tracking for the 12 months required to earn the net-zero designation.

The first LEED Zero designation for net-zero energy consumption was awarded at the end of 2018 to a project in Brazil that had previously earned LEED Platinum. Another 10 projects are assessing the feasibility of net zero and the next steps for earning the designation.

If you’re ready to do the same, check out the LEED Zero program guide or reach out to the U.S. Green Building Council at [email protected] to put your building on the road to zero.

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About the Author

Janelle Penny | Editor-in-Chief at BUILDINGS

Janelle Penny has more than a decade of experience in journalism, with a special emphasis on covering facilities management. She aims to deliver practical, actionable content for facilities professionals.

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