Architects, engineers, and contractors support a nationwide definition of what constitutes a zero-emissions building


Dozens of architecture, engineering, and contracting firms have signed on to a proposal from the Biden administration that would develop a single definition for a zero-emissions building. Among the 69 signatories are sustainability professionals from firms including David Baker Architects, DIALOG, FXCollaborative, Goody Clancy, Handel Architects, HKS, Lake|Flato Architects, LMN Architects, NBBJ, SOM, ZGF Architects, among others. The full list of signatories can be read here.

A statement from the coalition supporting the definition outlines the benefits to defining and setting measurable parameters for what it means to design, build, and operate a zero-emissions building.

“A consistent definition will allow the industry to coalesce around one vision for a zero-emissions built environment, enabling more consistent policies, incentives, certification targets and aspirational project goals that will accelerate the essential shift to clean energy. This is in strong alignment with the building sector’s goals for climate action,” the statement read.

According to a draft, the definition would be developed and applied to “existing buildings and new construction of nonfederally owned buildings.” It would not be applied to federally owned buildings, which are subject to other guidance related to energy efficiency and use.

The draft offers an outline detailing parameters for what qualifies a building as zero-emissions, among these are it is highly energy efficient, free of on-site emissions from energy use, and powered only from clean energy sources.

It further recommends that a building’s greenhouse gas emissions would have to equal zero and that all energy for the building be sourced from carbon-free outlets that could be either onsite or off-site. It adds that the definition also be applied to “whole building operational emissions”; this includes those from tenants.

The effort to form a coalition of built environment professionals that commend a formal definition of the oft used but really rather vague term was spearheaded by Timothy Lock of OPAL, Jean Carroon of Goody Clancy, Anne Hicks Harney of Long Green Specs, Clark Brockman of Brockman Climate Strategies, Luke Leung of SOM, Kjell Anderson of LMN, and Chris Hellstern of The Miller Hull Partnership.

“A federal definition of a zero-emission building offers significant benefits to the communities that the architecture, engineering, construction, and real estate sectors serve and supports our industry’s emissions drawdown,” the coalition added in a press release. “A uniform definition, verifiable through federal agencies, will unlock more public and private investments in emissions-effective and resilient buildings across a diverse array of real estate.”





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