With each passing quarter, more companies are responding to the demands of board members, employees, consumers, and the planet by setting goals of carbon neutrality and net zero emissions. As discussed in a recent blog, the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement already calls for governments around the world to peak emissions as soon as possible and achieve net greenhouse gas neutrality in the second half of this century. Earlier this year, General Motors announced its plan to shift away from fossil fuel-powered vehicles and produce only zero-emission cars and trucks by 2035, with full carbon neutrality being met by 2040. Ford reported an expansion of its climate change goals last year, including a target to become carbon neutral by 2050. In the field of aerospace and aviation, Boeing reached net zero carbon emissions at manufacturing and worksites last year through conservation practices, an expansion of renewable energy use, and responsibly offsetting its remaining greenhouse gas emissions. Whereas emission reduction goals may have been viewed as superfluous only a few years ago, in a world more attuned to climate impact, corporate development plans that do not explicitly address the climate crisis are increasingly being viewed by today’s market as insufficient.
What is Net Zero?
As corporate climate goals are more frequently appearing in the headlines, you may be wondering--what exactly is net zero? Something becomes net zero when, at the end of a period of time, the amount of the item generated is equal to its offsetting removal. Many things can be calculated to net zero--from the calories you consume every day to items on a balance sheet. As it relates to climate, “net zero” is the balance between emissions produced and the amount removed, or sequestered, from the atmosphere. Note the difference between zero and net zero here--net zero allows some room for the production of emissions, as long as they are offset.
Carbon dioxide is the most prominent greenhouse gas emitted in our world today and ultimately is the most significant contributor to climate change. Consequently, it is also the greenhouse gas that is most often addressed when referring to net zero. Carbon emissions can be drawn down from the atmosphere in a variety of ways, including through the planting of new trees, regenerative agriculture, and direct air capture. Plus, new techniques and technologies are being developed every day to enhance our ability to sequester emissions.
LEED Zero Certifications
The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) now offers a certification program through Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) known as LEED Zero--to not only help owners of existing buildings reach their goal of achieving net zero emissions, but to also apply a net zero framework to a variety of sustainability efforts:
- LEED Zero Carbon recognizes net zero carbon emissions from energy consumption over a 12-month period, with a balance between the amount of carbon emitted and the amount of carbon avoided or offset.
- LEED Zero Energy recognizes a source energy use balance of zero over a 12-month period. This requires a balance between the amount of energy used and the amount generated at a specific site. When a project generates enough energy on-site to offset the energy it consumes, we call it Net Zero Site Energy. When the source of energy used off-site is renewable, for example a wind farm, we call it Net Zero Source Energy.
- LEED Zero Water recognizes a potable water use balance of zero over a 12-month period. This is achieved through capturing stormwater on-site and using it to offset uses of potable water--or by capturing and treating wastewater on-site and using it for other purposes to reduce the need for more potable water.
- LEED Zero Waste recognizes buildings that achieve GBCI's TRUE Certification at the Platinum level.
It is important to note that the LEED Zero program serves as a complement to LEED Certification, and that buildings can be recognized for any one metric without necessarily being recognized for the others. Once approved, a building’s LEED Zero recognition is valid for three years and then requires renewal.
Reaching Net Zero
As the urgency of the climate crisis becomes more acute, businesses will face mounting pressure to take responsibility for their environmental impact, and those that respond most effectively will be best positioned to succeed in the years to come. While the task of achieving net zero may seem daunting, the LEED Zero certification program offers a path for businesses to ensure they are minimizing their climate impact in a strategic and focused manner. Whether it is carbon emissions, water usage, waste, or other sustainability metrics, Emerald Built Environments is here to help your company identify the pathway most aligned with your goals and guide you through the process of LEED Zero certification.