Developing a Framework for Zero Carbon Buildings

Net zero carbon buildings are green and healthy buildings. They use energy ultra-efficiently and are supplied by renewables. They are comfortable homes where money isn’t wasted on energy bills, productive workplaces insulated from extreme temperatures, and healthy schools free from dirty air. 

Action is needed today, because most buildings will be standing for generations to come. Missing this opportunity locks in the problem for our children and grandchildren, but delivering on this commitment will provide benefits for our citizens to enjoy long into the future. From lower energy bills for all, including our most vulnerable citizens, to reduced greenhouse gas emissions and cleaner air, the positive impacts of action are undeniable. 

A Zero Carbon Building is characterized by four key components:

  1. The building demonstrates a zero-carbon balance in its operations. Over the course of a year, its operations contribute zero carbon emissions.
  2. Design prioritizes reducing energy demand and meeting energy needs efficiently.
  3. Onsite renewable energy is used.
  4. The embodied carbon of the structural and envelope materials (primarily carbon associated with manufacturing) is evaluated as part of the design.

Nationally, the different archetypes yielded the following financial outcomes:

  1. Mid-rise and low-rise offices offer the highest life-cycle returns at close to 3%.
  2. Warehouses and big box retail facilities can yield returns of 1-2%.
  3. Multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs) and primary schools are cost neutral or nearly cost neutral.

Regionally, the outcomes for ZCBs are strongest where carbon intensity is high, such as Colorado (73% in 2019).  The outcomes for ZCBs are economically strong with any upfront capital cost premium mitigated over the life-cycle by higher operating and emissions savings.

Avoided Cost Explanation

Costly future retrofits: Buildings that are not designed at the outset to be ZCBs can expect to undergo more costly retrofits. These retrofits are likely to be disruptive, resulting in adverse economic impacts such as lost rent, or in the case of owner-operator buildings, displacement of staff. Life-cycle economic analyses need to account for these future retrofits.

Reduced service life of buildings. Although some of the carbon reduction measures evaluated for this study were not always cost-effective, such as window frames and additional wall insulation, their service lives exceed the 25-year time frame used for this study, extending their energy cost savings.

Reduced resilience and value impairment.  ZCBs can help insulate owner-operators from future energy and carbon cost risks. There is the potential that the cost of carbon emissions in the period 2030-2050 will be higher than assumed in this study. It is also possible that the price for electricity and natural gas will rise faster than presumed. Additionally, ZCBs that incorporate low powered systems and onsite green power generation will further support buildings to withstand, respond and recover from prolonged power outages and other impacts of extreme weather events. and


Our buildings help define our cities – from our iconic skylines to our historic architecture. They are where our citizens, live, work, study and play. These buildings are also one of the biggest sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, accounting for over half of total city emissions on average, and a significant source of air pollution. Currently, half a million people die each year due to outdoor air pollution caused by energy used in buildings. Delivering on the goals of the Paris Agreement, which science tells us we must, requires urgent and dramatic action to cut emissions from buildings.

As mayors we are determined to lead the way. Yet we alone cannot transform the buildings, great and small, historic and new, in our cities. We will introduce regulations or planning policies for net zero carbon buildings where possible within our power and authority. We want to work with state and regional governments, who also play a crucial role in setting standards for buildings, and we welcome the leadership of those who have already committed to net zero carbon buildings. The private sector is another essential player in creating green and healthy buildings. We congratulate the businesses that have signed the World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Building Commitment, and welcome them to our cities. We look forward to our collective commitment inspiring the same level of ambition and action from national governments, who play a critical role in setting standards for buildings.

To ensure that our cities deliver on the highest ambition of the Paris Agreement and develop the net zero carbon buildings of the future:
We pledge to enact regulations and/or planning policy to ensure new buildings operate at net zero carbon by 2030 and all buildings by 2050.  

To meet this commitment, we will: 

  • Establish a roadmap for our commitment to reach net zero carbon buildings.
  • Develop a suite of supporting incentives and programmes.
  • Report annually on progress towards meeting our targets, and evaluate the feasibility of reporting on emissions beyond operational carbon (such as refrigerants).

Additionally, in many of our cities, our municipal or government buildings represent a significant proportion of our building emissions, and they offer a large opportunity for rapid action. We can use them to pilot innovations, build capacity in our local markets, and inspire others to follow our leadership.

We commit to owning, occupying and developing only assets that are net zero carbon in operation by 2030. 

To meet this commitment, we will: 

  • Evaluate the current energy demand and carbon emissions from our municipal buildings, and identify opportunities for reduction.
  • Establish a roadmap for our commitment to reach net zero carbon municipal buildings.
  • Report annually on progress towards meeting our targets, and evaluate the feasibility of including emissions beyond operational carbon (such as refrigerants).

Signatories of additional municipal buildings commitment:

  1. Cape Town
  2. Copenhagen
  3. Durban
  4. Johannesburg
  5. Medellin
  6. Montreal
  7. Paris
  8. Portland
  9. Stockholm
  10. Sydney
  11. Toronto
  12. Tshwane
  13. Vancouver
  14. Newburyport
  15. San Jose
  16. Santa Monica

States and regions signing similar commitment

  1. Yucatán
  2. Navarra
  3. Catalonia

Buildings account for a significant proportion of our national greenhouse gas emissions profile, making the design and operation of low-carbon buildings a priority in meeting national targets. While the LEED standard has already improved the energy and emissions performance of new construction, a national standard for achievement of zero carbon buildings is yet to be developed.

Building on the past successes of the LEED program, a new tool to fill this gap and minimize the contribution of buildings to climate change is in development. This course presents an overview of the new “Zero Carbon Buildings” framework for minimizing emissions from new construction. The framework is a first step in the development of a full program, and identifies the key components necessary for the achievement of zero carbon buildings. Course materials will provide participants with an overview of the framework, as well as the opportunity to ask questions about its key dimensions and next steps.

This will identify a range of different approaches to defining “net zero” buildings and describe and discuss the different components of a Zero Carbon Buildings’ framework, as well as next steps in program development.

Critically, the study shows that Zero Carbon Buildings can be built today and that operating cost savings will cover the needed investment. Furthermore, as the cost of carbon rises over time, the business case for Zero Carbon Buildings grows stronger. The economic case for Zero Carbon Buildings is reinforced over time with the rising cost of carbon, increased resiliency, and by avoiding costs such as future retrofits.

As seen in this infographic, the report looked at a full range of building archetypes – low-rise office, mid-rise office, low-rise multi-unit residential, mid-rise multi-unit residential, primary schools, big box retail and warehouses in the Canadian cities of Vancouver, Calgary, Ottawa, Toronto, Montreal and Halifax. CaGBC’s study is further confirmation that Zero Carbon Buildings are technically feasible and financially viable.

The “Making The Case For Building To Zero Carbon” report was developed with financial contributions from Natural Resources Canada, The National Research Council, Public Services and Procurement Canada, The Treasury Board of Canada Secretariat, REALPAC, the Government of Nova Scotia and the Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia.

Buildings are responsible for about 40 percent of the greenhouse gases in the US. Those emissions come, in part, from the fossil fuels (primarily natural gas these days but also heating oil) burned to heat (and cool) the water and space inside buildings.

The Central & Wolfe campus in Sunnyvale, California, a LEED Platinum building.
The Central & Wolfe campus in Sunnyvale, California, received LEED Platinum certification, one of the highest ratings for green buildings.
 Central & Wolfe

That means the solution, alongside reducing and eliminating emissions from the electricity sector, is getting all those heating and cooling systems replaced by systems that are hooked up to the grid. In other words: electrification. (Electrify everything!) Happily for nervous conservatives, most of this work will be done by the private sector, guided by public regulation, so your home will not be invaded by jackbooted efficiency thugs.

wrote about the need for building electrification last month, in the context of some news out of California (a new alliance formed to advance best practice in the space). California is, unsurprisingly, leading the pack on building electrification, but word is spreading and more and more jurisdictions are beginning to investigate or implement electrification programs.

The range and ambition of these programs puts the lie to conservative fears: It’s difficult, but tackling the building sector is possible. And it’s happening without federal bureaucrats.

Here are six jurisdictions taking the lead.

1) California

Last year, then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed an executive order that targeted statewide net-zero carbon emissions by 2045. Buildings are about 25 percent of state emissions, so that necessarily means building decarbonization.

Accordingly, the legislature subsequently passed a law (AB 3232) mandating that the state’s building sector reduce its emissions 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030, and another (SB 1477) establishing a system to encourage the market for low-carbon building technologies.

In December, the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) approved $50 million in utility investment in clean, all-electric building for low-income residents in the San Joaquin Valley.

CitySquare, a planned net-zero-energy development in Irvine, California.
CitySquare, a planned net-zero-energy development in Irvine, California.
 Meritage Homes

The city of San Jose has implemented building standards requiring all new residential buildings to be net-carbon-neutral by 2020, and all commercial buildings by 2030. (See also this great op-ed on electrification from San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo.) Marin County and Palo Alto have also tweaked their standards to encourage electrification.

The Sacramento Municipal Utility District (SMUD) is offering its 1.5 million customers rebates for heat pumps, induction cooktops, and other electrification investments, which, combined with other market trends, has made all-electric construction the default for new residential buildings in Sacramento.

And then there’s Berkeley, where this is brewing:

Justin Gerdes


.@CityofBerkeley Councilmember @KateHarrisonD4 introduced an ordinance on Monday that “prohibits builders from applying for building permits that include establishing new or connecting to existing gas utility service for heat water, space, food etc.”

One intriguing side tale here. The Southern California Gas Company (SoCalGas) has generally been a bad actor in the electrification push, for obvious reasons: Electrification would mean lots less natural gas.

But the threat of electrification has pushed it to accelerate its renewable natural gas (RNG) program. RNG is derived from various forms of organic or agricultural waste, from landfills, dairies, and the like. It is carbon-neutral or carbon-negative, since it recycles gases that would have been released to the atmosphere anyway.

SoCalGas has pledged to replace 20 percent of its gas with RNG by 2030. It cites a studyshowing that doing so would reduce more greenhouse gases than fully electrifying all of California’s buildings, two or three times more cost-effectively (though it acknowledges that much of the RNG would need to be imported from other states).

Energy wonks are divided on the promise of RNG. On one hand, it would be extremely helpful to have a drop-in substitute for natural gas — switching out fuels is a lot easier than switching out machines. On the other hand, the total potential for RNG is limited. It will never be enough to decarbonize the natural gas system. So why spend years building the infrastructure?

One way or another, this is an interesting tug-of-war to watch.

Calgren Dairy Fuels in Pixley, California, captures methane that would have vented into the atmosphere.
Calgren Dairy Fuels in Pixley, California, captures methane that would have vented into the atmosphere.

2) New York City

Notice how many of the building initiatives being announced these days deal with newbuildings, where net-zero construction is relatively cost-competitive. But the real problem in most places, especially older cities, is existing buildings and their already installed equipment. Replacing that stuff is more difficult and expensive.

New York City is about to become one of the first big cities in the world to grapple with this problem squarely.

Some 90 percent of the 2050 building stock in the city has already been built. And in the aggregate, buildings are responsible for 70 percent of the city’s emissions. There is no way for NYC to reach its long-term goal of 80 percent carbon reductions by 2050 without tackling existing buildings.

The city council is now considering a remarkable bill, championed by Queens Council member Costa Constantinides, that would mandate a 40 percent reduction in emissions from large buildings by 2030, rising to 80 percent by 2050.

In an excellent deep dive, the Nation’s Sophie Kasakove reports:

[The bill] would do this by mandating hefty fuel-efficiency upgrades for all buildings that are 25,000 square feet or larger — a category includes more than 50,000 buildings. That’s only a fraction of the city’s million-building inventory, but a little can go a long way when it comes to emissions: According to a report by New York Communities for Change, the People’s Climate Movement NY, and other local environmental advocacy organizations, 50 percent of the city’s climate-altering emissions are produced by just 2 percent of buildings.

The bill would also create an Office of Building Energy Performance to monitor compliance and levy penalties for failure to hit these (mandatory!) standards.

Trump Tower in New York city.
Guess who’s going to have to meet new green building standards? 

New York City’s powerful landlord associations have succeeded in bottling up this bill for years, but with the addition of supplementary legislation that would establish a loan program for landlords to make upgrades, it is widely expected to pass this time, as early as next month. And Mayor Bill De Blasio, who has been supportive of the bill, is expected to sign it.

Among the buildings certain to be affected: several Trump properties. Expect officials from New York City — Resistance Central — to make much of that fact if the bill passes. Perhaps it will occasion a few presidential tweets.

3) Washington, DC

The nation’s capitol, which unjustly remains not a state, has taken some incredibly ambitious steps on climate change. Last December, it passed some of the strongest clean energy requirements in the country. Among other things, the omnibus bill requires a 100 percent renewable energy supply by 2032 (the fastest such goal in the US) and pledges the district to total carbon neutrality by 2050.

And it would tackle buildings, which represent 74 percent of the city’s emissions. The bill expands and strengthens a mandatory program of benchmarks and minimum standards for whole-building energy performance, which will apply to buildings all the way down to 10,000 square feet.

A special task force will spend the next two years establishing these Building Energy Performance Standard (BEPS) for each category of building.

The American Geophysical Union’s new headquarters in Washington, DC, a net-zero-energy building.
The American Geophysical Union’s new headquarters in Washington, DC, a net-zero-energy building.
 Hickok Cole

As for financing, the city is kicking in $40 million more to its newly established Green Bank, which helps fund clean energy projects. These and other financing tools, like the DC Sustainable Energy Utility, will help DC’s building owners make the substantial investments needed to hit its targets.

4) Washington state

Democrats now have control of both houses of Washington’s legislature, and in December, governor (and presidential candidate) Jay Inslee introduced an aggressive suite of climate and clean energy bills, which would, among other things, commit the state to 100 percent clean electricity by 2045.

Another of the bills contains a clean-buildings policy that would:

  • Establish building “stretch codes” that local municipalities could adopt if they’re feeling ambitious (and give municipalities the authority to adopt them)
  • Invest around $78 million of public money in a range of net-zero buildings and programs, including leveraging state-owned building stock
  • Implement an incentive program for early movers
  • Establish new performance standards for commercial buildings, equipment, and natural gas use

Just 27 percent of the state’s emissions come from buildings (cars are the big problem in these parts), but deep decarbonization means getting started on it now.

Seattle’s Bullitt Center, arguably the greenest building in the country.
Seattle’s Bullitt Center, arguably the greenest building in the country.
 Bullitt Center

The bills are working their way through the legislature. The 100 percent electricity bill recently passed the Senate and will now move to the House; the clean-buildings bill will get a vote in the House next week and then move to the Senate.

5) Massachusetts

Massachusetts has always been a national leader in energy efficiency, but it upped its game again in January, passing a three-year energy efficiency plan that recognizes the benefits of electrification.

For the first time, the state’s utilities will offer financial incentives for “fuel switching” — leaving behind the oil and propane boilers common in the region in favor of air source heat pumps.

There are also several bills in the state legislature that would affect buildings. One, H 2836, would target economy-wide renewable energy by 2045. Another three would boost heat pump deployment, establish a program to publicize and train a workforce for electrification, and integrate incentives for electrification into zoning law.

The R.W. Kern Center at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, a net-zero-energy building.
The R.W. Kern Center at Hampshire College in Amherst, Massachusetts, a net-zero-energy building.

Elsewhere in Massachusetts, the city of Boston is working on an update to its Climate Plan(due this summer). It is expected to draw on a report it commissioned in January, showing that two-thirds of the city’s emissions are produced by buildings.

Among the three strategies the report recommends (alongside energy efficiency and purchasing 100 percent clean energy) is electrifying the building stock as much as possible — which will be no small feat in a city rich with very old, very famous, and very leaky buildings.

6) Honorable mention

A list like this can’t hope to be comprehensive — there’s too much going on! — but here are a few runners-up to fill things out.

Buildings generate 65 percent of the emissions in Minneapolis, but the city has ambitious climate goals and a history as a leader in energy efficiency. It is focusing tightly on efficiencybut has also formed an innovative Clean Energy Partnership with its electric and gas utilities, focused on offering customers alternatives to fossil fuel heat.

The city of Boulder, Colorado, though fairly small (around 100,000 people), is doing cutting edge work in this area. It has vowed an 80 percent drop in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050; in order to do that, it’s going to have to replace all the natural gas furnaces heating homes. To that end, it has developed a sophisticated tool for modeling the energy use of each detached home in the city, enabling it to create a “Roadmap to Renewable Living” for each participating homeowner. It’s part of a comprehensive program for building electrification that aims to reduce residential natural gas use by 85 percent by 2050.

Boulder Commons, a new net-zero energy development in Boulder, Colorado, by Morgan Creek Ventures.
Boulder Commons, a new net-zero energy development in Boulder, Colorado, by Morgan Creek Ventures.

The city of Boise, Idaho, has a massive geothermal system — the largest in the nation — that carries heated water from a batholith (a large mass of cooled magma) underneath the nearby mountains to buildings in the downtown core. About a third of downtown buildings heat their space and water this way. The city is now seeking to expand the system and get more buildings hooked up, part of a larger plan to power the city with renewables by 2040. (Where geothermal is available, it is quite cheap, especially when designed in concert with district heating systems and hooked up to new buildings. Don’t sleep on geothermal!)

Finally, and this is slightly cheating, but attention must be paid to Vancouver, British Columbia, just north of the US border. The city has an ambitious plan to completely decarbonize — electricity, transportation, and buildings — by 2050. (Read my interview with the city manager about the challenge.) The city has done extensive planning around the goal, involving some deep and fascinating research on buildings. The focus, other than old-fashioned energy efficiency, is to try to get as many buildings as possible hooked up to the city’s district heating system, which will be shifted to renewable biomass. Vancouver has been at this for several years now, so it is serving as a preview of the challenges facing all the cities above.

So there you have it! The long, difficult, and labor-intensive task of shifting the nation’s building stock to zero-carbon sources of heating and cooling has begun. For now, it’s only a few trailblazers really tackling the challenge head on, but as the leaders learn and develop best practices, expect the effort to spread.

Conservatives don’t believe the US can do something big like this. Across the country, state and city leaders are beginning to prove them wrong.

Further reading:

Ecosystem infographic
Nova Scotia Logo
Real Estate Foundation of British Columbia Logo

What is Net Zero?

The World Green Building Council, and the Green Building Councils participating in the Advancing Net Zero project (project steering committee), are dedicated to supporting market transformation towards 100% net zero carbon buildings by 2050. Our new infographic highlights our framework including key target dates, definition for net zero carbon buildings, the action pathways being taken by our GBCs, and the key principles that are guiding their actions. These principles ensure alignment and commonality across global markets, whilst enabling specific market applications.

WorldGBC recognises that in most situations, net zero energy buildings, i.e. buildings that generate 100% of their energy needs on-site, are not feasible. Therefore, buildings that are energy efficient, and supply energy needs from renewable sources (on-site and/or off-site) is a more appropriate target for the mass scale required to achieve Paris Agreement levels of global emission reductions.

We believe that this enormous challenge will be achieved through the coordinated efforts of Business, Government, and NGOs; and our Green Building Councils are leading the way.

The WorldGBC definition of a net zero carbon building is a building that is highly energy efficient and fully powered from on-site and/or off-site renewable energy sources.



Find out more in our Call to Action Report, From Thousands to Billions – Coordinated Action Towards Achieving 100% Net Zero Carbon Buildings by 2050.


Participating Green Building Council action

In November 2016, HQE Alliance, the Green Building Council in France, launched a voluntary labelling system E+C- Bâtiment à Énergie Positive et Réduction Carbone in conjunction with the Government, to ensure construction sector is part of the strategy to meet the challenge of climate change. The first seven labels were delivered to successful projects in July 2017, the highest performing being Le Themis d’Icade and La résidence Alizari à Malaunay.


In May 2017, Canada Green Building Council (CaGBC) was the first GBC to launch a dedicated Zero Carbon Building Standard, making carbon emissions the key indicator for building performance. developed through extensive consultation with representatives from over 50 industry organizations, utilities, governments and companies across Canada. CaGBC is also working with 16 of Canada’s most sustainable projects in the Zero Carbon Building Pilot Program, which will inform further development of the Standard and accompanying resources and education.

Industry Training

The one year anniversary of the program was celebrated with a Zero Carbon Buildings Summit in Toronto prior to CaGBC’s annual Building Lasting Change conference, which this year also hosted WorldGBC Congress. The Summit brought together 160 industry professionals across Canada for a full day of education, networking and collaboration. Summit highlights included:

  • Updates on an upcoming national Zero Carbon Lifecycle Costing Study
  • Zero Carbon retrofit challenges
  • Innovative products and technologies
  • An interactive workshop on challenges and solutions

In addition to the Summit, conference delegates had access to an education stream dedicated to Zero Carbon topics.

CaGBC has also made a concerted effort to spread knowledge and awareness of the Zero Carbon Pilots and the Program in cities across Canada.  We led a half day workshop in Vancouver on Zero Carbon in April, with plans to roll it out to other cities this fall. We have also been holding showcase events for the pilot projects in major cities and speaking at national and international events. There are a total of 17 CaGBC zero carbon events scheduled for 2018.


In addition to speaking about zero carbon and promoting the Pilot projects across the country, CaGBC is also actively involved in two research projects aimed at helping to increase the viability of zero carbon in Canada.

  1. Zero Carbon Lifecycle Costing Study: One of the key barriers to increasing the market uptake of zero carbon buildings is the uncertainty related to cost. To address this barrier, CaGBC has partnered with WSP, REALPAC, the Real Estate Foundation of BC, Natural Resources Canada and other Government of Canada Departments to undertake a lifecycle costing study. The study will compare the capital and lifecycle costs of zero carbon buildings to the costs of similar code level buildings.
  2. Low-Carbon Skills Gap Analysis: CaGBC is currently undertaking a study to determine the skill requirements, availability, and training required for trades in the construction of low and zero carbon buildings in Ontario. The study will inform the development of an education and training roadmap that will identify core trade skills, training requirements, and delivery models to optimize the uptake of low and zero carbon building skills.
Mohawk College’s Joyce Centre for Partnership & Innovation, Hamilton, ON, above


Final Thoughts

The main finding of our Pilot Program at the halfway point is that getting the right team together from the outset is absolutely vital. Great communication is also very important, and this has to be enabled by having a project organizational structure that facilitates great communication between all members of the team.

At the CaGBC we know that what we are attempting to do with this shift to zero carbon is not rocket science. These buildings are designed using proven technology, and by choosing the right team these technologies can work together synergistically.

With roughly 30 years left to achieve an 80% reduction in GHG emissions globally, it is imperative that the buildings that are built today be designed to be zero carbon. Those that are not will only face costly retrofits in the future.

Fin MacDonald is Manager, Zero Carbon Building Program at Canada Green Building Council. For more information about zero carbon in Canada, and the CaGBC’s Zero Carbon Building Program, visit


In August 2017, GBC Brasil launched their Zero Energy Standard. A program of 11 pioneering projects will evaluate the standard across five different states, and two projects have already received certification for demonstrating a net zero energy balance for one year of operation: the Sebrae Centre for Sustainability in the city of Cuiabá, Mato Grosso, and the Geo Thermal Energy Headquarters in Tamboará, Paraná.


The Australian Federal Government launched in October 2017 a National Carbon Offset Standard for Buildings and Precincts, developed in close collaboration with Green Building Council Australia. Utilising existing and well established rating schemes Green Star – Performance and NABERS as pathways to demonstrate compliance, the Standard sets rigorous requirements for achieving carbon neutrality by reducing demand from buildings, procuring renewable energy, and purchasing carbon credits to offset remaining emissions.


The Green Building Council of South Africa launched its Net Zero certification programme in 2017. This programme will award projects which go beyond the partial reductions recognised in the current GBCSA tools, and which have taken the initiative to reach the endpoint of completely neutralising or positively redressing their impacts. Projects are able to achieve Net Zero or Net Positive ratings for carbon, water, waste and ecology. This recognises buildings that completely neutralise or positively redress their carbon emissions, water consumption, solid waste to landfill and/or negative ecological impacts. Ten projects have achieved certification, for one or more of the issues, in a scheme that recognises the urgency of impacts beyond energy consumption in the race to zero.


The USGBC has launched Pathway to Net Zero, a platform providing educational resources to help practitioners position LEED projects towards net zero energy, water and waste; including technical aspects such as energy modelling, and insights from case studies that have achieved this level of performance. Find the prerequisites and credits in LEED v4 New Construction that help make net zero possible, read relevant USGBC articles, and learn about plans for a net zero carbon operations verification for building projects through the Arc platform, coming soon!


In May 2018, DGNB published the “framework for carbon neutral buildings“ to establish general rules for carbon accounting (part 1), its disclosure (part 2) as well as a practical method to develop a roadmap to balance carbon emissions (part 3). The DGNB „framework“ is currently being tested with practitioners on real projects and will lead to a refined framework publication in the second half of 2019. This new framework will offer a wide range of possible applications, as it implies an advantageous rating within the DGNB system for existing and new buildings. The DGNB „framework“ thereby offers a reliable basis for decision-makers for the potential of sustainable financing.



In April 2019, UKGBC launched a framework definition for net zero carbon buildings in the UK. The definition was developed by an industry task group formed of over 40 industry representatives from across the construction industry and supported by 13 trade associations, professional institutions and non-profit organisations. Following extensive industry consultation, the task group set out agreed principles for a net zero carbon building, enabling stakeholders from across the building value chain to work towards achieving an ambitious common goal. The definition aims to provide a consistent approach that can be integrated into voluntary reporting initiatives, building rating tools, planning requirements and, over time, into policy and regulation.

19 Global Cities Commit to Make New Buildings “Net-Zero Carbon” by 2030

Regulations and planning policy will also target existing buildings to make them net-zero carbon by 2050 to ensure cities deliver on the highest goals of Paris Agreement.

Copenhagen, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Montreal, New York City, Newburyport, Paris, Portland, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Monica, Stockholm, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto, Tshwane, Vancouver & Washington D.C. make bold commitment ahead of Global Climate Action Summit.

London, UK (23 August 2018) – Today, 19 pioneering mayors, representing 130 million urban citizens, committed to significantly cut greenhouse gas emissions from their cities by ensuring that new buildings operate at net zero carbon by 2030. By signing the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Declaration, the leaders of  Copenhagen, Johannesburg, London, Los Angeles, Montreal, New York City, Newburyport, Paris, Portland, San Francisco, San Jose, Santa Monica, Stockholm, Sydney, Tokyo, Toronto, Tshwane, Vancouver & Washington D.C. also pledged to ensure all buildings in the cities, old or new, will meet net-zero carbon standards by 2050.

Net-Zero Buildings use energy ultra-efficiently and meet any remaining energy needs from renewable sources. Such bold commitments, made ahead of the Global Climate Action Summit in San Francisco, are essential steps in delivering on the highest goals of the Paris Agreement and keeping global temperature rise below 1.5℃.

Buildings in urban areas are one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas emissions, and typically account for over half of a total city’s emissions on average. In London, Los Angeles and Paris, buildings account for well over 70% of the cities’ overall emissions, creating an enormous opportunity for progress on bringing emissions down. Currently, half a million people die prematurely each year due to outdoor air pollution caused by energy used in buildings.

Delivering on the commitments made today will require a united effort, as city governments do not have direct control over all the buildings in a city. This commitment includes a pledge to work together with state and regional governments and the private sector to drive this transformation, and calls on national governments for equal action. This pledge from cities is part of the World Green Building Council’s Net Zero Carbon Building Commitment for Businesses, Cities, States and Regions.

Specifically, cities making this commitment will:

  • Establish a roadmap for our commitment to reach net zero carbon buildings.
  • Develop a suite of supporting incentives and programmes.
  • Report annually on progress towards meeting our targets, and evaluate the feasibility of reporting on emissions beyond operational carbon (such as refrigerants).

Furthermore, 13 cities, including Copenhagen, Johannesburg, Montreal, Newburyport, Paris, Portland, San Jose, Santa Monica, Stockholm, Sydney, Toronto, Tshwane and Vancouver commit to owning, occupying and developing only assets that are net-zero carbon by 2030. To achieve this, cities will:

  • Evaluate the current energy demand and carbon emissions from their municipal buildings, and identify opportunities for reduction.
  • Establish a roadmap for their commitment to reach net zero carbon municipal buildings.
  • Report annually on progress towards meeting their targets, and evaluate the feasibility of including emissions beyond operational carbon (such as refrigerants).

Leading up to the Global Climate Action Summit, C40 urged cities to step up their climate action and ambition – today’s announcement is one of the city commitments under that initiative.


“Paris is home to some of the world’s most beautiful and iconic buildings. As mayors of the world’s great cities we recognise our responsibility to ensure every building, whether historic or brand new, helps deliver a sustainable future for our citizens,” said Mayor of Paris and Chair of C40, Anne Hidalgo. “With this commitment cities are getting the job done, concretely delivering on the Paris Agreement and building better cities for generations to come. One more time, the future is taking place in cities.”

“Climate change poses an existential threat to New York City, and making our buildings more sustainable and efficient is a key part of the solution,” said Bill de Blasio, Mayor of New York City. “With this commitment, we’re delivering on our promise to make New York City cleaner and safer for generations to come by meeting the Paris agreement. We’re proud to stand alongside other cities worldwide that are taking bold and meaningful steps to cut the pollution driving climate change.

“My strategy to improve London’s environment includes some of the world’s most ambitious targets to reduce carbon emissions from our homes and workplaces. This includes expanding my existing standard of zero carbon new homes to apply to all new buildings in 2019. We want to make London a zero carbon city by 2050 and we’re working hard to ensure its buildings are energy efficient and supplied with clean energy sources. I look forward to collaborating with other cities on our shared vision of achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement,” said Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan

“Tokyo aims to achieve ‘Zero Emission Tokyo’ that produces no CO2 emissions and has been implementing ambitious actions to reduce CO2 emissions from buildings, such as the Tokyo Cap and Trade Program, which is the first city-level mandatory CO2 emissions reduction program in the world to include office buildings. As a member of the C40 steering committee, I will work hand in hand with the world’s major cities, and advance the initiatives,” said Yuriko Koike, Governor of Tokyo

“Combating climate change is a moral necessity, an environmental imperative, and an economic opportunity — and Los Angeles is proud to be a leader in creating our clean energy future. By pledging to reduce the carbon footprint of our buildings, cities are moving us another step closer to the goals of the Paris Agreement — and the promise of lower emissions, less pollution, and more renewable energy innovation,” said Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti

“Cities across the world must accelerate the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions to avoid the worst impacts of global climate change. San Francisco’s commitment to green building design has produced some of the most energy and resource efficient buildings in the world. Shifting away from fossil fuels and powering our buildings with 100% renewable energy will further our commitment to addressing climate change,” said San Francisco Mayor, London Breed

“Stockholm has a long history of reducing our greenhouse gas emissions and we’re always looking at new ways to reduce our city’s carbon footprint. Most important for buildings is the decarbonisation of our city-wide district heating system, and strict requirements on energy efficiency,” said Karin Wanngård, Mayor of Stockholm

“Considering that the energy used for powering, heating and cooling of buildings accounts for more than 25% of the GHG emissions produced by South African cities, action to make buildings more energy efficient has a huge potential to reduce GHG emission. Expect to see major shifts in our approach to powering our buildings as we become one of the first African Capital Cities to make a clear commitment towards Net Zero Carbon in new buildings by 2030, a development we are so excited about! By virtue of their national status, Capital Cities are home to Government Departments, Diplomatic Missions, Scientific and Research institutions and academic institutions. The City of Tshwane is leveraging on strong partnerships with such institutions to influence an uptake of ambitious target of cutting emissions in buildings and meet our targets by 2050,” said Executive Mayor of the City Tshwane, Cllr Solly Msimanga

“At the City of Sydney, we’ve been carbon neutral since 2007, and certified since 2011. In the face of shocking inaction by National Government here in Australia, we are proud to commit to even more ambitious climate action in the lead up to the Global Climate Action Summit. We can only achieve these targets by working with our residents and the commercial and corporate sectors. Australia is among the highest producers of greenhouse gas emissions per capita, so it is heartening that some of Australia’s major corporations lead the world in sustainability. And with many now setting more ambitious energy efficiency and net zero targets, I’m confident we will sustain that position.” Clover Moore, Lord Mayor of Sydney

“As the nation’s capital, Washington, DC has a unique responsibility to push for bold climate action. With this new commitment to net-zero carbon buildings by 2050, we will continue to grow our city while shrinking our contribution to global greenhouse gas emissions. This commitment advances our DC values and is part of our plan to continue building a greener, more resilient, and more sustainable DC,” said Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser

“Copenhagen fully supports the Net Zero Carbon Building declaration. Copenhagen must lead the way in terms of creating green solutions that inspire other large cities and we are constantly trying to improve. Last year Copenhagen won C40’s prestigious climate award for our efforts in making our buildings more energy-efficient and climate friendly. Moving forward we are committed to become even greener to reach our goal of becoming the world’s first co2-neutral city by 2025,” said Lord Mayor of Copenhagen, Frank Jensen.

“Portland has been a longtime global leader in environmental initiatives and I look forward to continuing to advocate and fight for ambitious environmental strategies. Ensuring Portland’s old and new buildings achieve net zero carbon use is an essential challenge I am ready to take on,” said Mayor of Portland, Ted Wheeler

“We are excited to be signing the C40 Net Zero Carbon Emissions Declaration along with other major cities around the world. Vancouver’s Zero Emission Building Plan will not only reduce GHG emissions from new buildings by over 60% but is also driving our green economy with a 53% increase in green building jobs since 2010,” said Mayor of Vancouver Gregor Robertson.

“San Jose continues to lead on climate action. Through our Paris-aligned sustainability plan, Climate Smart San José, we will tackle one of our community’s largest source of emissions by encouraging new commercial and residential buildings to achieve ZNE status, and retrofitting existing buildings to reduce energy consumption and our carbon emissions,” said Mayor of San Jose, Sam Liccardo

“Santa Monica is a small city with outsized ambitions. Our environmental legacy is steeped in our long history of meeting our ambitions with action. Climate change is happening in Santa Monica and California and we are committed to doing all we can to meet this imminent challenge,” said Mayor of Santa Monica, Ted Winterer

“Newburyport is proud to join cities and mayors across the globe to address the critical need to reduce and advance our work towards zero waste.  We have been working diligently with broad community partnerships to educate residents and incrementally achieve significant reductions through creative organics programs, hazardous waste and electronics recycling, banning single-use plastic bags and re-purposing excess foods in our schools.  Each city that steps up to join these efforts will make a real difference today and as we plan for the future health of our communities,” said Mayor of Newburyport, Donna D. Holaday

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About C40 Cities: 

C40 Cities connects 96 of the world’s greatest cities to take bold climate action, leading the way towards a healthier and more sustainable future. Representing 700+ million citizens and one quarter of the global economy, mayors of the C40 cities are committed to delivering on the most ambitious goals of the Paris Agreement at the local level, as well as to cleaning the air we breathe. The current chair of C40 is Mayor of Paris Anne Hidalgo; and three-term Mayor of New York City Michael R. Bloomberg serves as President of the Board. C40’s work is made possible by our three strategic funders: Bloomberg Philanthropies, Children’s Investment Fund Foundation (CIFF), and Realdania.

To learn more about the work of C40 and our cities, please visit our website, or follow us on TwitterInstagramFacebook and LinkedIn.

About World Green Building Council and the Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment

WorldGBC’s Net Zero Carbon Buildings Commitment promotes leadership through ambitious trajectories for action from Businesses, Cities, States and Regions for owning, occupying and developing net zero carbon portfolios by 2030. It sets a level of ambition that will create unprecedented demand, stimulating market to deliver net zero carbon buildings at scale.

The World Green Building Council is a global network of Green Building Councils that is transforming the places where we live, work, play, heal and learn. The goal is to help reduce the building and construction sector’s CO2 emissions by 84 gigatonnes and ensure all buildings have net zero emissions by 2050. We believe green buildings can and must be at the centre of our lives. Our changing climate means we must reshape the way we grow and build, enabling people to thrive both today and tomorrow. We take action – championing local and global leadership and empowering our community to drive change. Together, we are greater than the sum of our parts, and commit to green buildings for everyone, everywhere.

About the Global Climate Action Summit

The Global Climate Action Summit takes place Sept. 12-14, 2018, in San Francisco under the theme “Taking Ambition to the Next Level.” To keep warming well below 2 degrees C, and ideally 1.5 degrees C—temperatures that could lead to catastrophic consequences—worldwide emissions must start trending down by 2020. The summit will showcase climate action around the world, along with bold new commitments to give world leaders the confidence they can go even further by 2020 in support of the Paris Climate Change Agreement. The summit’s five headline challenge areas are: Healthy Energy Systems, Inclusive Economic Growth, Sustainable Communities, Land and Ocean Stewardship, and Transformative Climate Investments. Many partners are supporting the summit and the mobilization in advance including Climate Group; the Global Covenant of Mayors; Ceres, the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group; BSR; We Mean Business; CDP, formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project; the World Wide Fund for Nature; and Mission 2020.