Game On: Net Zero Carbon Requirements

Game On: Net Zero Carbon Requirements

All vectors point towards a decarbonized built environment. Are you ready?

Net zero carbon building is an impending reality, driven by a combination of investor requirements, lender conditions, consumer demand, and now evolving regulations.

Four recent announcements serve as important indicators that the transition to zero carbon is well underway in the U.S. building sector. 

Game On Net Zero Carbon Requirements

The first was the release of a National Definition for a Zero Emissions Building (ZEB) by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). The DOE defined a ZEB as “highly energy efficient, does not emit greenhouse gases directly from energy use, and is powered solely by clean energy.” The definition applies to new and existing commercial and residential structures.

The second indicator came from the Biden Administration, which just issued the Voluntary Carbon Markets Joint Policy Statement and Principles, a set of guidelines intended to differentiate high-integrity carbon offsets from low-quality ones. These guidelines recognize that “high-integrity voluntary carbon credit markets (VCMs), as well as carbon credit markets more broadly, have the potential to support decarbonization efforts within the United States and globally, accelerating net emissions reductions while reducing their cost.”  

The principles add legitimacy to the nascent voluntary carbon offsets market, which is expected to grow from $2 billion today to $1 trillion by 2050. 

The third significant marker was an amendment made to the California building code that goes into effect as of July 1, 2024, requiring owners of new buildings 100,000 square feet or larger to:

  • Calculate embodied carbon emissions.
  • Use low-carbon products and materials.
  • Implement procurement policies that prioritize environmentally responsible sourcing.
  • Utilize offsite, modular, and prefab construction to minimize onsite waste and emissions.

There are three compliance paths to meet the new code: 

  1. Preservation and reuse of existing structures (retaining at least 45% of existing building components).
  2. Selection of low-carbon materials with specified emission limits.
  3. Completing a whole-building life cycle assessment analysis. 

Finally, the fourth indicator is Boston’s Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) approval of a zero-carbon emissions requirement for certain types of new and existing building projects filed after July 1, 2025. 

Recognizing climate change as “the existential threat of our time,” the BPDA asserted that “it’s up to cities to lead” and that zero-carbon zoning initiatives are “something that cities must do.”  

The new zoning requirements will also require real estate developers to report on their projects’ embodied carbon, which includes raw material procurement for products, manufacturing, transportation, construction, demolition, and waste disposal.

Despite challenges like affordability, skilled labor shortages, and complicated technology integration, the race to zero is unleashing a wave of transformative change throughout the building sector. 

Watch for the rapid adoption of climate-resilient design and accelerated development of low-carbon products, as well as evolving codes in states like California, New York, Massachusetts, and Washington, renewable energy requirements, and Federal and state incentives that pave the way for a new generation of resource-efficient, resilient, environmentally responsible homes and buildings.

Green Builder Media offers tools and resources for building professionals, manufacturers, and consumers who are ready to dive into the transition to net zero carbon. These services include:

  • COGNITION Academy to train your team about decarbonization and other essential sustainability topics.
  • Consulting services to help craft or refine ESG and net zero strategies, including reducing carbon emissions from projects and products.
  • Carbon offsets to mitigate emissions from building projects, manufacturing and operations, homes, and lifestyles.

Do you have questions about how you can achieve net zero carbon? Email me at