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Net-Zero Marvels: Carbon-Free Commercial Building Design?

Net-Zero Marvels: Carbon-Free Commercial Building Design?

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Minimizing carbon emissions is becoming critically important. Even the US government has plans to achieve a carbon-free electricity sector by 2035. Unfortunately, one of the biggest issues standing in the way of this goal is the building industry.

Buildings, which include the energy used for construction and design as well as for operation, account for over one-third of global carbon emissions according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). 

While performance standards are becoming increasingly more stringent and the use of renewable technologies is growing as well, making it easier for building contractors to go green, more rapid changes are needed to achieve net-zero emissions by target deadlines. 

Below, this article will more closely examine what net-zero means and offer advice for contractors on how they can work toward achieving a net-zero certification. 

What is Net-Zero? 

Net-zero is a term used to describe the balance between the amount of carbon emissions produced and the amount removed. In terms of the building sector, achieving net-zero status would mean that the amount of energy consumed, often through the burning of fossil fuels, would be balanced out by how much energy is saved through the use of sustainable design and energy practices. 

According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) for the U.S. Department of Energy, there are two key features in achieving net-zero energy building innovation (NZEB) status:

  • The use of proven, highly energy-efficient technologies that significantly reduce energy consumption; and
  • The use of renewable sources that supply as much energy (or more than) the building needs over the span of a year.  

Additionally, the NREL states that a NZEB should be able to provide electricity for the grid during times of surplus production and only draw from the grid when necessary while primarily remaining grid-independent. 

Possibilities for Gaining Carbon-Free Status in Commercial Building Design

While green buildings are undoubtedly the future, many construction companies are still struggling to achieve net-free status. The NREL is working towards the goal of reaching net-zero, but construction companies must do their part by showing initiative.

For starters, there is a growing need for climate risk disclosure amongst building companies. The first step in achieving more sustainable building practices is openly discussing how climate risk can impact or influence the business. Doing this essentially puts it into words that investors can understand, which can lead to investment in more resilient solutions. 

In addition, according to the NREL, the following are of critical importance when attempting to achieve net-zero building innovation:

  • The use of energy modeling and optimization tools;
  • A wide array of technologies that enable low-energy consumption;
  • A whole-building design process that addresses the building as an integrated system for improving energy efficiency; and
  • Performance metrics and monitoring to adequately measure and evaluate a building’s performance.

Building companies and contractors must also be mindful of the technologies they are using and how they are using them. For example, many companies have invested in green energy solutions such as solar technology. However, there are certain challenges related to solar energy that could hinder growth, such as efficiency and storage issues. 

Building companies can overcome the challenges of using solar technology by using multi-junction PV cells, which have an increased efficiency of more than 45%. Companies must also consider how to better store energy by using newer battery technologies and smart energy management tools. 

In other words, to achieve the greatest ROI and a net-zero status, the technologies used must work efficiently and enable buildings to achieve the highest level of energy storage possible. This will increase the chances of being grid-independent. 


Climate risk disclosure and setting net-zero energy goals are critical to building a greener tomorrow. Building contractors and their teams must identify energy use goals and develop a smart design strategy to optimize efficiency as much as possible — and after a building is complete, they must measure performance regularly to ensure goals are still being met. 


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