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Accelerating Clean Energy, Climate Goals: DOE Announces Definition of a Zero Emissions Building


This month, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) announced new zero emissions building guidance that sets forth standardized, consistent, and measurable minimum criteria to support a greener building sector while advancing administration climate goals.

The definition was informed by industry, academia, research laboratories, government agencies, and other stakeholders who responded to the DoE’s request for information on draft guidance. The resulting definition applies to existing buildings and new construction, and covers both commercial and residential buildings—among the largest sources of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas emissions.

According to the DoE Part 1 definition, at a minimum, a building that achieves zero operational emissions from energy use must be:

  1. energy efficient;
  2. free of on-site emissions from energy use; and
  3. powered solely from clean energy.

Public and private entities may adopt the guidance to determine whether a building has zero emissions from operational energy use. However, the definition is not a regulatory standard or a certification and does not substitute green building and energy efficiency standards and certifications that public and private parties have developed.

“The National Definition of a Zero Emissions Building will support the sector as it advances innovative solutions essential to creating resilient communities and high-quality jobs,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer M. Granholm. “DOE is helping bring clarity to our public and private sector partners to support decarbonization efforts and drive investment—paving the way for the cutting-edge clean energy technologies we need to make America’s buildings more comfortable and affordable.”

The definition builds on the administration’s goals. In 2021, President Biden signed Executive Order 14057 on Federal Sustainability and issued the Federal Sustainability Plan, which calls on agencies to achieve a federal net-zero emissions building portfolio by 2045.

In April 2024, the DoE released “A National Blueprint for the Buildings Sector” for decarbonizing U.S. buildings by 2050. The strategy includes action the federal government can take to meet specific targets for increasing building energy efficiency, accelerating onsite emissions reductions, transforming the grid edge, and minimizing embodied life cycle emissions.

The DoE reports that the federal government will use the National Definition in leasing net-zero emissions buildings, which will become the standard for Federal leases beginning in 2030. 

Access the more information in the National Definition of a Zero Emissions Building, Part 1: Operational Emissions from Energy Use.

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Jana Zabinski

Senior Director, Communications & Public Relations


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Beth Goodbaum

Journalist/Communications Specialist


[email protected]