Roundtable Weekly
White House Announces Guideline for a “Zero Emissions Building”
June 7, 2024

The Biden administration on Thursday unveiled the “National Definition for a Zero Emissions Building,” or “ZEB.” This voluntary, long-term goal for commercial and residential buildings to slash carbon emissions has been anticipated for months. It is the first definition of its kind from the U.S. government and was developed with heavy input from The Real Estate Roundtable’s Sustainability Policy Advisory Committee (SPAC). (ZEB Definition | Press Release)

ZEB Criteria

  • Three criteria define a ZEB asset under the new definition from the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). To meet the guideline, a building must be:
    • Highly energy efficient, such as having an ENERGY STAR score of “75” or higher;
    • Free of on-site emissions from energy use, with an exception for emergency backup power generation; and
    • Powered solely from clean energy, which can be achieved through on-site renewable energy measures or the purchase of verified renewable energy certificates that increase off-site supplies of clean power.
  • U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said, “With today’s announcement, 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.” (Press Release
  • The Roundtable and Nareit collaborated closely on comments in February when the ZEB definition was proposed to shape the final version. (Roundtable Weekly, February 2)  

A U.S. Definition for U.S. Real Estate

Department of Energy building in Washington, DC
  • A voluntary definition with standard minimum criteria for what it takes for a building to be “zero emissions” will drive innovation, attract investment capital, and support workforce development, according to DOE.
  • It is important for U.S. real estate to have energy and climate guidelines—like the ZEB definitionbacked by the federal government that reflect building data, climate conditions, and the carbon intensity of the electric grid here at home.
  • Climate-related building standards “have to be granular enough to accurately reflect the power and buildings infrastructure located in the United States,” said Duane Desiderio, Senior Vice President and Counsel with The Roundtable.  “We’re not getting that from the EU and global climate advocates.” (Bloomberg, June 6).

EPA Offers the “Path to ZEB”

  • ZEB status is best considered a long-term aspiration. Few buildings will reach zero emissions levels today.
  • Buildings have ways to show more immediate progress, such as through the ENERGY STAR “NextGen” program, recently announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. “NextGen” building certifications will be available starting this fall. (Roundtable Weekly, March 22)
  • Investors need a market signal for buildings to indicate they are taking steps now to slash emissions and energy use. NextGen, a low-carbon building label, is the intermediate step before reaching ZEB’s zero emissions guideline.
  • “A building has to be ‘NextGen’ before it can be ‘ZEB.’ They work together,” Desiderio told Bloomberg.

Speakers from the White House, DOE, EPA, and other leaders will discuss the ZEB definition and NextGen program at the upcoming SPAC meeting in Washington, DC on June 21.