Engineers at Construction Site

Introduction to LEED Zero

Today, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) is one of the design and construction industry’s most commonly used green building rating systems. LEED is an essential guide for project development teams and pushes their projects to reduce greenhouse gas emissions throughout their lifecycle. 

Addressing the built environment’s carbon footprint is foundational to transitioning to a decarbonized future. Existing buildings account for 40% of global energy consumption, so sustainability and healthy building goals are now business prerequisites. Focusing on reducing emissions, consumption, and waste from new and existing buildings

LEED Zero is the latest addition to the existing sustainability goals and certifications present under USGBC. It focuses on maintaining a balanced energy system by not just focusing on the building’s impacts on its immediate surroundings but with the aim of creating a regenerative future and a sustainable environment. U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has launched the LEED Zero initiative with its standards and goals to achieve net-zero resources under four main categories: Energy, Carbon, Water, and Waste.

Here is what you need to know. 

LEED Zero Carbon

LEED Zero Carbon recognizes and awards the certification for those buildings that achieve operational net zero carbon emissions over the past one year

LEED Zero Carbon incorporates an 8-step process for new construction projects to achieve net zero emissions. The steps consist of strategies like energy efficiency, use of on-site and off-site renewables, building grid harmony, electric vehicles, minimizing vehicle miles traveled, electrification, and embodied carbon reduction. 

Currently, the LEED Zero Carbon program focuses only on energy consumption and occupant transport emissions. Still, it plans to expand the scope in the future by incorporating carbon emissions associated with water consumption, waste generation, and embodied carbon materials.

How is it calculated?

The LEED Zero Carbon equation looks into the balance between the total carbon emitted and total carbon avoided. ‘Carbon emitted’ covers the total emissions related to building energy consumption and occupant transportation. In contrast, if necessary, the term ‘carbon avoided’ looks into on-site energy generation, off-site energy procurement, and carbon offsets. The metric unit used to quantify these carbon emissions is the carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e).

The first step to achieving a LEED Zero Carbon certification would be to consider strategies for reducing, mitigating, and eliminating emissions. This is followed by using low carbon and renewable energy technologies to reduce the carbon footprint. Lastly, offsetting measures are studied for any leftover emissions. 

As for how the reporting and submission process for the certification goes, project teams can use hourly values when calculating the emissions for the past 12 months. AVERT (Avoided Emissions and geneRation Tool) is a tool that can be used for this hourly emission calculation and should be submitted offline along with the other documentation required under this certification. Another emission calculation method is using the Arc platform to automatically calculate the greenhouse gas emissions from the building energy use data based on the meter readings. For teams with on-site combustion, the EPA emission factor values can be used for that fuel type. Also, in order to calculate the emissions under transportation for LEED Zero Carbon, project teams will have to administer an occupant transport survey that is automated on the Arc platform. Based on the survey output, the platform generates emissions for occupant transportation in relation to the total building population.

What is LEED Zero Energy?

The concept of LEED Zero Energy aims to encourage projects to reduce their energy consumption and rely on renewable energy resources as opposed to fossil fuel energy. The certification aims at maintaining a source energy use balance of zero for a year. It requires renewable energy to be procured or generated on-site to an amount that is greater than or equal to the energy consumed during the development’s operation. 

To better understand the Zero Energy requirements, it is important first to study the categorization of the different types of energy, i.e., site energy and source energy.

How is it calculated?

The energy consumed on-site or within the project’s boundaries are considered site energy. This includes the total building energy consumption for different fuel types used for heating, electricity, chilled water needs, steam, etc. 

On the other hand, source energy is the energy supplied from the source. It considers the generation and distribution losses incurred during transmission to the site. This type of energy data gives the building owners a more precise understanding of how their energy consumption rates within the building impact the energy system on a broader level. Source energy is considered the standard metric unit to quantify the different energy sources in a building, thus, allowing project teams to compare building efficiencies when they use various energy sources equally. With a deeper understanding of these terms, the requirements to calculate LEED Zero Energy are more straightforward and accessible.

What is LEED Zero Water?

This program recognizes buildings that achieve a zero potable water use balance for 12 months. It focuses on the balance between the total potable water consumed and the total alternative or recycled water used, and the water returned to its original source. 

How is it calculated?

The term ‘water returned to its original source refers to water collected from the building systems like green infrastructure, on-site treated wastewater, etc. It infiltrated into the ground, which mimics the natural hydrological processes. The alternative water resources include off-site water sources like reclaimed water and purple pipe water delivered from the municipality and on-site water sources like capturing storm run-off, HVAC condensate, reusing greywater, etc. 

What is LEED Zero Waste?

LEED Zero Waste certification recognizes TRUE (Total Resource Use and Efficiency), which is the most robust zero waste certification available in the market today. TRUE is administered by the Green Building Certification Inc. (GBCI), where TRUE’s ongoing data tracking and recording requirements align well with the LEED Zero data tracking framework. In order to receive a TRUE certification, the minimum requirement is to achieve an average of 90% or greater of overall non-hazardous solid waste to be diverted from landfills, incineration processes, and the environment over a span of 12 months. Along with this certification, additional optional strategies can also be taken up to target more points in order to earn the Platinum level certification under the LEED Zero Waste program.

How is it calculated?

TRUE advocates for a zero waste economy as it focuses on eliminating waste straight from the source itself. The guideline incorporates a zero-waste hierarchy where strategies for the highest and best uses for the waste generated are considered. This includes initially identifying opportunities for source reduction and later moving on to reducing, reusing, and recycling practices. The benefits of this certification are that a net zero waste building can help with long-term cost savings, improvement of material flow within a project, faster development progress, and incorporation of sustainability strategies under any project type.

What are the benefits of LEED Zero?

Each LEED Zero certification aims to solve a global concern of carbon emissions and depleting natural resources. Decarbonizing the built environment is necessary for the survival of life as we know it. In addition, LEED Zero certification improves the reliability, quality, and value of a building. It reduces environmental stress and lowers waste generation and energy consumption while enhancing the use of water and other resources. All of these benefits accumulate and significantly lower operating costs. 


Achieving a balance in carbon emissions, energy and water, and waste through LEED Zero certification will not only contribute to reducing the climate impact and decarbonization of the built environment but also lower running costs and improve a building’s ROI. LEED certifications guarantee quality and reliable structures, making it one of the most used green rating systems worldwide. As the world leans higher toward renewable energy and Net Zero, LEED Zero, was the newest addition to the LEED certifications, awards points to buildings that generate limited emissions and incorporate waste mitigation practices, renewable resources, and potable water usage strategies. Altogether, the LEED Zero initiative allows for further upgrades in the existing sustainability goals set for LEED building projects.

Alpin has worked on several high-profile LEED projects in the Middle East and helped buildings take on a holistic approach that accounts for the enhancement of the natural environment and the health and well-being of the building’s occupants. 

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