What is a Net Zero Building

What is a Net Zero Building and How They Advance Climate Action


Headlines about climate change have become increasingly hard to miss. This discussion surrounding the planet and its future has highlighted the pressing need for immediate and concrete action. This urgency has made sustainability a core objective for forward-thinking businesses, with companies turning towards strategies like developing net zero energy buildings to combat this issue. 

Why net zero matters now more than ever

Net zero refers to the balance between the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced and removed from the atmosphere. Companies adopt a net zero objective by offsetting all operational emissions by reducing energy use and sourcing renewable energy. In this equation, carbon-zero buildings play a crucial role, significantly reducing the energy consumption of a business and generating renewable energy. But what is a net zero building? Let us understand how these concepts help us combat climate change.

What is a net zero building? 

According to the Global Alliance for Buildings and Construction, net zero energy buildings are behind 36% of the world’s energy use and 39% of CO2 emissions. That’s a big deal, making it clear why we should be more intentional about adopting sustainable solutions in buildings.

A net zero building basically uses only as much energy as it can create or save, staying in a kind of energy “zero balance.” This doesn’t mean these buildings are off the power grid. They still use energy, especially when they produce more energy than needed during peak usage times. However, during periods of excess energy production, they can feed power back into the grid. Here is how they do it: 

  • Energy efficiency

Achieving net zero requires high levels of energy efficiency that can be attained through several methods:

  • High-quality insulation

Effective insulation acts as a barrier that helps maintain a desired indoor temperature. This considerably reduces the need for heating in the winter and cooling in the summer. 

  • Energy-efficient windows

These are designed to either retain or reflect heat, depending on the climate. Technologies such as low-emissivity (low-E) coatings on glass can significantly reduce energy loss.

  • Reflective and thermal mass materials

Some net zero buildings incorporate materials that reflect sunlight and heat away or high thermal mass materials that absorb and slowly release heat, thereby stabilizing indoor temperatures.

2) Renewable energy

To offset the energy they consume, net zero buildings rely on renewable energy sources:

  • Solar panels

Photovoltaic panels are a popular choice for converting sunlight into electricity for carbon zero buildings. Innovative integrations in building designs, like solar roofing tiles, are becoming increasingly common.

  • Wind turbines

While less common in urban settings, small-scale wind turbines can be effective for buildings in wind-prone areas.

  • Bio-energy alternatives

In some cases, carbon zero buildings might use sustainable biomass or bio-gas systems to generate energy, fitting the local context and sustainability standards.

3) Intelligent building systems

Smart technologies play a pivotal role in managing and minimizing energy consumption:

  • Automated energy management

Advanced systems can automate lighting, heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC), ensuring they operate at peak efficiency or are turned off when not needed.

  • Occupancy sensors

These automatically adjust a room’s environment based on its occupancy, saving energy by reducing lighting or climate control in unoccupied spaces.

  • Environmental adaptation

Smart systems can adjust building operations based on external weather conditions, further optimizing energy use.

4) Water use reduction

Reducing water consumption is another critical aspect of net zero energy buildings, conserving a precious resource and lowering energy use:

  • Rainwater harvesting

Systems collect and store rainwater for non-potable uses like irrigation, toilet flushing, and cooling systems, significantly reducing the demand for treated water.

  • Greywater recycling

Greywater from sinks, showers, and laundry is treated and reused for similar non-potable applications, further decreasing freshwater withdrawal.

The advantages of transitioning to net zero energy buildings

  • Mitigating climate change

Net zero buildings significantly reduce reliance on fossil fuels by using renewable energy sources, thereby decreasing carbon emissions and moving toward carbon neutrality.

  • Conserving energy

These buildings lower energy usage through efficient designs and renewable energy systems that promote the adoption of green energy sources.

  • Protecting ecosystems

They demand less from power plants and adopt several recycling and coversavation efforts, reducing the disruption on the ecosystem. 

  • Community health and comfort

Net zero energy buildings are typically designed with occupant health and well-being in mind. They tend to have better ventilation, indoor air quality, and natural lighting, all of which contribute to a healthier living and work environment. 

Bridging the gap: The role of IGBC in achieving net zero goals

Realizing these substantial benefits of net zero energy buildings requires individual effort and organized, systematic approaches. This is where the Indian Green Building Council (IGBC) steps in. Positioned at the intersection of sustainability and ESG in India, the IGBC has launched an ambitious ‘Mission on Net Zero,’ which aims to position India at the forefront of the global sustainability movement by 2050.

This mission is critical in revolutionizing India’s approach to constructing and operating spaces while sparking a widespread corporate movement towards net zero emissions. As part of its broader goals, IGBC has outlined specific objectives to foster a shift toward net zero buildings. Their mission focuses on several core aspects:

  1. Raising Awareness: Educating stakeholders about the benefits and practices of achieving net zero energy.
  2. Developing Standards: Creating clear benchmarks and certifications that guide the industry towards net zero goals.
  3. Supporting Innovation: Encouraging research and technological advancements that facilitate net zero achievements.
  4. Advocating Policy: Engaging with government bodies to integrate net zero principles into building policies and regulations.

As the pressure to address climate change intensifies, the significance of net zero buildings in meeting sustainability targets becomes increasingly important. These structures reduce emissions and further business commitment to a sustainable future. By adopting net zero buildings, companies contribute to fighting climate change and position themselves as leaders in sustainable development, echoing our collective responsibility to ensure a healthier planet for future generations.

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