- Sixty-seven commercial buildings were verified as net energy in the U.S. and Canada in 2017, with another 415 in construction or in the evaluation process, according to a New Buildings Institute study titled "2018 Getting to Zero Status Update." That's a 26% increase in verified buildings and a 40% increase in the emerging category in the span of a year, reported the Living Building Institute.
- The study attributes the rapid rise, in part, to technology such as solar panels, efficient heat pumps, radiant cooling systems and techniques that improve building envelopes.
- Education, offices and multifamily comprise 72% of zero-energy commercial buildings. Of the verified structures, 1% are more than 100,000 square feet while 18% of emerging buildings are in the same size category.
Buildings account for 40% of the country's energy use, so it makes sense that zero-energy buildings, which are defined as buildings that generate at least 100% of their own power from onsite renewable sources or from sources built specifically for the project, are growing.
Take Arizona State University, for example. Its new Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building (ISTB-7) will capture and convert carbon, recycle water and use minimal energy. Designed by Phoenix-based Studio Ma, the net-zero building will feature an air-purifying biome and products and systems that absorb carbon and convert it to nutrients to be used in building materials and soil.
The International Living Future Institute's (ILFI), Living Building Challenge takes sustainability to another level, though. Buildings must meet 20 objectives in seven categories: place, water, energy, health and happiness, materials, equity and beauty. When all is said and done, buildings must have net-positive energy, water and waste so that they generate more energy than they consume. As of May 2017, there were 380 registered Living Building Challenge projects across 23 countries.
The U.S. Green Building Council and the Canada Green Building Council endorsed the Living Building Challenge in 2006. It’s meant to complement – rather than compete with – the USGBC's LEED green building rating system. LEED-certified buildings recognize a 19% decrease in overall operating costs compared to similar, non-certified buildings. Other commercial building sustainable rating systems include BREEAM USA, Green Globes and Energy Star.
However, not every space is as definably green as designations require. Wellness-minded design is gaining traction as young generations demand healthier work and home environments.