Skip to main content

5 companies leading the charge on net zero building

From building controls to dynamic glass to natural lighting, these names are looking up.

Last month, the World Green Building Council announced its ambitious new project, Advancing Net Zero, which aims to make all buildings net zero by 2050.

In this sense, net zero refers to buildings that are either "net zero energy" (they produce as much renewable energy on-site as they consume annually) or "net zero carbon" (they produce net zero carbon emissions on an annual basis).

The WorldGBC plans to do this by implementing net zero certification rating systems and training in countries that have the highest projected growth in building development. As there are 74 separate Green Building Councils and 27,000 member companies within the WorldGBC, this new project holds potential to make a massive impact on building stock around the globe.

As this project exists at such a large scale, the 2050 target seems understandable. However, as we inch closer to the dreaded 2-degree Celsius global warming threshold every day, action will need to be taken at a much quicker rate. Fortunately, interest is rapidly growing from organizations around the world surrounding net zero and high-performance designs for their facilities.

Johnson Controls, a global leader in building efficiency solutions, recently published the results from its 2016 Energy Efficiency Indicator (EEI) survey at the Energy Efficiency Forum in Washington, D.C.

More than 1,200 facility and energy management executives in the U.S., Brazil, China, Germany and India responded in this survey. Half of these respondents said their organizations are paying greater attention to energy efficiency today than they did one year ago.

And that attention isn’t just on low-hanging fruit (the "let’s put LED lighting in our buildings" type of efficiency). Clay Nesler, vice president of global energy and sustainability at Johnson Controls, said, "The two things that really jumped out at me were the significant interest in plans around net-zero and energy-positive buildings, and resiliency."

The EEI survey showed global interest in net zero buildings running high — 80 percent of organizations are aiming to bring at least one facility to either net-zero or net-positive energy.

As the WorldGBC prepares to roll-out its national net zero certification systems, and progressives such as California ready their citizens with Zero Net Energy Action Plans, organizations seem to be plotting their own energy-efficiency endeavors.

Follow the leaders

The world, thankfully, is ready for a shift towards net zero, and even net positive energy buildings. What companies will aid in taking us to this higher level of sustainability in the built environment?

The following private companies and public corporations provide first-rate technology, building products and services that have been and will continue to be important tools for the evolution of net zero buildings.

Johnson Controls

As demonstrated through efforts such as the recent energy survey, Johnson Controls continues to show leadership in the realm of high-performance buildings.

The company's HVAC and building energy systems serves customers in over 150 countries. For example, Johnson Controls designed the heat pump-based HVAC system for one of the first net-zero commercial buildings in the nation: the San Jose headquarters of Integral Group (formerly Integrated Design Associates), which opened its doors back in 2007.

Johnson Controls also recently signed an agreement with the Sacramento Kings to work on their new solar-powered Golden 1 Center. This high-tech sustainable sports venue will integrate Johnson Controls building automation systems, which will aid in its goal to be net-zero energy, as well as carbon- and grid-neutral.

Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES)

During the earliest stages of a building’s design, the building information model (BIM) is often run through energy modeling simulations. Integrated Environmental Solutions (IES) has developed one of the most widely used energy modeling software platforms, the IES Virtual Environment (IES-VE).

This software goes above and beyond other free platforms (such as the U.S. Department of Energy’s "eQuest" tool) by allowing modelers to test out many new high-performance technologies and strategies, such as sensors that open windows when it is comfortable outside.

IES-VE has been used by many project teams working on net zero energy buildings, such as Cyclone Energy Group that used this software throughout the design and construction phase of Walgreens' first net-zero energy retail store in Chicago. IES-VE helped Cyclone Energy Group anticipate the building’s performance before construction began, which allowed them to reject certain design strategies in favor of others that more likely would lead to the net-zero goal.


Many high-performance buildings are purposely designed with natural lighting in mind. This is largely because artificial lighting consumes some of the largest amounts of energy in commercial buildings.

Solatube has been creating Tubular Daylighting Devices (TDDs) for over 25 years. These TDDs are essentially glorified skylights that shoot concentrated sunlight through optical domes into your house or building. What once might have started out as a simple way to brighten up your living room is now commonplace in office buildings, facilities, libraries, schools and warehouses.

As eliminating the need for artificial lighting during the day is crucial for saving energy and achieving net zero goals, and research increasingly supports the mental health benefits stemming from exposure to natural light, Solatube is becoming a must-have product for net zero buildings.

Full disclosure: Solatube will be an exhibitor at the Net Zero 2016 Conference held by my employer, Verdical Group.


Saint-Gobain, a multinational corporation that offers a wide array of sustainable building materials, acquired SageGlass back in 2012. Sage makes smart energy-saving electrochromic windows that can tint to block out light at the hit of a button.

This "smart glass" is coated with a metal oxide film, that when activated by electricity, can become active and darken the window. Sage windows can even be automated to track the sun as it moves through the sky, helping to make buildings that have climate-adaptive outer shells, or "skin" — windows will tint only if the sun is beaming down on them at certain times during the day.

Electrochromic windows can be seen on the recently completed Net Zero Plus Electrical Training Institute (NZP-ETI) project in Los Angeles, which SageGlass sponsored. The electrochromic glazing on the windows inside NZP-ETI are one of many sustainable building envelope features that allow it to keep moderate interior temperatures without the extensive use of heating and cooling systems.


A true global leader that "walks the walk," Kingspan Insulated Panels, Inc. has a separate website completely dedicated to its "Path to Net Zero" long-term mission. Kingspan has set goals to achieve net zero energy consumption for all of its facilities by 2020.

As they manufacture high-performance insulated metal panels for sustainable building projects across the globe, accomplishing this shouldn’t be too difficult a task. Building energy modeling has shown that Kingspan’s insulated panels alone can yield as much as a 30 percent reduction in a building’s energy use.

As their products also have a significantly smaller environmental footprint compared to alternative envelope assemblies, such as concrete block, it’s no wonder many LEED and net zero project teams are choosing these insulated panels for their designs.

Verdical Group's Net Zero 2016 Conference on Aug. 19 will gather key leaders in the net zero building industry.

More on this topic