There are many ways to conserve and use energy when it comes to buildings and building systems. A lot of buildings take measures that increase their energy efficiency. Recently, a building certification has taken energy performance to a new level. Let’s explore the Zero Energy certification that an increasing amount of buildings are pursuing, both in the United States and worldwide. In the case of this certification, going from a hero to a zero (energy) is actually an upgrade. In simple terms, a Zero Energy certified building creates at least as much, if not more energy than it consumes. A certified building may create energy from on-site solar, wind, geothermal, or other renewable energy sources. What an achievement, right? Imagine if all new buildings pursued this certification and the massive decrease in energy demand that would result. Our energy grids would be less taxed and building owners could count on stable energy available over the life of the building systems. 

The International Living Future Institute (ILFI) oversees Zero Energy (ZE) certification and also oversees the Living Building Challenge (LBC) certification. The ILFI is a leader in the sustainability arena and has many branches of certification, education, and initiatives that improve the world around us.

Becoming Zero Energy Certified

The ILFI has established the ZE certification to be rigorous. ZE certification requires buildings to achieve stellar energy performance that is confirmed by a third party after the building has been occupied for a year. This way, a building’s modeled or predicted energy use is verified as the building is lived or worked in for a full year. Project teams must compile a year’s worth of performance data that is then audited by a third party.

So, why should a building project pursue these rigorous energy performance standards and gain certification? If a building project has established sustainability goals, this certification proves that commitment to building occupants as well as the general public. The building owners can also receive incentives and financial savings in the form of subsidies and rebates. 

Some projects have locations or situations that may make it difficult to achieve the standard ZE requirements. The staff at ILFI understands specific project needs and has made exceptions for buildings with unusually high energy demands as well as projects in which the project owner does not control the energy use of the entire building. In addition, some locations are not suited for renewable energy based on the local grid setup. These exceptions allow projects to work within these limiting factors to still achieve the highest energy performance possible

Case Study from the Lone Star State

I searched for a Zero Energy project near me in Oklahoma to use as a case study. I was able to find a nearby project on the ILFI website in Decatur, Texas near Dallas. Until then, the Decatur project can serve as a wonderful example of high performance buildings in a similar climate and geographic location.

The project located in Decatur is the Dixon Water Foundation’s Betty and Clint Josey Pavilion which was completed in 2014. The Pavilion is a downright beautiful place, and its list of accolades and features is astounding. To start with, the Pavilion is a physical manifestation of what the Foundation stands for. The Dixon Water Foundation stands for sustainable land management in Texas. The Pavilion provides the Foundation with a space to expand their current outreach and education efforts for Texas ranchers and others interested in responsible practices in regards to land, water, and natural environments as a whole.

Zero Energy is the Future, Y’all

The Pavilion is actually made up of two buildings that nearly mirror each other’s size and aesthetics. It is designed to accommodate changing weather as well as changing needs of the many occupants that use the space. The two buildings are joined by an open area that is centered around an oak tree. If that doesn’t do enough to bring nature inside, one building features an herbarium and kitchen space. Learning about local plant life and their ecosystems can continue in the second building which allows space for education and gathering. This project sits on 1,900 acres of Texas prairie that was previously farmed.

The design takes into account the harsh weather and natural elements that will affect this rural site. Moveable partitions surround the building and can act as a windbreak when closed or let the breeze in when opened. With all of these amazing features and more, it is no surprise that the Pavilion meets all requirements for Zero Energy. Beyond that, the Pavilion is certified as a Full Living Building by the ILFI and is Texas’s first Living Building. The certification and the building’s purposeful existence are inspirational and give us a glimpse of what the future of sustainability in rural areas looks like.


The Pavilion was certified under Living Building Challenge Version 2.1. The most current version of Zero Energy certification is Version 3.1. Just like in the other certifications we have explored here in the Thread, the certification standards evolve and improve over time with respect to new standards and research. The reach of IFLI and ZE continues to grow. I hope to see some ZE projects in Oklahoma soon. 





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