It Takes a Village: Moving Beyond Net-Zero Buildings to Net-Zero Districts and Communities

In the past few years, net-zero buildings—those that produce as much (or more) clean energy on site as they use annually—have been gaining momentum. Once considered a crazy idea, they’re now coming of age as a realistic goal for a building. More than 400 such buildings are documented globally, with about one-fourth in the U.S. and Canada. This growing number is encouraging, yet for comparison, there are more buildings on the Cornell University campus alone than there are net-zero buildings worldwide. (RMI is currently developing plans for just such a building for its own use, high in Colorado’s mountains, and Amory Lovins expects his own house, which included RMI’s headquarters for its first 18 years, to go net zero as well.)


Shooting for net-zero status—whether it’s a realistically achievable goal or not—can galvanize creativity around a commendable, big, aggressive target. Recent projects illustrate five more key lessons for successfully reaching net-zero status for a building:

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