The 2015 Getting to Zero National Forum – What a Smashing Success

Earlier this month, NBI, along with its partners the National Association of State Energy Officials (NASEO) and Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), gathered over 250 of North America’s leading policymakers, design professionals, building owners and commercial real estate professionals at the 2015 Getting to Zero National Forum. During the event, these change-makers shared perspectives on the growth of zero energy buildings, learned about best practices for successful projects and collaborated on opportunities for zero energy to transform the built environment.

GTZ Forum 2015It’s been nearly three weeks since we wrapped up the 2015 Getting to Zero National Forum (gettingtozeroforum.org). As I settle back into my work here at the office, the many outstanding memories from the Forum keep coming to mind. With everything I experienced throughout the event, it’s hard to believe we packed it all into just two days and one lively evening.

We’re in the process of preparing a full report on the Forum, but I’d like to share a few highlights now:
We got off to an invigorating start as folks came together on Sunday evening for a pre-Super Bowl kickoff reception. While many were less than thrilled with the game’s final outcome, all were quick to put it behind them Monday morning.

We had a stellar cast of keynotes and plenaries. Brendan Shane welcomed us to his fair city and articulated DC’s ongoing commitment to getting to zero as they fulfill their vision through the Sustainable DC Plan and work with stakeholders to make the District of Columbia the greenest, healthiest, most livable city in the nation. Getting ZERO to SCALE was a common theme throughout the Forum. Urban Climate InitiativeEd Mazria unveiled Architecture 2030’s bold new Urban Climate Initiative (http://architecture2030.org/hot_topics/the-urban-climate-initiative) that proposes direct engagement with cities and states to advance energy codes and provide model stretch codes and incentives to move the building sector to zero across the US. Amory Lovins reminded us of the over five-trillion-dollar economic opportunity before us by transitioning to a clean, low-carbon economy and Reinventing Fire (www.rmi.org/reinventingfire). He cited numerous examples from around the globe and Rocky Mountain Institute’s collaborations in India, China and with commercial real estate leaders in the US. Chris Pyke of the Global Real Estate Sustainability Benchmark (https://www.gresb.com) enthusiastically depicted the revolution taking hold in real estate investment funds as they demonstrate the value that energy efficiency and sustainability provides to tenants and investors. Ken Sanders of GSA (www.federalnewsradio.com/445/3660266/GSA-task-force-plans-for-future-net-zero-energy-buildings) told how zero energy goals are cutting through the layers of executive orders and mandates with a zero energy clear target. Roy Buchert of McDonald’s presented their initiative to study the potential for a zero energy restaurant (http://newbuildings.org/news/mcdonalds-study-explores-idea-net-zero-energy-quick-service-restaurant) that would reduce energy use by over 70% compared to the average quick-service restaurant (QSR) and has the potential to scale across both new and existing QSRs in the US and around the globe.

We also had lively discussions about the emerging recognition of the interactions and impacts of zero energy buildings and communities on the utility grid (www.utilitydive.com/library/the-state-of-the-electric-utility-2015). The interplay of zero energy buildings, community solar projects, energy storage, electric vehicles and advances in demand response and the evolving smart grid present significant opportunities for energy optimization and cost savings for building owners, while helping utilities modernize and optimize the utility grid. The topic of fuel combustion in zero energy buildings and the evolving role of natural gas was discussed, and a majority of participants shared the belief that fuel combustion can play a role in zero energy buildings and communities. We at NBI recognize this is just the beginning of an important discourse that needs to continue as we make progress to 2030. Many of the sessions focused on moving from advanced policies to design practice and deploying emerging technologies. Architects, engineers, contractors and developers articulated how they are rapidly evolving processes to employ more integrative and iterative approaches to meet zero energy targets. Several manufacturers highlighted the advances they’re making through R&D, working to develop technical solutions to the challenges we face in ultra-low energy buildings, including shading solar heat gain and reducing glare, better insulation technologies and ventilation strategies.

Rounding out the Forum, the Value of Zero Energy Workshop (http://gettingtozeroforum.org/program/) hosted by RMI and NBI delved deeply into a discussion of how we can arrive at the value of energy and non-energy benefits of ZNE buildings. An outstanding panel of commercial real estate professional shared their approaches to advancing their portfolios and demonstrating value to internal decision makers and investors.
We’re still energized from the event and can’t wait to share more. We’ll be posting a recap summary of the Forum in the next few days, inviting speakers to provide guest blog posts at gettingtozeroforum.org, and will continue to gather responses to our participant surveys. You can relive the most talked-about panel sessions through our upcoming webinar series. Stay tuned!Getting to Zero Forum discussion