10/12/2023 | by
Ali Zaidi of the Biden administration
(L-R) Juliet Eilperin of the Washington Post and Ali Zaidi of the Biden administration

At the U.S. Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Greenbuild International Conference in Washington, D.C., last month, Ali Zaidi of the Biden administration shared his perspective on the climate crisis during a keynote address. Zaidi, who serves the administration as national climate advisor, outlined the efforts underway to act with a sense of urgency to enable a future that is sustainable and create an economic upside that uplifts the economy in every sector. In his remarks, Zaidi noted that there is no such thing as “hard to decarbonize” when the U.S. turns its sights on the challenge.

Zaidi applauded industry groups that bring stakeholders together to develop standards that result in progress. He highlighted efforts to boost resilience codes and pointed out the massive uptake in passing energy and resilience code updates on a bipartisan basis in local and state legislatures across the country.

The highlight of Zaidi’s remarks included an announcement that the White House would be launching a process to engage industry in developing a federal definition for "zero-emissions buildings" (ZEB), accelerating capital formation around buildings that are not contributing to the root cause of climate change. The definition would focus on:

  • boosting the energy efficiency of new buildings and retrofits of existing buildings;
  • supporting seamless and cost-effective onsite renewable energy generation; and
  • plugging buildings into a clean electric grid.

The definition will seek to not just promote the premium market, but will aim to support scaling-up the whole building stock, and expanding access to zero-emissions housing and a just transition. Zaidi closed his remarks by encouraging attendees to keep “climate action as a north star; not as doom and despair but [as] hope and possibilities that we will build together.”

Following his remarks, Zaidi sat down with Washington Post Editor Juliet Eilperin for a discussion on the administration’s approach to tackling the climate crisis. They discussed if the voluntary standard would move investors and change the way buildings operate and how the federal government is leading by example by driving efficiency and carbon reduction through the federal building stock, strategies which can move into private building stock on a voluntary basis. He cited tax policy programs like expanding and making permanent 179D incentives for energy efficiency.

Zaidi and Eilperin also discussed the American Climate Corps, a national U.S. government interagency project focused on climate change prevention. The project was announced the previous week in New York during Climate Week and will provide a one-year training experience to 20,000 workers from diverse backgrounds in the first cycle, with a goal of reducing the barrier of entry to clean energy careers and energy efficiency careers, building trades, and apprenticeship programs. Funding for the program will come from the existing resources of six agencies that are already designated to support workforce development.

Zaidi noted that the program will be modeled after the FDR-era Peace Corps and AmeriCorps programs, aligning with existing low-barrier-to-entry programs, including existing state-based corps. According to Zaidi, the program “will meet the workforce demand perspective [of] inclusion [and] uplift everyone with [a] clean energy economy opportunity, making an investment in young people and the workforce of the future.”

Following the keynote, the White House Climate Policy Office, along with EPA and DOE leaders, gathered real estate sector stakeholders to provide feedback on the ZEB definition.

In anticipation of the release of a draft ZEB definition, Nareit will continue to engage with its members and real estate stakeholders to discuss the benefits of a uniform, realistic—and voluntary—federal definition to clarify how the U.S government defines real estate with low or no carbon footprint. Any experience with other global frameworks will be a valuable contribution to the development of a federal ZEB definition.

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