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To environmentalists (and many others), the goal of net zero is as close to clean energy nirvana as you can get – and Salesforce just hit a significant new milestone in its pursuit.

Net zero is all about reducing energy consumption so that the total amount of energy used annually by a building about equals the amount of renewable energy the site creates. Achieving it is a major aspect of the clean energy drive that’s a focus of major corporations and that’s also influencing both the residential and commercial building industries.

In 2015, Salesforce underscored its commitment to sustainable design by vowing to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050 across its global footprint. That it did so only two years later and 33 years ahead of schedule sets a high bar for others to follow with its variety of innovative programs in support of the goal.

For example, Salesforce sees its role as an influencer – and not just with its peers in the corporate community, but also with its suppliers. Those are primarily building owners, as the company leases the majority of its offices and data centers and doesn’t directly pay the utility bills. That posed a potential obstacle to achieving net zero emissions. It was solved through power purchase agreements for wind power in Texas and West Virginia. The PPAs allow the company to bring new renewable energy online without having to take possession of the electricity.

Salesforce’s way of approaching clean energy goals as a tenant is worth noting, since the landlord-tenant divide has typically been a major barrier keeping developments from reaching net zero goals.

For example, there are challenges to developers recouping investments to solar PV systems when tenants pay a monthly bill to an electric utility. It’s also problematic for tenants to prioritize energy efficiency when they have little control over energy infrastructure and equipment.

But a new net zero development in Boulder, Co. has overcome that divide with the first net zero lease for any multi-tenant development of its size. The lease agreement at Boulder Commons, two commercial buildings with 100,000 square feet of office space and restaurants is with the Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), which has its own net zero energy innovation center in Basalt, Co. Its space in Boulder Commons would allow it to continue to walk the talk.

The net zero lease gives legal teeth to shared net zero goals. Among other aspects, it incentivizes RMI to stay within a set plug load or, if it doesn’t, to offset the overage with renewable energy certificates. Transportation related emissions are similarly treated. Parking costs are separated from space rent to incentivize RMI to encourage alternative commuting and see the benefit in lower rent over time.

The next frontier on the net zero front is for residential development, according to Denis Vranich, a longtime Ontario redeveloper of multi-residential and commercial properties. His UrbanLife Residential construction arm focuses on green building techniques and aims to reduce the carbon footprint of his buildings to as small as possible.

Most sustainable homes are currently net zero ready; builders have been reluctant to offer full net zero homes given the $35,000-plus extra they can add to the price. However, Denis Vranich mentions that he has seen more of these projects underway in Ontario, showing that the price is not necessarily a deterrent to the growing numbers of people who want to reduce their personal carbon footprints.

Even so, for many, homes that are merely green, through such technologies as solar and wind power and other features like spray foam insulation, will also serve their purposes. Savings can be tenfold over the life of these buildings, as Vranich adds, and owners can feel satisfied they’re doing something positive for the environment.



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