GBCI’s decarbonization strategy: A holistic suite of products to meet every opportunity

Roger Limoges
August 23, 2021

It is a well-known statistic that buildings account for almost 40% of CO2 emissions, with 28% of that attributed to building operations and 11% to building materials and construction. According to research by Architecture 2030, we know embodied carbon accounts for 11% of global annual greenhouse gas emissions and a startling 28% of global building sector emissions.

We also know meaningful action can be taken to redirect the unsustainable trajectory on which we are headed through the power of human collaboration and a sense of urgency.

This is why GBCI is redoubling our efforts to support and advance global collaboration to decarbonize buildings, grids, communities and more. We are doing this by investing our resources and leveraging our tools and technology towards a net zero and net positive vision — and by emphasizing carbon mitigation as a metric in everything we do.

Despite the unprecedented global leadership and uptake of LEED, we know one tool by itself can’t address every opportunity to decarbonize. That’s why we offer multiple, trusted rating systems that offer verifiable, reliable and data-backed platforms that together provide a comprehensive and multi-sector approach to decarbonization. Each of these not only complement and build on LEED but also create lasting value for our customers by helping them meet unique sustainability and carbon reduction goals.

Addressing carbon through LEED v4.1

Carbon reduction has been a foundation of LEED since its introduction to the market. And in the years since, each new iteration of LEED has brought greater advances and increased sophistication to our approaches and strategies and provided new opportunities to scale our impact on carbon.

In our latest version, LEED v4.1, we not only raised the energy reference standard to ASHRAE 90.1 2016, but also added a carbon metric for the first time to the rating systems for new and existing buildings to directly measure the building’s climate impact as dictated by building energy efficiency, onsite generation and storage and the associated grid. Changes to the renewable energy credit further rewards projects that make choices that lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Embodied carbon in materials selection began as a focus under LEED v4 and continues in LEED v4.1, as we utilize Whole Building Life Cycle Assessments and tools like Environmental Product Disclosures to weigh options for building design and materials selection with a lower carbon impact. We also introduced our Better Materials Platform to make it easier for project teams to choose products and materials with less carbon impact.

Additionally, the Construction and Demolition Waste Management credit rewards teams for diverting increasing levels of construction and demolition materials. According to the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, 10 to 15% of building materials are wasted during the construction process — and this is a measurable opportunity to reduce embodied carbon by reducing, recycling and reusing these material streams.

Arc for All: Tools to measure and score GHG emissions

Arc is GBCI's platform to measure and score energy and greenhouse gas emissions for spaces, buildings and places. Arc powers certification tools like LEED v4.1, LEED Recertification, LEED for Cities & Communities and more. The Arc platform allows any project, anywhere to estimate GHG emissions from on-site combustion, purchased energy (e.g., electricity) and transportation for free. This information can be readily aggregated across portfolios to provide unique insights about current performance and improvement opportunities.
Arc also provides premium tools to inform and guide decarbonization action, including the Arc Climate Risk module -- a premium feature that tracks and scores carbon emissions, electrification, and physical climate impacts  and the Arc Financial Impact module  a partnership with Autocase to turn measured energy and water performance into dollars-and-cents costs and benefits for owners, occupants and society. The bottom line is that Arc powers GBCI's family of rating systems and provides opportunities to advance every project's decarbonization journey.

Learn more about Arc

LEED Zero: Carbon, Energy, Water and Waste

Since its inception, LEED has focused on driving reductions in energy use, water use and waste. In fact, 62% of points in LEED BD+C and 60% in LEED O+M are awarded for energy efficiency, water efficiency and waste reduction efforts. To further raise the bar, we created LEED Zero certification, which recognizes projects that achieve net zero for either Carbon, Energy, Waste or Water.

Of course, LEED is not the only trusted carbon mitigation tool in GBCI’s portfolio of products. We have a suite of programs that advance decarbonization including EDGE, PEER, SITES, TRUE and ICP.


TRUE is a certification program that enables facilities to define, pursue and achieve their zero waste goals. The production of goods and subsequent waste contributes to GHG emissions, pollution and general environmental degradation. It has been estimated that materials management is associated with more than 40% of total GHG emissions in the U.S. Actions taken to reduce waste can eliminate fossil fuel use and associated emissions up and down a material’s life cycle, including from resource extraction, transportation, manufacturing, disposal, landfill emissions, waste incineration, ocean pollution and more. Implementing zero waste strategies through TRUE represents a simple, cost effective way for businesses and communities to reduce carbon emissions.  

Beyond the inherent reduction of waste, TRUE also supports decarbonization by encouraging businesses to purchase recycled products, ask vendors to eliminate unnecessary packaging, and utilize reprocessed materials (such as compost) on site. TRUE provides guidance and education to support the cultural shift needed to highlight the importance of materials management for a low carbon future.

Learn more about TRUE


PEER is the world’s first certification program that measures and improves power system performance and energy infrastructure. The program is a critical part of GBCI’s strategy to advance microgrids, renewable energy, power system reliability, resilience and efficiency. In the global struggle to combat climate change, the impact of the energy sector is impossible to overlook. Energy production accounts for more than two thirds of global GHG emission growth – and coal-fired power plants were the single largest contributor to the growth in emissions observed in 2018, exceeding 10 Gigatons for the first time in history.

PEER takes a multifaceted approach to accelerating carbon reductions and improvements in electricity production and delivery, including:

  • Ensuring disclosure of power grids’ environmental performance, creating a roadmap for sustainable electricity delivery.
  • Establishing performance parameters for benchmarking and reducing environmental impacts, including carbon emissions and water usage.
  • Encouraging renewable energy and the purchase of carbon offsets or renewable energy certificates that are climate e-certified.
  • Expanding the use of distributed energy generation, onsite renewable energy, energy storage and district energy cooling or heating systems, which significantly reduces the dependency on inefficient and higher emission grid power.
  • Embracing demand response strategies that provide flexibility in power loads leading to energy savings and reductions in so-called “dirty power” at peak usage.

Globally, PEER certified projects provide reliable and quality power to over 8 million people, while at the same time creating an annual savings of 510 million kWh of power, a CO2 emission reduction of 21 million metric tons and cost savings of $54 million – all achieved through PEER strategies such as renewable energy, demand side management and energy efficiency activities.

Learn more about PEER


SITES is the most comprehensive rating system for creating sustainable and resilient land development projects and is used by landscape architects, designers, engineers, planners, ecologists, developers and policy makers to align land development and management with regenerative design. The results from a SITES certification are ecologically resilient projects that benefit the environment, property owners and local and regional communities and economies.

The carbon footprint of the built environment is often understood in terms of construction, energy use and transportation. However, to effectively address the climate crisis, we must also seek opportunities to sequester carbon and use strategies that facilitate a regenerative built environment. SITES directly addresses decarbonization through various site-based strategies that reduce carbon emissions, limit fossil fuel consumption, and protect and create carbon sinks. These strategies include protecting stored carbon and strengthening the ability of landscapes to sequester carbon through conservation and restoration efforts; maintaining soil health; planting native vegetation that uses less water and fertilizers and requires less maintenance; managing stormwater using green (vs. gray) infrastructure which increases biomass onsite and reduces the use of concrete; restoring aquatic ecosystems like carbon storing wetlands; promoting clean energy; reducing water consumption; and selecting low embodied carbon materials.

Learn more about SITES

Investor Confidence Project (ICP)

Investment in energy efficiency is one of the most powerful levers for transforming the built environment and will be critical to decarbonization. In 2009, a McKinsey report estimated that comprehensively investing in energy efficiency in existing buildings had the potential to yield $1.2 trillion dollars in energy savings and 1.1 gigatons of GHG emissions reductions annually. This report was published more than a decade ago. Since then, this opportunity has gone largely unrealized and, in reality, there is far less investment in energy efficiency projects than one would expect given the potential available to us.

While the opportunity is great, a number of barriers stand in the way of scaling investment in energy efficiency retrofits including: perceived risk, unreliable financial returns, and the lack of standardization in project development and documentation. Ultimately the lack of standardization and complexity of assessing and managing performance risk leads to costly due diligence and more importantly to projects which often fail to meet performance expectations – and ultimately that has led to a profound lack of confidence among owners and investors that they will actually energy savings, financial benefits and carbon reductions they’re after.

Our goal with ICP is to address these barriers and transform the energy efficiency market by increasing confidence in the financial and environmental performance of building retrofits. ICP provides a framework to standardize energy efficiency project development, a network of qualified developers and rigorous third-party validation that is intended to lower transaction costs for buyers and sellers of energy efficiency, increase the reliability of savings, and reduce investor risk. With buildings accounting for nearly 40% of carbon emissions, ICP will drive capital towards energy efficiency improvements that help owners and investors meet carbon goals, help position the existing building market to better engage with programs like LEED O+M and ensure that more economically viable retrofits occur which is critical for building decarbonization.

Learn more about ICP and IREE certification

Market solutions ready for the taking

GBCI is the best positioned organization to help corporations, NGOs and governments implement their decarbonization goals. No other organization working in the built environment space has disrupted a market and transformed the very way people relate to the buildings, spaces, and communities around them. We stand ready to help you achieve your decarbonization goals and to demonstrate your climate leadership to the market. Whether through LEED, a combination of LEED and any of our complementary sustainability platforms, or a non-LEED stand-alone certification, GBCI offers numerous opportunities for the sustainability industry to drastically reduce carbon. 

For example, the Colgate-Palmolive facility in Burlington, New Jersey became the first project in the world to achieve LEED Zero across all four categories of carbon, energy, water, and waste. As of 2020, Colgate-Palmolive has achieved LEED certification for 19 of its sites around the world, and has committed to certifying new construction facilities to LEED and 100% of its global operations to TRUE.

Similarly, Best Buy deployed TRUE at its Reverse Logistics Center, located in Chino, California. Over the course of 2020, it was able to divert more than 99% of its solid waste from landfills. This is the first TRUE certification for Best Buy, which has set 2030 as its deadline to reduce carbon emissions by 75%.

The Canadian Infrastructure Bank’s Commercial Buildings Retrofit Initiative uses ICP’s IREE certification to vet the eligibility of commercial projects to access the CAN$2 billion it has set aside for investments in energy-efficiency retrofits in commercial buildings. The Commercial Buildings Retrofit Initiative provides financing for decarbonization retrofits in privately-owned commercial buildings in Canada. The initiative is a significant step towards Canada’s low carbon future and has the power to kickstart a crucial part of the green economy and meaningfully lower carbon emissions.

The Dell Medical District—University of Texas at Austin relied on a combination of SITES, LEED, and PEER certifications to achieve its decarbonization goals. Components of its strategy included the revegetation of a greyfield site and the complete restoration of the native plant communities in support of carbon sequestration, outdoor water reduction of 75% and the use of salvaged materials, which reduce carbon emissions associated with extraction, manufacture, and transportation of new materials.  Dell also purchased green power for 100% of all landscape energy requirements.

These are just a few select examples of the trusted decarbonization implementation success stories being experienced across the globe thanks to the products and services offered by GBCI. The best time to start your decarbonization leadership journey is now. Let GBCI partner with you to make it a success.