Zero Energy Schools Resources

Here you can find resources for those interested in schools. These resources highlight state policies and national programs working toward zero energy schools, districts pursuing zero energy and the strategies they use, technical resources that include feasibility studies and assessment strategies for zero energy school design, and case studies of successful zero energy school buildings. Click on any of the categories to see what resources are available. You can further filter on topics by clicking the filtering options on the left hand side of the page.

Guides and roadmaps to achieving zero energy for school district board members, administrators, architects, engineers, builders, and other stakeholders.
A collection of resources for school districts looking to reduce energy consumption in their existing buildings.
These examples of school and district leadership can both inspire and offer insight for zero energy schools projects.
The impact of reduced energy consumption in schools is two-fold: lower operating expenses and an optimal learning environment for students.

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San Francisco Unified School District Carbon Reduction Plan

SFUSD is embarking on a multi-decade effort to achieve carbon neutrality by 2040. The technology exists to construct buildings that use no more energy than they generate, and all new SFUSD buildings will be built to this standard. SFUSD’s goal is to achieve a 50% reduction in natural gas usage by 2030 and to stop burning it entirely by 2040. This document was developed with input from Facilities, Buildings & Grounds, the Bond Department, and numerous other stakeholders from the City of San Francisco and elsewhere. It spells out the District’s board-adopted goal to be carbon neutral by 2040 and the manner in which that goal shall be achieved.

San Francisco Unified School District Project Requirements

Motivated by the California State Architect’s 7x7x7: Design Energy Water Challenge, SFUSD has completely transformed the process by which it designs, constructs, and modernizes its buildings in order to achieve a carbon neutral district by 2040. New buildings must be Zero Net Energy (ZNE) ready, modernized buildings are modeled so a pathway to ZNE can be incorporated into the design phase, and all facilities and deferred maintenance projects must adhere to a strict set of requirements to ensure alignment with ZNE goals. This document outlines the district’s requirements for windows, insulation, building controls, boiler replacement, plumbing fixtures, and rainwater catchment in building projects.

California Prop 39 ZNE Pilot Program

The Proposition 39 ZNE School Retrofit Pilot Program provides school districts with additional financial resources to retrofit some of California’s existing K-12 and community college buildings to ZNE. In addition to the on-the-ground pilots, the program supported the development of case studies, training webinars and workshops as well as the ZNE School Leadership awards and recognition program.

Prop 39: Improving Educational Outcomes and Energy Performance in California

This article weaves the stories of the success Proposition 39 (Prop 39) is having across California. The dedicated funding for energy efficiency and school retrofits has sparked attention and helped to more closely integrate educational and work-force development objectives with operational and energy efficiency practices. Now that these Prop 39 projects are coming online, the benefits are becoming clear – with good equipment, optimized operation, and a culture of energy conservation, school districts can not only achieve big cost savings, but also improve the learning environment for students, provide educational opportunities, and create jobs. This is an important and replicable lesson for schools in California and across the country.


USGBC’s technology platform Arc is helping schools across the globe collect, manage and benchmark building level sustainability data to improve performance. In one consolidated platform, schools can track and benchmark energy, water, waste, transportation and human experience for a single school building or entire school districts. To support all K–12 schools in going green, the Center for Green Schools at USGBC is providing the first year of access to Arc for free.

Energy Star Portfolio Manager

EPA's ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager is a no-cost, interactive energy management tool that allows you to securely track and assess energy and water consumption across your entire building portfolio. Portfolio Manager can help you set investment priorities, identify under-performing buildings, verify efficiency improvements, and apply for ENERGY STAR certification for buildings with superior energy performance.


Annually in the U.S., K-12 schools spend $14 billion on energy—more than is spent on computers and textbooks combined . Furthermore, one third of the energy is often wasted due to poorly functioning equipment, poor insulation and outdated technology. Energy benchmarking can reduce the costs, especially if students and staff are actively engaged in monitoring and finding ways to reduce energy use.

Discovery Elementary Zero Energy School

Discovery Elementary was designed to be a zero energy building, meaning that the amount of energy produced annually by on-site renewable energy sources is equal to the amount of energy used annually. Discovery is currently the largest zero energy school in the United States. As a carbon neutral producer of clean energy, the school offers a positive example of a solution to a global crisis – and along the way emboldens students with the expectation that they are creative participants in those solutions.

San Francisco Unified School District Carbon Neutral Resolution

In late September, the Board of Education took action to ensure the future of San Francisco Unified School District would be sustainable by passing the Carbon-Neutral Schools Resolution. The resolution makes SFUSD the first in the nation to adopt fossil fuel reduction targets in an effort to curb impacts from global climate change. Among other strategies, the district’s Carbon Reduction Plan includes a zero net energy (ZNE) requirement for new buildings which strives to cut natural gas use in school buildings by half by 2030 and eliminate it altogether by 2040.

The California Clean Energy Jobs Act Proposition 39 K–12 Program:

The Proposition 39 K-12 Program provides grant funds for energy projects – energy efficiency upgrades and clean energy generation – at schools within a local educational agency (LEA). During the first four fiscal years of the Proposition 39 K-12 Program, the California Legislature appropriated more than $1.3 billion in new revenues to create clean energy jobs, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and save energy and costs for schools. During this time, the Energy
Commission has approved more than 1,200 energy expenditure plans for more than 1,100 local educational agencies, representing $881 million in funding and benefitting more than 4,400 school sites.

Montana SMART Schools Program

The SMART Schools Challenge is divided into three sub-challenges: Energy Challenge, Recycling Challenge, and Green Schools Challenge. By enrolling in one, two, or all three of the sub-challenges, schools will receive a scholarship for building operator certification training, free technical assistance from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, a SMART Schools mentor from the Montana Chapter of the US Green Building Council, and have the opportunity to receive resource conservation presentations. Schools that enroll in the SMART Schools Challenge join a network of like-minded Montana schools and can learn from their peers’ resource conservation experiences.

Zero Energy Project Guide

A process for planning, designing, constructing, and operating your new zero energy building. Zero Energy Project Guide combines the steps that successful zero energy (ZE) building teams implement with ZE tools and resources. The guide outlines the importance of gaining stakeholder awareness, setting energy goals and targets, thoughtful team selection, finance and incentive opportunities, smart early design/design and construction considerations, project hand off, and operation and verification processes. It is complete with a high-level checklist that teams can reference throughout the life of a project. This guide is a useful project for anyone considering a ZE project or who is already engaged.

California K-12 and Community College Zero Net Energy Retrofit Readiness Study

The California K-12 and Community College Zero Net Energy (ZNE) Retrofit Readiness Study provides recommendations to California Program Administrators and other key market actors on how to best stimulate and enable the public school market to meet California’s aggressive ZNE targets. The report includes two primary components, a market characterization and a technical sensitivity analysis. The market characterization examines the existing K-14 building stock, as well as the stakeholders, decision-making process and funding involved in school retrofits in California. The sensitivity analysis uses energy modeling to determine the relative magnitude of the impacts of various building factors that contribute to energy use in schools, including physical building characteristics, operational practices and occupant schedules. Researchers provide an update on the current status of ZNE retrofits in schools in California and recommendations to key market actors on steps they can take to accelerate public schools on the path to ZNE.

Submetering of Building Energy & Water Usage: Analysis and Recommendations of the Subcommittee on Buildings Technology Research & Development

This report presents the Subcommittee on Buildings Technology Research & Development’s (BTRD’s) guidance and recommendations on the benefits and complexities in the use of submetering technologies for new and existing buildings. Proven demonstrations of new building technologies are essential to high-performance and sustainable building designs and operational practices. A promising avenue for advancement of these goals involves the deployment of advanced building instrumentation and submetering for real-time measurement of energy and water usage. This report documents the current state of submetering, relevant case studies, preliminary findings relating to submetering system costs and return on investment, and references to relevant publications for continual and accurate measurement of resource consumption, focused design and retrofit strategies, improved building management procedures, and changes in human behaviors that lead to significant reductions in energy and water usage.

School Building Assessment Methods

The School Building Assessment Manual is a guide for communities anticipating the expansion of existing or construction of new school facilities. It is a collection of survey and discussion tools that will encourage school administrators, teachers, students, and parents to discover and reflect upon the physical features of school buildings. The intent of the manual is to identify what works and what does not work in K-12 school buildings.

Better Buildings Initiative for K-12 School Districts

The education sector continues to balance aging facilities with deferred maintenance challenges, rising utility costs, limited budgets, workforce retention concerns, and an increasing demand for technology in the classroom. To address these challenges, schools are focusing on resiliency preparedness, leveraging creative funding mechanisms, implementing measures to reduce plug loads, and developing workforce skills and training programs to prepare the next generation of energy professionals.

Advanced Energy Retrofit Guide for K-12 Schools

The Advanced Energy Retrofit Guide for K-12 Schools is one of five retrofit guides commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy. By presenting general project planning guidance as well as more detailed descriptions and financial payback metrics for the most important and relevant energy efficiency measures, the guides provide a practical roadmap for effectively planning and implementing performance improvements in existing buildings. The K-12 Schools guide provides convenient and practical guidance for making cost-effective energy efficiency improvements in public, private, and parochial schools.

Cornell University 2013 Climate Action Plan Update & Roadmap 2014-2015

The Climate Action Plan (CAP) is Cornell’s overarching plan to move to a low carbon future. The original CAP was developed in 2009 by Cornell faculty, students, and staff with funding from the state energy authority, NYSERDA. The plan was intended to enhance the university’s core mission of education, research, and outreach, while cutting net carbon emissions to zero by 2050. Since 2008, Cornell has initiated a total of 62 actions to green its campus and has reduced gross emissions by nearly 32%, and by nearly 50% since 1990. These collective actions are significant steps forward and have established Cornell as a national leader among universities that have committed to climate neutrality.

Adams 5-Star K-12 Schools

The Energy & Sustainability team is responsible for managing utility use and for promoting Social, Economic and Environmental Sustainability for the district. Between 2009 and 2016, the team has implemented conservation measures that have reduced energy costs by $1.1 million annually. The team has begun work on a strategy to eventually achieve a district goal of of zero waste and zero energy. The schools and district departments are taking steps to ‘go green’, working to be wise stewards of resources.

Fayette County Sustainability Program: E=USE2 Program

This flagship initiative for students, E=USE2 (Education leads to Understanding Sustainability, Energy and the Environment), is a six-step program that guides hands-on investigations of energy data, energy awareness campaigns, and school improvement projects. Fayette County Public Schools has also adopted green building practices in all our construction and renovation projects to ensure that our schools are environmentally friendly. In addition, FCPS is an Energy Star partner committed to reducing consumption.

Washington Sustainable Schools Protocol (WSSP)

State-funded school construction projects greater than 5,000 square feet are required by Chapter 39.35 RCW – High Performance Public Buildings to incorporate high-performance features into their school design and construction. School districts can use either Washington Sustainable Schools Protocol (WSSP) or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED). WSSP is modeled after the Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) green building protocol and adapted to reflect characteristics that optimize high performance in Washington schools. WSSP is a self-certifying standard developed to help school districts comply with the goals of the law. It is a planning tool that allows designers to plan a high-performance school while considering the regional, district, and site-specific possibilities and constraints for each project. The categories in the protocol include those related to Site, Water, Materials, Energy, Indoor Environmental Quality, and Planning and Operations.

Maryland Net Zero Energy School Initiative Grant Program

The Maryland Energy Administration (MEA) and the Public School Construction Program (PSCP) have partnered in a Net Zero School Initiative to construct three new net zero energy schools in Maryland. Through the 2012 merger of Constellation Energy, the parent company of Baltimore Gas and Electric Company (BGE), and Exelon Corporation, a Customer Investment Fund (CIF) was established to provide financial resources for long term energy efficiency and conservation goals. The Maryland Public Service Commission, the State of Maryland’s utility regulator, has approved the use of $9 million of CIF funding to create a program to enable the design and construction of three net zero energy public schools within the BGE service territory.

USGBC Center for Green Schools

The Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council believes that all students deserve to attend sustainable schools that enhance their health and prepare them for 21st century careers. Their work brings sustainability to life in the classroom and encourages communities to work together toward a future that is healthier for people and the planet. USGBC Center for Green Schools offers educational resources, professional learning networks, and industry-recognized tools, to equip high performance school supporters to educate students about global sustainability and deepen learning by acting in their communities.

Zero Energy Buildings Resource Hub

The Zero Energy Buildings Resource Hub is a project of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and the U.S. Department of Energy. It provides resources — many of which are school-specific — on the pathway to zero energy, technologies to help achieve zero energy, building case studies, and programs available.

Better Building Zero Energy Schools Accelerator

The Zero Energy Schools Accelerator aims to make Zero Energy K-12 schools mainstream while enhancing the educational environment for the nation’s students. Energy consumption plays a significant role in the operational expenses of schools. Each year, a significant portion of taxpayer dollars is spent on school utility expenses, thereby cutting into funding that could be allocated to resources for students. Accelerator Partners will work with key stakeholders to demonstrate that zero energy buildings can be constructed with today’s technologies at the cost of a conventional code-compliant school. The Accelerator will bring together participants working toward zero energy schools construction. Goals of the Accelerator include: identify strategies to overcome market barriers related to building zero energy K-12 schools; share solutions, resources, and technologies that help schools achieve zero energy goals; develop replicable road maps to build zero energy schools; and increase visibility and replication of best practice approaches and successful models.

School Regenerative Roadmap Net Zero Schools

This roadmap is designed for school district board members, administrators and facilities staff, funders, architects, engineers, builders, teachers, parents, students, and other K-12 stakeholders. It provides reasons why schools are one of the most promising building types for zero energy, and tips on how to incorporate zero energy concepts in a school design and operation.

Zero Energy Schools Stakeholder Messaging Guide

This document is a companion piece to the Zero Energy Integrated Design Toolkit for Schools and provides overarching messaging with supporting facts, and identifies key stakeholders and drivers. Effective communication revolves around understanding the drivers that motivate decisions made by each stakeholder. In the school market, student educational outcomes are the primary driver of stakeholders. Framing messages with this driver in mind is key to communicating with them on a level that they understand and that motivates them.

Zero Energy Schools Charrette ToolKit

NBI’s toolkit for schools provides you with materials to help plan and lead a successful charrette for your school project. It can be used for almost any team aiming for high levels of energy efficiency or sustainability whether actively pursuing zero energy (ZE) or not. The toolkit lays out a step-by-step process, starting with pre-charrette planning through post-charrette actions and includes information specifically for a ZE building.

Advanced Energy Design Guide for K-12 Schools Pursuing ZE

This design guide is for K-12 school buildings, and applies to all sizes and classifications (elementary, middle, high). Space types covered include administrative and office space, classrooms, hallways, restrooms, gymnasiums and multipurpose rooms, libraries, and food preparation and dining areas. The Guide establishes a set of energy performance goals for achieving zero energy. The goals are provided for all ASHRAE climate zones, in both site and source energy. Strategies on how to achieve these energy targets are provided throughout the guide.

Energy Targets

Successful ZE champions and project managers have clear energy and sustainability goals for their project early, even before design begins. Instead of “percent better than code” goals, ZE projects use an absolute energy target— called an Energy Use Intensity (EUI) commonly expressed in kBtu/square foot per year. Energy targets are measurable and actionable energy goals that guide modeling and project decisions to a high performance outcome. They provide guidance for on-site renewable energy generation and establishes a set of energy performance goals that can not only be designed to, but operated to. Energy targets vary slightly depending on building type and climate.

Energy-Performance-Based Acquisition for Commercial Buildings

Energy-performance-based acquisition is the process of considering well-defined energy performance goals and incentives for the entire building lifecycle, including planning, design, construction, and operation. Learn more about a typical energy-performance-based project using the steps and resources provided.

How-To Guide for Energy-Performance-Based Procurement

Through a series of new construction projects at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) and ongoing collaborations between NREL and industry, they have found that high-performance, energy-efficient buildings can be procured within typical construction budgets. Success stories include NREL’s Research Support Facility (RSF) where a project energy efficiency goal was the foundation for the energy-performance-based procurement process described in this guide. A project delivery approach that incentivizes an innovative design and construction team to meet the energy goal in design and operations is also critical. Using a well-planned energy-performance-based procurement process, which includes an energy goal and an appropriate project delivery approach, owners can be confident that their projects will have system-integrated, cost-effective efficiency strategies and renewable technologies that will perform as intended.

Greening Boulder Valley School District

Boulder Valley School District has accomplished much in the past three years to reduce energy consumption, and energy use has decreased significantly, saving the district thousands of dollars. The district met its five-year energy goal a year ahead of schedule. In 2013, the Energy Team completed a new Sustainable Energy Plan. This plan sets new five-six year targets, with the long term goal of zero energy capable buildings by 2050. The plan also provides detail on the methodology for achieving the new goals and specific strategies, including estimates on initial costs and ongoing savings.

Collaborative for High Performance Schools

The Collaborative for High Performance Schools (CHPS) believes kids learn better in schools with good lighting, clean air, and comfortable classrooms. CHPS works with schools and experts to make changes to ensure that every child has the best possible learning environment with the smallest impact on the planet. CHPS helps facilitate and inspire change in our educational system. The goals of CHPS are to fundamentally change the design, construction and operation of schools to: protect student and staff health, and enhance the learning environments of school children everywhere; conserve energy, water, and other natural resources; and reduce waste, pollution, and environmental degradation. CHPS offers best practices manuals, criteria and assessments, technical resources and a database for high performance products for every phase and type of project. CHPS can help implement best practices in the planning, designing, operating, specifying for, commissioning or maintaining a school.

Education & Training: In-Person Workshops

Prop 39 ZNE Retrofit workshops feature the experiences of school officials and design teams working on these groundbreaking projects to help share the lessons learned and expand knowledge of the opportunities and challenges to ZNE school retrofit design and operations. The interactive program is designed to help administrators and building professionals and others learn about the state’s goals for ZNE and how to apply the necessary design strategies and technology applications to whole-building retrofit projects.