Zero Buildings Enter the Early Majority

Zero Buildings Enter the Early Majority

Have you set foot inside a Zero Energy Building (ZEB)? Probably not!

These ultra-low energy buildings, which consume only as much energy as produced by renewable sources, are only 500 in number across North America. But keep your eyes peeled – like any good innovation, they are gaining fast ground. Since 2012, ZEBs have increased by 700 percent.

At the Getting to Zero Forum in Pittsburg this April, architects and builders made it clear. ZEBs are the future of homes, offices and communities, and the future of great design. Now, it’s time for the rest of us to get behind it.

With 90 percent of the growth occurring in just the past three years, these 500 early adopters are now giving way to the early majority of building- and home-owners.

As the early majority learn about ZEBs, should we continue to call them zero energy buildings, or net zero buildings, or any “inside baseball” variation thereof, now that the audience is expanding? Can we be attracted to something with the label “zero”?

Maybe. More important than the vocabulary at this stage is understanding how to build trust in these advanced buildings. Early ZEB adopters are a limited set of customers with similar motivations – to save energy, increase sustainability and resiliency, lead the pack. The early majority audience is much bigger across more segments. They need to be understood before we throw words at them.

Do they care about a zero energy building? More likely, they care more about the benefit to their daily life. In that sense, these are living buildings, healthy buildings, better buildings.

Rather than focus on the facts and incentives behind these buildings, as we have done in previous marketing, it’s time to focus on emotional and lifestyle levers. Edelman’s Trust Barometer suggests how this can be done in the incredibly low-trust environment of 2018: peers sharing personal experiences. More than ever we are tribal consumers – even in a B2B context – and need to identify with the person delivering the message. More than half of us believe a message is true when it is relayed by personal experience. A slightly smaller number of consumers need data to believe a message, but the personal story is paramount.

The ZEB industry has ample data and case studies. Now it’s time for the industry to incentivize and arm early adopters to share their personal experiences with the early majority in a natural way. This means with emotion, with spontaneity, and in the language of their stakeholder group. Let’s make a hero of the zero.

Joey Marquart is a senior vice president and leads the Social Innovation team in Edelman’s Silicon Valley office. You can contact him at


Graph Credit: New Building Institute

Picture Credit: Zero Energy Building at the BCA Academy: Singapore. Taken by the Building and Construction Authority.–BCA-Academy-Singapore/