NYC Walks the Walk on Greening its Buildings

Fresh from the Paris climate conference, New York City announced some important news that once again demonstrates why the Big Apple is an international leader on climate: energy efficiency upgrades that will save taxpayers millions of dollars over the next several years are already underway or accomplished in more than a third of the city's 3,000-plus municipal buildings. These 1,000 schools, offices, firehouses, libraries, and hospitals are responsible for about half of the city's total building-related climate-changing pollution, which itself represents the lion's share of the city's greenhouse gas footprint.

New York intends to retrofit all public buildings by 2025, as part of its One City: Built to Last plan, so that the city, the largest single building owner in all of NYC, saves more energy and money and cuts pollution in our beloved burg and the larger world we live in. But not for those reasons alone. Leading by example provides the private sector with important examples of how beneficial such upgrades can be and how to get them done.

The particularly exciting news is that the city is moving full steam ahead to fulfill its commitments to cut citywide emissions by 40 percent by 2030 and 80 percent by 2050. (That's the amount scientists say we must cut to avoid climate change's most catastrophic effects.)

Not only is New York City ahead of its game on municipal retrofits, but it has taken numerous steps to make it easier for private building owners to do the same. Just last week, the city released a tool that provides owners and property managers with a snapshot of their buildings' relative efficiency when it comes to greenhouse gas emissions, energy and water use, with the release of an online tool that offers just this kind of information with a few clicks of a mouse. The idea is that people can use this online tool, called the New York City Energy and Water Performance Map, to better understand where energy upgrades can be made and carbon and cash savings realized in the 26,000 largest buildings in the city. (Other great, recently released NYC-building-specific online tools include the upgrade savings calculator EfficienSEE, and the Urban Green Council's Metered.NYC.) The availability of these tools is good news for everyone, especially owners and residents of affordable multifamily housing, both of whom stand to save a lot with efficiency upgrades (low-income residents spend a disproportionate amount of their income on energy).

To further assist, the city has also just released a guide to best practices that can help universities and hospitals reap the many benefits of energy upgrades, which includes a number of case studies that highlight the efforts of 15 NYC Carbon Challenge participants and identifies ways to get even deeper reductions. The Challenge has been a tremendous success, and though the handbook is focused on specific building sectors, it provides a very useful blueprint for any building to become more energy-efficient. These resources also follow the city's launch of its New York City Retrofit Accelerator, which offers free technical assistance and advice to building owners hoping to save money and go green through energy upgrades.

As last week's announcement makes clear, the city is not just talking the talk but walking the walk when it comes to action on climate. Noteworthy upgrades already completed or underway include LED lighting upgrades at dozens of police stations and firehouses; heating and lighting upgrades at landmark museums, such as the American Museum of Natural History, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the Brooklyn Museum, whose energy costs are underwritten by the city, and, battery storage technologies at Queens Hospital and Jacobi Hospital. Many of them are helping make city facilities not just more energy-efficient but also more resilient. In the last year alone, the city has also installed 4 megawatts of solar power on public buildings, with another 15 megawatts of solar slated to be built out soon.

No wonder, then, that New York was one of 10 cities honored at the Paris conference by C40, a global network of more than 80 major cities committed to tackling climate change, for the city's' One City: Built to Last plan. As C40 Chair Eduardo Paes, Mayor of Rio de Janeiro, explained about New York City and its peers, "By taking local action, we are having a global impact."