In December 2018, the New York City Council Committee on Environmental Protection met at City Hall to amend the administrative code of the City of New York in relation to the commitment to achieve certain reductions in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050 (Introduction No. 1253), establishing a sustainable energy loan program (Introduction No. 1252), and to a building energy efficiency grade (Introduction No. 1251). The full report can be accessed online, but in short, the clock is ticking fast to combat climate change in New York City. Our buildings contribute 70% of the city’s total carbon emissions, and the time for change is long overdue.
In 2009, Local Law 87 was supposed to mandate retrofits in large, high energy consuming buildings. The law was weakened, and instead became a voluntary retro-commissioning program. De Blasio “used retrofit to win” his position as Mayor, according to councilmembers, and attempted to make a voluntary program work – but it didn’t. Now, a full decade later, time is up. We lost this decade of potential progress due to pushback from the real estate industry. However, there is now overwhelming support for Introductions 1253, 1253, and 1251, and as the largest city in the country, it is New York’s moral obligation to do as much as we can.
Although these amendments are being presented and Local Law 87 never saw the success it was hoped to, it is important to acknowledge that the voluntary retro-commissioning program resulted in a 15% drop in carbon emissions over the past decade. However, with the new IPCC report, we know that a 15% decrease over 10 years isn’t going to cut it. New York City’s carbon reduction goals are to achieve a 40% decrease by 2030, and an 80% decrease by 2050. With the primary sources of greenhouse gas emissions being heating/ cooling and electric use, large buildings must be targeted first.
“Can a letter go out to the Trump International Building?” said a member of the committee, which was met with laughs and applause. “They don’t believe in climate change, but it’s real,” he continued. It is an unfortunate reality that at such a critical time to make huge changes to protect the future of our homes, cities, countries, and planet, the current administration is turning a blind eye to impending disaster. That’s why New York has stepped up to remain compliant with international environmental agreements such as the Paris Agreement.
Kinks in compliance were still being worked out by the Department of Buildings at the hearing last December. What we do know is that annual audits of energy use will be mandatory, as well as sub-metering non-residential tenants. Mandatory auditing is a huge step- and I see no reason to stop at energy. The NYC Retrofit Accelerator and Community Retrofit NYC programs both helped identify energy and water saving retrofits, yet “water” language is otherwise absent from today’s efficiency conversation. Decreasing water consumption leads to decreasing energy consumption, and the two utilities should not be separated in conservation efforts as they often are. Representatives from the Department of Environmental Protection, which is New York City’s water utility provider, were present at the public hearing, yet there was no discussion of mandating audits or sub-metering for water usage.
Furthermore, there are reasons beyond the 2050 carbon emission cut goals to reduce water usage, such as the impending Delaware Aqueduct shutdown or CSO mitigation in our waterways. The more water we use, the more water we have to manage, which poses real infrastructure issues. The tools exist and are readily available to tackle water consumption the way the city is about to tackle energy consumption, and I see no excuse to ignore the issue. As we know, any and all action to reduce our carbon footprint can help in the race against a disastrous future. And the race is getting tight.
The last update on the status of Intro 1253 was that it was returned unsigned by the Mayor on May 20, 2019. In the meantime, building owners and property managers can fight on the front lines of the climate battle by engaging in conservation practices for both water and energy. There are plenty of tools and consultants out there to help – such as us at Ashokan Water Services. For any noble real estate or sustainability professionals reading this, check out our monitoring, auditing, and sub-metering services.