NYC green building legislation-compressed Photo: Reginaldo Fonseca/Flickr

According to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), energy used in New York’s buildings is responsible for 70 percent of the city’s carbon emissions, costing New Yorkers more than $20 billion annually.

This month, the New York City Council passed ambitious green building legislation to drive those figures down. New laws clarify the definition of “sustainability” in municipal projects and pledge a drastic reduction in allowable emissions for new city-owned properties. Mayor de Blasio is expected to sign the rules into law within weeks.

One of the new pieces of legislation, Intro. 701-A, sets hard numbers for sustainability goals, stating that new capital products — including new construction, additions and reconstruction — on all city-owned property must be designed to use no more than 50 percent of present energy usage. An “energy budget path” and an “energy modelling path” will work toward measured reductions according to benchmarks. Benchmarking is the formal process that requires all large buildings to annually measure their energy use through the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC).

Since benchmarking was first introduced last year, NYC had significant decrease in energy use per square foot. There was a 13 percent reduction for office buildings and 12 percent for multi-family buildings.

The mayor will also have authority to create new targets over time, so long as they are equally stringent. All projects have the goal of at least 10 percent onsite renewable energy, and buildings three stories or less must formally consider net zero energy use.

Intro 721-A makes stricter standards to qualify a municipal project as “sustainable.” This means switching from Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards v3 to LEED v4. LEED is the third-party certification program of the USGBC, and it concerns the design, operation and construction of high performance green buildings. Its upgraded certification has tougher requirements for energy efficiency including efforts to “reverse contributions to climate change.”

Most large-scale construction strives for LEED certification, so upgraded rules can have big impact. Nearly 2 million square feet of construction space are certified each day worldwide, and 88 of Fortune 100 companies are already certified.

Green building trends and the City Council’s new legislation all fit in with Mayor de Blasio’s long-term commitment to environmental impact, which the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy says has the potential to be an inspiration for other large cities. New York City’s overarching goal is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 80 percent by the year 2050, and last year, de Blasio called for plans to power 100 percent of City operations with renewable sources.

New Yorkers can take a look at building energy progress at metered.nyc, an interactive map that tracks consumption across the city.

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