Clean Revolution leader: The City of New York

4 January 2012

This summarized case study is one of an initial set of eight success stories which illustrate the emerging global leadership of the Clean Revolution. 

The City of New York: The largest city in the US

Few cities can rival New York’s skyline, dominated by skyscrapers and lights. The towers that define the city give it its density, its efficiency, and its architectural character. But buildings account for roughly 75% of New York City’s energy consumption and CO2 emissions, as many of them consume far more energy than necessary owing to outdated equipment, poor maintenance, and mis-matched financial incentives.

To overcome this, New York City has quietly and patiently been changing its sparkling skyline into an energy efficient skyline.

New York City’s economy expends approximately $13 billion each year for energy, so reducing these costs will help ensure that the city remains competitive. And because buildings and local power plants account for a large portion of local air pollution; more efficient buildings will emit fewer pollutants, improving the health and quality of life of New York City’s citizens.

Innovative leadership

New York City’s Clean Revolution has been led by Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and his detailed and comprehensive sustainability plan, called PlaNYC: A Greener, Greater New York.

Released in 2007 and with aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than 30% by 2030, PlaNYC’s most important initiative has been to take on a comprehensive approach to reducing energy consumption in existing buildings, leveraging the fact that New York City has control over its own construction and energy codes.

Through a set of mandates that cover half of the city’s real estate, the 2009 released Greener Greater Buildings Plan will cut New York’s carbon emissions – already the lowest in the United States, per capita – by at least 5%. This comprehensive legislative package mandated audits, benchmarking, retro-commissioning, lighting retrofits, and sub-metering for large buildings, many of which were first in the nation.

It uses the city Government’s ability to impose mandates, but works with the grain of the real estate industry and focuses on cost-effective measures.

Focused on the 2% of the city’s buildings that comprise half of its square footage, it is expected to create more than 17,800 constructed related jobs when fully implemented.

In April 2011, the city also launched the non-legislative component of the plan, a financing agency called the New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation, to assist landlords in financing energy efficiency upgrades.

Primary elements of New York City’s Greener, Greater Buildings Plan

  • Took local control of the energy code and updated it to require that all renovations comply with the current energy code.
  • Requires lighting to be upgraded over the next 15 years, consistent with an approach that would see lighting brought up to code each time a lease is renewed.
  • Requires sub-metering of non-residential spaces over 10,000 square feet to be implemented, also at the time of lease renewal.
  • Requires energy audits and retro-commissioning of large buildings every ten years.
  • Requires large buildings to undertake an annual energy bench-marking analysis; beginning in 2012, the results will be made public each year.

A better future for all

Since the law passed, nearly 20,000 buildings have undertaken a mandated energy benchmarking exercise, which will be posted publicly starting this year.

Many buildings are choosing to comply with the other provisions early, which is fostering growth among a set of companies big and small that are providing efficiency services. And energy consumption in New York City’s buildings is beginning to decline.

Building on the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, New York City’s Green Codes Task Force released 111 recommendations to continue to improve the codes and regulations that govern construction to increase the energy efficiency of buildings. At least 24 of the recommendations have been implemented to date. 

New York City is a leading city of the Clean Revolution, but if the US’s largest city with a complex and diverse network of business, government and citizens can convene the necessary actors to transform their skyline for the better, any city can. 

You can see what's driving the City of New York's current and future goals in our interview with Michael R. Bloomberg, Mayor of New York City.

Your leadership

New York City's leading work is just part of The Clean Revolution. Your leadership will drive The Clean Revolution - and your leadership is needed now. We’re looking for business and government leaders who can either help support the campaign or provide us with compelling case studies. Join now, to help us deliver a better, smarter, more prosperous future for all

Use the #CleanRevolution hash tag to show its leadership in action if you use Twitter

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