Clare Saxon Ghauri

The Climate Group

New York City’s Clean Revolution has been led by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, and his detailed and comprehensive sustainability plan, called PlaNYC: A Greener, Greater New York. 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 Greener Greater Buildings Plan will cut New York’s carbon emissions – already the lowest in the United States, per capita – by at least 5%.

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 But many of them consume far more energy than necessary, due to outdated equipment, poor maintenance, and mis-matched financial incentives that leave neither tenants nor landlords eager to undertake retrofits.

Over the last four years, however, New York City has quietly and patiently been changing their sparkling skyline into an energy efficient skyline.

Proposed by Mayor Bloomberg and supported by City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan was enacted into law in December 2009. Developed in close consultation with the real estate community – and ultimately endorsed by the Real Estate Board of New York – the plan is arguably the most comprehensive approach to reducing greenhouse gases from existing buildings undertaken in any American city. 

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.

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

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.