Energy Policy

Legislation Would Reduce the Carbon Footprint of Buildings

2 min read

Buildings account for almost 40% of carbon dioxide (CO2 or carbon) emissions in the U.S. per year.1 Recent legislative efforts around the nation look to address carbon and other climate emissions produced from buildings’ significant energy usage, by assessing and optimizing facilities’ energy performance.

The majority of building emissions can be attributed to the direct and indirect use of fossil fuels for cooling, heating, lighting and powering appliances.1 Carbon emissions from residential and commercial buildings are expected to grow faster than any other sector at 1.8% per year through 2030.1

To address the emissions challenge in both existing and new buildings, legislators have begun to introduce laws that would encourage more buildings to pursue energy efficient upgrades.

Building Emissions Legislation in NYC and at the Federal Level

Buildings make up almost 70% of New York City’s direct carbon emissions and is often made worse by inefficient heating and cooling systems.4 In response, the New York City Council passed and subsequently enacted Climate Mobilization Act in May 2019 to require buildings 25,000 square feet or larger (this is about 50,000 buildings or 5% of its properties) to cut emissions by 40% by 2030 and more than 80% by 2050.2,7 The worst-performing buildings must curb emissions by 26% by 2024.3,8

The act contains multiple requirements, including amendment of the city’s existing building code to require certain buildings to put plants or renewable energy sources, such as solar panels, on their roofs. Covered buildings have flexibility in making other changes to minimize carbon emissions, such as building automation controls or more efficient heating, air conditioning and lighting. The statute will penalize building owners who don’t meet carbon reduction requirements with a fee of $268 per excess ton.

At the national level, members of the U.S. Congress have introduced legislation that would improve energy efficiency in federal buildings, which are the largest consumer of electricity in the United States.5 The proposed legislation would provide flexibility in energy sources for federal buildings and ensure that upgrades in such existing buildings reach 30 percent less energy use than current requirements, and which is in line with the standards of new federal buildings.

This bill, while not expected to become law, highlights a challenge as we move to tackle emissions from the building sector: how do we truly reduce emissions? Many building codes and other energy efficiency measures target electricity load (i.e., reduction in energy usage) rather than actual emissions. This is a legacy of years ago when electricity could be assumed to be from relatively uncontrolled fossil fuel plants, but as the electricity grid becomes increasingly cleaner, policymakers must take a much more thoughtful approach, such as New York City has begun to do.

Examples of Energy-Efficient Upgrades 

Energy conservation measures can improve a business’s bottom line through less energy use and other savings, in addition to mitigating emissions. Energy-efficient upgrades might include:

  • LED or other high-efficiency lighting
  • Water conservation measures (potable water requires a great deal of energy; water conservation is a highly effective emissions reduction measure)
  • State-of-the-art building automation systems to promote conservation
  • High-efficiency heating systems
  • Onsite solar

If half of new commercial buildings used 50% less energy than what is currently the norm, then it would prevent more than 6 million metric tons of CO2 annually for the entire 50-100-year average lifespan of the buildings.1 This is equivalent to taking more than 1 million cars off the road.

Learn more about our energy efficiency solutions that can help you to both reduce energy usage and costs, and manage your carbon footprint.



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