New York City


New York City remains the largest city in the country and one of the world’s commercial, financial, cultural, and diplomatic centers. It also boasts an impressive skyline. By almost any measure, its impact on the world is undeniable. Increasingly, though, the city is choosing to evaluate its impact by two other measures: energy consumption and greenhouse gases.

When then-Mayor Bloomberg decided to reduce the city’s energy consumption, he did not just set a distant carbon reduction goal without any specific plans; instead, he launched a comprehensive sustainability plan with 127 separate initiatives aimed at reducing the city’s annual greenhouse gas emissions by 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. Announced on Earth Day 2007, PlaNYC was designed to prepare the city for a low-carbon future with more people, older infrastructure, and a more unpredictable environment by addressing a number of key areas of concern: land, water, transportation, energy, and air quality.

Central to each of these issues is the impact of New York’s extraordinary building stock. Due to its mass transit system, population density, and relative lack of heavy industry, buildings account for 75 percent of New York City’s greenhouse gas emissions, well above the national average of 40 percent. As part of PlaNYC, the city put together the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan. It included a package of legislation passed in 2009 aimed at reducing the energy use in existing buildings, a Green Workforce Development Training program and a Green Building Financing program. Furthermore, the city assembled a Green Codes Task Force to ensure that the next generation of buildings would be sustainable. Throughout 2010, the Office of Long-term Planning and Sustainability (OLTPS), the Department of Buildings, and other agencies continued to implement these efforts.

Why We Watched

Greener, Greater Buildings Laws

In 2010, there were approximately 975,000 buildings in New York City, and OLTPS estimated that 85 percent of the city’s energy use in 2030 would come from the ones that are already standing. While acknowledging the valuable role of new green buildings in reducing current energy use and taking incremental steps towards zero-net-energy buildings, city officials knew that they would be unable to reach their energy goals without significantly addressing the stock of existing buildings.

In 2009, after two years of study, analysis, and planning by OLTPS and other city agencies, the city council passed four new laws targeting energy use in existing buildings. The first applied to all buildings, while the other three affected only the largest buildings – those over 50,000 ft2 – which comprised roughly two percent of all buildings, but accounted for almost 60 percent of the total building energy use. By 2030, the Greener, Greater Buildings laws are estimated to reduce citywide carbon emissions by almost 5%, save $700 million in energy costs annually, and create 17,800 construction-related jobs.

The New York City Energy Conservation Code: Until 2009, New York City followed the New York State Energy Conservation Code (NYS code), based on the IECC. However, one state-specific provision in the NYS code posed a major problem for the city: it exempted renovations on less than 50 percent of a building’s square footage. Large commercial and multi-family residential buildings are normally renovated floor-by-floor, thereby eliminating the need for renovations to meet code, which greatly limited the ability of the city to improve the efficiency of the vast majority of its existing buildings.

New York State’s home rule laws permit a municipality to adopt its own energy code, provided that it is more stringent than the state code. Therefore, New York City decided to adopt Local Law 85 of 2009: the New York City Energy Conservation Code (NYC code). It is essentially the NYS code minus the 50 percent provision and with a few city-specific administration provisions for the Department of Buildings. To comply with state law, the city will have to update its code alongside the state, which in 2010 was in the process of upgrading its code to meet the 2009 IECC.

Benchmarking: The city also wanted to make building energy use transparent in the marketplace so that building owners and tenants could make informed decisions about their energy use. Local Law 84 of 2009 requires the owners of all buildings 50,000 ft2 and larger and all city buildings 10,000 ft2 and larger to log and disclose data annually on building energy and water consumption. The city posts the results on the Department of Finance website. The long-term goals of the law are to create competition among buildings and allow building owners to track their energy use from year to year. It will also permit the city to track how the entire building stock is moving forward in energy use intensity and enable it to target the poorest performers with incentive programs and other strategies. The City has already asked the New York State Public Service Commission to require that ConEdison, the local utility, automatically upload this information for electricity, including data from tenants aggregated to protect individual privacy. The law requires that the City’s water utility, the Department of Environmental Protection, do this as part of its ongoing citywide installation of smart water meters.

The law applied to city buildings in 2011, commercial buildings in 2012, and multifamily residential buildings in 2013. The law requires this last group to report data for central systems only, but NYSERDA planned to help building owners submit data for a representative sample of tenants. For mixed-use buildings, the non-residential units have to submit their data.

Audits and Retro-commissioning: One critical component of improving energy efficiency in existing buildings is testing them to measure energy performance. Local Law 87 of 2009 requires all buildings ft2 and larger to undergo an energy audit and retro-commissioning once every ten years on a rotating cycle. Building owners must submit an energy efficiency report to the City that includes documentation that the building has completed an energy audit that meets the ASHRAE level II standard and a retro-commissioning checklist certifying that HVAC, hot water, lighting, and other building systems are in a state of good repair. To ensure proper practices, the law also specifies a number of certifications that a building professional must hold to audit or retro-commission a building.

The first buildings selected had to submit their documentation in 2013, and roughly 2,200 buildings have participated each year thereafter. Buildings that underwent an audit prior to 2013 are exempt from the law until 2023.

Lighting and Sub-metering: New York City also wanted to address lighting and sub-metering, which are two of the most basic and cost-effective energy efficiency measures. Local Law 88 of 2009 requires that property owners for buildings 50,000 ft2 and larger upgrade their lighting systems to meet the NYC code. In addition, owners must install sub-meters in all commercial tenant space or floors 10,000 ft2 and larger, as well as provide monthly statements of electricity use and charges to these tenants. However, the owner does not have to bill according to the sub-meter. Owners must complete all work by 2025, which will give them time to carry out these renovations during the regular lease cycle.
City officials estimate that lighting retrofits will pay for themselves within two to three years, while sub-metering will provide tenants will valuable energy use data that will encourage them to make behavioral changes.

Green Codes Task Force

In 2005, New York City adopted Local Law 86, which required LEED Silver certification for most new city-owned and -funded buildings. Building on this success, the mayor’s office solicited the Urban Green Council – the USGBC affiliate in New York City – to create a Green Codes Task Force to put together a list of green building policy recommendations for the city.

In February 2010, after 18 months of work involving over 200 professionals, the Task Force released its recommendations for greening new buildings and renovations. Throughout the year, OLTPS and its Industry Advisory Committee – a group of realtors, retailers, design professionals, union representatives, and other stakeholders – were to analyze each of the 111 recommendations to determine a feasible, cost-effective, and appropriate strategy for moving forward in the policy arena.


  • Empire State Building Sustainability and Energy Efficiency
  • On June 9, 2010, the City Council introduced nine bills relating to lighting and water efficiency. These nine proposed measures are the first to come from the 111 Green Codes Task Force recommendations submitted to the City earlier this year.
  • On July 1, 2010, the New York City Energy Conservation Code (NYCECC) went into effect. It applied to all new building and renovation projects.

New York Energy Code Status →