In 2014, U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions totaled 6,870 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents, a per capita total of 17 metric tons for each resident of the Unites States. Seven years before, in 2008, the national total tonnage of carbon dioxide equivalents was eight percent greater. Our nation’s performance in the matter of GHG emissions has been one of slow, but progressive, improvement in the reduction of harmful man-made impacts on our environment. Nevertheless, AIANY members believe we can, collectively, do better.
GHG emissions in New York City in 2014 totaled 49.1 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents, an average of 5.8 metric tons per capita. Due to our extensive transit system and low private-vehicle use, the energy used in buildings accounts for 73% of those citywide emissions, well above the national average of 40% attributed to buildings. Our city has committed to reducing GHG emissions 80 percent by 2050 (the 80×50 initiative), to having the cleanest air of any U.S. city, to sending zero waste to landfills by 2030, to investing in contaminated land remediation, and to ensuring that all New Yorkers have more access to parks. In its role as a leading global city, New York City has been a strong voice in the international fight against climate change leading up to the adoption of the United Nations COP21 Agreement at the Paris Climate Conference in 2015.
Although many of New York’s sustainability measures are established through our local government, federal agencies, such as the Department of Energy (DOE) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), play a key role in regulating and impacting policy that affects our city directly. The presidential administration will have a significant influence on the continuation of policies and programs carried out by these agencies.
The EPA has created a number of comprehensive federal laws, including the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act, the Toxic Substances Control Act, and the Clean Power Plan. Currently under litigation, the Clean Power Plan would result in significant reductions in GHG emissions at a national level. Through the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, a cooperative effort among northeast and mid-Atlantic states to reduce GHG emissions, New York State is set to exceed the targets of the Clean Power Plan.
DOE sets efficiency standards for everything from lightbulbs to heaters and washing machines, and has taken a proactive role in the creation of stringent energy codes and strategies for achieving energy efficiency. DOE’s Energy Information Administration maintains a significant amount of data about energy use and carbon emissions, and their Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey is a vital resource for designers who seek benchmarking data. DOE promotes advanced technologies via the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy and the National Laboratories, both of which are actively involved in projects that advance energy efficiency. The Federal Energy Management Program assists the federal portfolio in achieving energy reductions and develops tools used widely in the industry. In addition, DOE has developed a suite of efforts, such as the Better Buildings Challenge, that assist localities in achieving energy efficiency targets.
Other agencies that currently play a role in establishing policies affecting the environment include the Department of General Services, a leader in green building for the U.S. government’s portfolio; the Defense Department, which administers a portfolio of buildings and grounds with large GHG emissions and environmental impacts in the U.S. and around the world; the Department of Transportation, which helps establish and implement national priorities on transportation and infrastructure; the Department of State, which sets American policy with respect to climate change; the Department of Commerce, which, through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration provides data, tools, and information to help people understand and prepare for climate change; the Department of Health and Human Services, which can regulate the use of toxins in building materials and promote active design in the built environment; the Department of Housing and Urban Development; the National Bureau of Standards; and the National Science Foundation.
 ‘Climate Change Indicators: U.S. Greenhouse Gas Emissions’ (2016), Environmental Protection Agency
 ‘Inventory of New York City Greenhouse Gas Emissions’ (2016), New York City Mayor’s Office of Sustainability http://www1.nyc.gov/assets/sustainability/downloads/pdf/publications/NYC_GHG_Inventory_2014.pdf
One City Built to Last Technical Working Group Report’ (2016), New York City Mayor’s Office of Sustainability http://www.nyc.gov/html/gbee/downloads/pdf/TWGreport_2ndEdition_sm.pdf
March 3, 2013Where Mitigation Meets Adaptation: An Integrated Approach to Addressing Climate Change in New York City
AIANY Committee on the Environment White Paper—Recommendations following Hurricane Sandy
December 12, 2018Statement of Support for Retrofitting Legislation
AIA New York strongly advocates for a more sustainable and equitable built environment. Through programming and by supporting various pieces of legislation, we have encouraged our 5,600 members to design in a more environmentally conscious manner.
Despite advances in sustainable design over the years, far more can be done to make our cities green. Crucially, we need to support efforts to retrofit existing buildings. While sustainable design for new buildings is increasingly widespread, far more New Yorkers live and work in older buildings, most of which have not been retrofitted according to the latest technologies and design practices.
If we do not retrofit our existing building stock en masse, we jeopardize the health and safety of ourselves and future generations. Right now, around 70% of New York’s carbon emissions are generated by buildings. In order to tackle issues around climate change, resiliency, and air quality, we need to retrofit our existing building stock.
Furthermore, continuing to overlook the retrofitting of existing structures may lead to greater inequity in our built environment. It should not be a luxury to live or work in a well-insulated building, though in New York City this is often the case. Those with sustainably designed apartments and offices often pay less in energy bills, which further exacerbates financial divides. If we do not address this issue now, our city will increasingly be divided between those who can afford to live and work with all the benefits of sustainable design, and the less fortunate who live and work in deteriorating buildings.
For these reasons, we applaud Council Member Costa Constantinides’ pieces of legislation, Int. 1252 and Int. 1253, which require existing buildings over 25,000 square feet to meet energy efficiency targets. For years, market forces and government incentives have led to slow but steady increases in retrofitting. Unfortunately, we do not have time for a process that does not require immediate improvements. We need the City to require that the bulk of our large building stock start retrofitting as soon as possible.
These pieces of legislation have the potential to significantly improve the daily lives of millions of New Yorkers, while also spurring the growth of the green sector. New Yorkers deserve to live and work in better conditions, and for that reason we ask the City Council to pass, and the Mayor sign, Int. 1252 and Int. 1253.
Gerard F. X. Geier II, FAIA, FIIDA, LEED AP
Benjamin Prosky, Assoc. AIA
Executive DirectorJanuary 1, 2017AIA New York Position Statement: Sustainability and the Environment
In 2014, U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions totaled 6,870 million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalents, a per capita total of 17 metric tons for each resident of the United States.January 1, 2017AIA New York Position Statement: Risk and Recovery
Recent changes in policy and regulations at the federal level—such as withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, and the rescinding of water pollution regulations, and the suspending of climate-sensible safeguards at the EPA, to name a few—are reversing a decades-long course of positive and protective actions in defending the quality of our national environment.June 6, 2016Testimony Before the New York City Council Committee on Housing and Buildings on a Series of Energy-related Bills
AIANY testified before the City Council Committee on Housing and Buildings with Urban Green Council. The hearing addressed: Int. No. 1160, Int. No. 1163, Int. No. 1165, and Int. No. 1169, which would update NYC’s Energy Code.December 12, 2015Testimony Before the City Council Committee on Recovery and Resiliency and Committee on Environment Protection on OneNYC
AIANY submitted testimony at the oversight hearing on the resiliency and sustainability sections of the OneNYC plan.October 10, 2014AIANY Testimony Before the New York City Council Committee on Waterfronts
This oversight hearing addressed “An Examining of the City’s Clean Waterfront Plan.” AIANY Design Risk and Reconstruction (DfRR) Committee testified.