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April 16, 2019
by Adam Roberts
Aude [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)]
Aude [CC BY-SA 2.5 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)]

After a decade of debate in City Hall, New York City will begin mandating retrofitting of existing  buildings in order to reduce carbon emissions. A bill before the City Council sponsored by Council Member Costa Constantinides, Int. 1253, is supported by a number of groups, including AIA New York. While AIANY’s support has remained strong, the real estate industry has been much more lukewarm towards the bill, seeking to slow it. Nevertheless, the City Council has remained resolute in its support for mandatory retrofitting; the bill is expected to pass on April 18, 2019 and be signed into law on Earth Day 2019, April 22.

Int. 1253 will require all buildings in New York over 25,000 square feet, as well as all city buildings, to stay below certain carbon emissions limits. These emissions limits differ by building type and are classified according to New York City occupancy groups and Energy Star Portfolio Manager’s categories. Individual buildings will be required to submit reports to the new Office of Building Energy and Emissions Performance under the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) on whether they are above or below their emissions limit. Failure to stay below the emissions limits will result in fines. For buildings where compliance is overly burdensome financially or structurally, adjustments will be available.

Due in large part to strong advocacy efforts by AIA New York, particularly its Committee on the Environment, architects provided a leading role in the enforcement and enactment of the bill’s provisions, including:

  • The Director of the Office of Building Energy and Emissions Performance must be a registered design professional.
  • Design professionals are required to certify all reports and requests for adjustments.
  • The Advisory Board, which will advise DOB on future emissions limits, will include two architects as members and will be staffed with design professionals.
  • DOB will be developing a methodology to convert Energy Star Portfolio Manager categories into city occupancy groups.

70% of emissions in New York City currently originate from buildings. The enactment of mandatory retrofitting should dramatically reduce the city’s carbon emissions, ultimately helping to mitigate climate change while also improving air quality.

This bill will also create enormous opportunities for green jobs, particularly for architects. Employment opportunities related to sustainable design should increase dramatically in both the public and private sectors. While the bill’s passage and signing into law are near, the next phase, of ensuring that there are enough educated architects working for the City and firms to carry out this widescale retrofitting, will need to begin immediately. The opening of hundreds of architecture jobs is both a chance for growth and a major challenge for the New York industry.

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