Local Laws and Building Retrofit Market | EnVisioneering Exchange podcast ep. 13

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Guest bio

John Mandyck joined Urban Green Council in 2018 as its first-ever CEO. He capped a 25-year career as Chief Sustainability Officer for United Technologies Corporation, a Fortune 45 global leader in the building, aerospace and food refrigeration industries. He also serves as a Visiting Scientist at the Harvard University T.H. Chan School of Public Health and an Adjunct Professor at the University of Connecticut School of Business. John is the founding chair of the Corporate Advisory Board for the World Green Building Council, a former board chair of Urban Green, and co-author of the book Food Foolish.

Episode summary

Host, John Sheff is joined by John Mandyck to discuss New York Local Law 97. While this law only affects New York City and its residents, it is a good example of what cities throughout the US can do to reduce carbon emissions and combat climate change. Specifically, Local Law 97 requires building owners to take responsibility for their building’s carbon emissions and penalizes them for exceeding a set limit. Mandyck and Sheff talk about the challenges building owners face and what the industry can do to help.

Main points

  • Urban Green Council works to lower emissions and increase sustainability.
    • While based in New York City (NYC), Urban Green Council works globally.
  • NYC has experienced a disproportionate level of the effects of climate change. New York Local Law 97 (NYLL97) aims to slow NYC’s impact on climate change.
  • 70% of NYC’s carbon emissions come from buildings.
    • This level is much higher than many other cities in the US, and more closely resembles cities like London or Toronto.
  • NYLL97 is designed to reduce building emission by 80% by 2050.
  • NYC is able to keep its carbon profile low (apart from buildings) thanks to lots of available public transportation options and low levels of industrial factories.
  • While there are approximately one million buildings in NYC, NYLL97 covers buildings 25,000 feet and above.
    • It’s estimated that NYLL97 only covers 50,000 buildings (20%), which equates to about 50% of all building emission.
  • At the time of recording, only about 20–40% of the law has been publicly defined. Implementation of the law is being managed by an advisory board, of which Urban Green Council is a member.
  • NYLL97 focuses primarily on CO2 emissions, while industry retrofits have focused more on energy efficiency.
  • Over the course of eight months, Urban Green Council developed guidance on how to cut emissions. That guidance became the backbone of NYLL97. One big change was that Urban Green Council recommend taking an efficiency approach, while city leaders decided to focus on CO2.
    • While the destination is the same, the paths are very different.
  • The main difference between these approaches is that building owners control energy use, not carbon emissions. However, through NYLL97, building owners are responsible for their building’s carbon emissions.
    • If the grid of which a building is a part of is based on coal, the building owner will need to do more to meet the demands of NYLL97 versus a building that is part of a grid that incorporates more renewables.
  • Carbon caps have been set for 2024, but are still undetermined for 2030.
  • By requiring carbon caps, there will likely be pressure to make electrical grids greener.
  • Currently, 70% of the electrical grids come from fossil fuels, while 30% comes from a nuclear power plant, that will soon cease operation.
  • While building owners didn’t oppose controlling emissions, there was disagreement on how to do that with roughly two groups:
    • The worst emitting 20% will need to take action by 2024.
    • By 2030, 75% will need to take action.
  • Urban Green Council recommended including carbon trading. In order to make that happen, Urban Green Council is conducting a carbon study in New York, which is expected to conclude in January.
  • Carbon caps penalize density, as they use more energy, even if they are highly efficient. Some buildings with dense populations will never make the carbon caps, which is where carbon trading comes in.
  • Carbon trading has never been done on a citywide scale, so it is yet to be seen how it will be implemented.
  • Industry can help in three ways:
    1. Educating building owners about NYLL97
    2. Innovate energy efficient technology
    3. Grow electrification
  • Thanks to many people working from home due to COVID-19, commercial building occupancy has been reduced by around 80%. However, energy use has only been reduced by around 20%.
  • Some building owners are taking advantage of the lowered occupancy to make renovations.
  • The federal government does not have a lot of power to control buildings, but cities do.
  • It has yet to be seen how NYLL97 will influence other cities to act, but it is expected to have a major impact.

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