By Ben Furnas,
Director of the NYC Mayor’s Office of Climate and Sustainability
Imagine for a moment our city skyline, its buildings topped with patches of green grass and solar panels, families tending to rooftop gardens filled with fruits and vegetables. Inside those buildings, every New Yorker is comfortable, surrounded by fresh, cool air provided by clean electricity. Down below, bikes and electric vehicles pulse up and down safe and livable streets.
It may sound utopian, but many are working to make it a reality for all New Yorkers.
It’s a vision for the future of our city that the Mayor’s Office of Climate and Sustainability and our partners are committed to achieving. This ambitious vision sees a role for every New Yorker, yet can only be realized if we commit to changes to one of the most central pieces of our collective identity: our buildings.
That’s why in 2007, the Mayor’s Office launched the Carbon Challenge and has since set our city on a path to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. Nearly 70 percent of citywide greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions come from the fossil fuels used to heat, cool, and power our buildings, and as the majority of the more than 1 million buildings that make up our skyline today are predicted to still exist in 2050, improving the energy efficiency of our buildings is imperative.
The stakes grow higher every day. A recent report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) found that unless there are immediate and large-scale reductions in greenhouse gas emissions, the world will continue to see increases in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events and heat waves that would imperil global agriculture and health.
At the close of NYC Climate Week 2021, we are at an inflection point in transforming this crisis into an opportunity. The choices made today for our city’s buildings could transform the quality of life and health of our communities, particularly those who are most impacted by the effects of climate change and pollution.
To capitalize on this opportunity, we are calling on existing and new private and institutional partners to take the Carbon Neutral Challenge by committing to carbon neutrality in at least one building (measuring at 25,000 square feet or more), and going above and beyond the ambitious targets already set by the city’s Climate Mobilization Act.
By participating in the Challenge, you’ll be joining the global effort to slow climate change, be a model for your peers, and support the city’s ambitious effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 80 percent by 2050, the level the UN projects is needed to avoid the most dangerous effects of climate change.
You’ll also be joining more than 125 participants—including the City’s largest universities, hospitals, commercial owners and tenants, residential property management firms, hotels, and retail organizations—that have committed to the Carbon Challenge to reduce their building-based GHG emissions by 30 percent or more over 10 years. Already, 21 participants have met the 30 percent goal, and 19 have expanded their commitment to a 50 percent or greater reduction by 2025.
One such partner is Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSK), which in 2009 committed to a 30 percent reduction in GHG emissions across its four million square feet of patient care, administrative and research facilities spread throughout the city. MSK also went above and beyond its commitment by investing in staff training for building operators, who were trained to look for energy efficiency opportunities and are, in turn, becoming MSK’s greatest advocates in creating a culture of sustainability.
To date, Carbon Challenge partners collectively account for more than 500 million square feet of real estate, or more than 9 percent of citywide building square footage. These participants are saving more than $190 million annually in energy costs and have cut their annual emissions by nearly 600,000 metric tons of carbon, the equivalent of taking 125,000 cars off the road.
Through our NYC Accelerator program—which provides all NYC building owners free, personalized guidance to make cost-saving, energy-efficient upgrades—Carbon Challenge participants have access to long-term energy efficiency and capital planning services. Participants also will be recognized for their efforts as part of broader citywide and global climate goals, and gain access to a diverse forum of peers, industry experts and partners to share best practices and tools to further reduce energy use, costs and GHG emissions.
With cleaner buildings in every corner of New York, we can reach that ambitious vision for our city, one that benefits the life, health and future of every New Yorker and strengthens our position as a climate leader within the global community.