New York City Turbocharges 'Carbon Challenge' in Big Environmental Push

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NRDC’s Donna DeCostanzo describes New York City’s new carbon challenge program and assistance to help buildings become more energy efficient.

Mayor de Blasio today (9/28/2015) announced a significant expansion of the successful New York City Carbon Challenge – one of a series of initiatives that are central to the city’s One City: Built to Last plan. This groundbreaking program, which currently challenges various private and institutional organizations to reduce their climate-changing pollution by at least 30 percent within 10 years, will now reach more than 700 multifamily buildings and encourage many of the participants to achieve even greater reductions.

Started in 2007, the New York City Carbon Challenge has reached numerous universities, hospitals and, most recently, commercial spaces and multifamily buildings (the latter two in partnership with the New York State Energy Research & Development Authority). This call to voluntary action has collectively saved the participants millions of dollars on their utility bills and, with the new additions, is expected to save millions more and reduce carbon emissions by the annual emissions equivalent to more than 100,000 cars. The program also provides an opportunity for cross-pollination of ideas and best practices and a platform for sharing innovative strategies and technologies. The initiative has been so successful that eight early achievers reached their 30 percent goal well ahead of schedule, prompting the development of more aggressive commitments. Under the expanded program, 12 participants will strive to reach an even higher level of emissions reductions – 50 percent by 2025.

New York City has been a leader on fighting climate change for several years now, most notably with its groundbreaking actions to scale up building energy efficiency (including landmark efforts such as the Greener, Greater Buildings Plan, the creation of the New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation and Building Energy Exchange, in addition to the New York City Carbon Challenge). One of the newest and most exciting initiatives is the city’s development of an energy and water retrofit accelerator, launched today, that will provide building owners with the assistance they need to implement efficiency upgrades. Targeting our buildings is a critical step because they are the biggest contributor to our carbon footprint, responsible for nearly 75% of New York City’s emissions.

A significant facet of New York’s building efficiency efforts, and a testament to its unparalleled local leadership in this area, has not only been the City’s willingness to “lead by example” with respect to municipal buildings, but also to recognize that other stakeholders must be key partners if we are to achieve our 80 x ’50 and interim climate goals. The New York City Carbon Challenge is a great example of how the private sector has stepped up to do its part – not only understanding the importance of action, but also the enormous benefits that result, beyond being good environmental citizens, in terms of energy cost savings and improved systems efficiency.

Climate change is one of the biggest challenges of our time. But with great demands come great opportunities. Forging a clean energy future, including through putting in place local policies to significantly increase building energy efficiency, will not only reduce climate-changing pollution, but will provide us with good local jobs, a strengthened economy, cleaner air and a more resilient and reliable electric grid. Let’s all follow the example of the New York City Carbon Challenge participants and take the necessary steps to leave our children with a brighter, more secure future.

Author Donna DeCostanzo is NRDC’s director, Northeast Energy and Sustainable Communities, New York. This blog originally appeared on Switchboard, the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

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  1. […] The Retrofit Accelerator program follows in the footsteps of the 2012 NYC Clean Heat program, an EDF/City of New York partnership which gave the Big Apple its cleanest air since the 1960s by helping building owners replace dirty heating oils with cleaner fuels. (More details here.) […]

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