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New York City’s Artful Path to Net Zero Future


New York City has committed to an unprecedented path to its emissions reduction. The challenges along this journey will be vast, as the city aims to balance both economic prosperity and climate justice.

Perhaps the biggest hurdle in this transition is the built environment, accounting for nearly 70% of the city’s total emissions. Buildings are a microcosm of NYC’s rich history and diversity, representing trends from hundreds of years of construction, technology, and design. This diversity requires emissions solutions for a variety of challenges, from heavy-emitting HVAC systems of pre-war walk ups to inefficient envelopes of modern glass apartment buildings.

But the most exciting trends are just beginning to emerge, giving rise to a new age of buildings. Not just those built to codes more strict than LEED certifications, but those that reflect the rapidly growing need to emit nothing at all.

New York City’s skyline has the potential to be even more iconic with buildings that reflect new standards of decarbonization combined with artistic vision.
New York City declared its commitment to leading on emissions reductions in the built environment in 2018 by signing onto the C40 Net Zero Carbon Declaration for new buildings starting in 2030. This means that between now and 2030, policymakers will be designing new building construction codes that prohibit emissions entirely. In doing so, New York set exceedingly ambitious targets, joining progressive cities from around the world like Toronto, Brussels and Oslo. While NYC has the moral imperative to make such a declaration, it is important to examine what profound shifts this kind of regulation could create.

By 2050, 20% of New York City’s skyline will be new buildings, and much of that 20% will be net-zero. Since the advent of heating and cooling technology, the city’s buildings have relied heavily on energy inputs for occupant comfort. Net-zero design fundamentally shifts the way we have thought about buildings for decades, moving past reliance on energy inputs. They use passive design techniques, highly efficient mechanical systems, and airtight envelopes to limit energy intensity, as well as meet any remaining energy needs with on-site renewable generation.

At an AIA event earlier this month that showcased the successes of NYSERDA’s Buildings of Excellence program and Magnusson Architecture and Planning, participants referred to the new age of low-emissions buildings as not only a key component of the new carbon economy, but also beautiful works of art. This mentality is reflected in the city’s first net-zero building, the Kathleen Grimm School for Leadership and Sustainability. This building capitalizes on highly efficient design techniques such as passive day lighting, while also harnessing power from on-site solar. The building successfully pairs emissions-limitations with artistic vision.

The marriage of functionality and art in net-zero buildings will create vast economic opportunities. Vancouver’s Zero Emissions Building Plan and Energy Step Code has an estimated market value of $3.3 billion in cumulative demand. This means hundreds of thousands of jobs and investment opportunities in construction materials, design and architecture, plus operations and management. NYC’s population is 12x as large as Vancouver’s, which could mean that the market demand will be much higher, creating a range of well-paying and rewarding jobs that will power NYC’s low-carbon economy.

Such an economic boom can be either an opportunity for prosperity or a system shock that could short circuit the city’s ability to meet its carbon reduction goals. But NYC has the tools to move toward the former and avoid the latter. With a decade between now and net-zero building mandates, our policymakers, investors, corporations and building owners have time to start moving the market. In doing so, considerations need to be made for emerging trends such as climate change, sea level rise, thermal resilience, smart technologies and urban energy storage. Each of these components can act to help or hurt NYC’s built environment, and planning for it while working toward emissions reduction is the only path forward.

NYC’s history is etched into its skyline, and how we choose to build today will be our legacy for generations to come.

At Build Edison, we have decades of experience in developing, managing, and financing demonstration projects across various clean energy technologies. We offer a number of solutions for startups, large companies, governments and investors to grow quickly and consistently, and to capitalize on one of the most exciting areas of the energy market.


This article was originally published by Erifili Draklellis,


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