Sustainable Buildings Part 2: The Cons of Non-Compliance

This is part two of a two-part sustainable buildings series, covering what’s at stake when organizations decide to digitize and optimize their energy usage. Click here to read Sustainable Buildings Part 1: The Pros of Going Green

Skim any news outlet and you can’t escape the message: the environment needs our help. Badly. This message has been on our collective radar for a long, long time. It’s so deep that it even appears in pop culture and has for decades. (Remember the old Godzilla movies featuring that evil creature of pollution, the Smog Monster?)

To address this urgent issue, environmental groups have been trying to increase awareness about how to mitigate the effects of climate change. On both a personal, daily-life level as well as at a corporate level. But asking and encouraging and reminding organizations of the importance of going green isn’t always enough. The financial incentives covered in part one of this series may not even be enough.

Nations Take A Stand

Sometimes, it takes legislation. Penalties and fines. Making it “hurt” a bit is often the best way to communicate the urgency of the commercial world changing it’s ways and changing how they build, operate and maintain their buildings. According to the US Green Building Council, buildings account for nearly 40% of all greenhouse gas emissions.1

This is why US federal “green building” legislation is in the works, as a result of the new Building Performance Standards Coalition. Though they’re attempting to catch up with their global counterparts, the United States is a little bit late to the game. For instance, China instituted an ongoing State Council Green Building Action Plan in 2014, which “mandates that public buildings such as schools, hospitals, museums, stadiums, and affordable housing, as well as any single building area over 20,000 square meters, such as airports, railway stations, hotels, restaurants, shopping malls, offices, and other large public buildings, must meet the green building standards of China’s 3-Star Rating System GBEL (The Green Building Evaluation Label)”2

Spain, India and Europe already have policy and legislation passed and underway. The US federal government isn’t quite there yet. Perhaps the best way to predict what American national legislation might look like is to look at state legislation that has already been enacted.

New York Takes Action

In 2019, the state of New York adopted the Climate Mobilization Act. This is an exciting, powerful step. 70% of greenhouse gases in New York City alone are generated by how New Yorkers heat, light and power buildings. Some of the highlights of the Climate Mobilization Act include:

  • Local Laws 92 and 94, requiring new buildings that undergo major roof renovations must include solar panels and/or green roofs
  • Local Law 96, which establishes a New York City Sustainable Energy Loan program, which “make loans to the owners of real property located within the city to finance the installation of renewable energy systems and energy efficiency improvements, related energy audits and renewable energy system feasibility studies, and the verification of the installation of such systems and improvements.”3
  • Local Law 97 will require buildings over 25,000 square feet to meet new energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions limits by 2024. Most interestingly, not meeting the requirements of this law can result in a fine of $268 per metric ton of emissions that exceed the building’s carbon cap. This can quickly add up to $100k+ in fines and penalties.

Regional acts and laws like these can serve as an impactful model for national legislation. The sooner that legislative bodies around the world adopt and enforce green building requirements, the sooner the business community can help mitigate climate change across the globe.

1 https://www.usgbc.org/articles/how-green-buildings-can-help-fight-climate-change

2 https://www.privacyshield.gov/article?id=China-Construction-and-Green-Building

3 https://law.justia.com/codes/new-york/2014/gmu/article-5-l/119-gg/