Buildings Matter: The Mayor Got It Right


We at Bright Power applaud Mayor de Blasio for his ambitious plan – One City: Built to Last – to cut greenhouse gas emissions. For years, we’ve argued that while any effort to reduce energy waste is a step in the right direction, nothing beats buildings. If we’re really going to save the planet, we have to start by fixing the inefficient aspects of our built environment. Buildings account for 30% of the world’s energy consumption and 20%-40% of that typically goes to waste. Addressing this clear and unnecessary performance issue is the obvious place to start the fight against climate change.

Ironically, energy use is the only thing you can reduce in a building that increases the comfort and happiness of the people who live and work there.  Anyone who’s ever been in an NYC apartment in the dead of winter with the windows open because it was too hot inside knows just how true this is. My wife teaches in a City school and leads the class with her coat on, not because the heat isn’t on, but because they blast the air conditioning to cool the building back down after it’s been overheated — you just can’t make this stuff up.

This cuts to the most ambitious part of the Mayor’s plan: his commitment to retrofit every single city-owned building by 2025. At Bright Power, we love when we get the chance to help a client design their building to be “green” from the beginning but we still need practical solutions for the buildings we already have —  80% of the buildings currently built will still be here in 2050. Retrofits of existing buildings are the most pragmatic and cost-effective approach to reducing the impact of NYC’s building stock and the City will see real savings, comfort improvements, and significant emission reductions from day one. Even more importantly, in leading by example, the City is “putting its money where its mouth is” and will be able to show building owners throughout NYC that this stuff really works.

The one concern we at Bright Power have about this plan is the ambiguity surrounding how results will be tracked and verified — if we don’t watch the results both initially and forever, we could easily find ourselves back at square one in a few years. In our work, we track everything we do to improve buildings and use our database of benchmarking data — the largest database of multifamily energy use data in the country — to demonstrate the impact over time. Measuring is only the first step. If you don’t watch the measures after implementation, it’s inevitable that “creep” occurs and the benefits of your efforts gradually fade away.

That’s the tricky part of energy management. The plan alludes to a database the City will use to track its progress towards the goals and we are anxious to hear more about that.  It’s a brilliant move to have complete transparency about this initiative because that will prove to the skeptics that the initiatives are actually working. Hopefully, this will be an independent platform as we know once the data is in spreadsheets, it can easily be massaged and manicured.  If we do this right, though, the truth will stand on its own and we will have set a precedent of what’s possible for the rest of the world.  If you can make it here…