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11.17.2006
New York's Policies Catch Up to Sustainabilty

New York City may not be the greenest American city, but a new law, a new building code, and new department in the Mayorrs Office aim to change that.

The first large-scale changes began last year when Local Law 86 was passed on October 3, 2005. (See sidebar.) For many city-funded projects, the law, which established green building practices for municipal construction, will take effect on January 1, 2007. Its impact, however, is already apparent, according to John Krieble, the director of Sustainable Design at the Department of Design and Construction (DDC). The DDC serves as the managing agency for the construction projects of dozens of city agencies, from the Fire Department to the Department of Transportation, Libraries to Parks and Recreation; of its 400 active projects, which represent $2.4 billion, nearly 30 are expected to receive LEED certification. In the next year alone, the DDC will be kicking off 15 new LEED projectssequivalent to the total number of DDC-managed LEED projects completed in the last eight years.

BKSK Architectss design of the Queens Botanical Garden administration building, a DDC project, is on track to achieve the first LEED Platinum rating in New York state. The drive to go for
the highest LEED rating comes from client support. The reward
is in the bragging rights,, said Krieble. Though the rating does
not offer any monetary award, the public relations opportunities
can be significant..

Local Law 86 was not an easy victory for environmentalists; nor
is it as stringent as it could be. During its formation, for example, it met with resistance from the Carpenterss Union. The bill originally included a requirement for Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)) certified wood products, which promote sustainable forestry; the union raised opposition because members felt it would diminish their work, so the stipulation was removed before the bill passed.

Still, the city is making a concerted effort to include environmental concerns in its future development. On September 21, Mayor Bloomberg announced the creation of the Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability within his Office of Oper-ations. The new office, led by former McKinsey consultant Rohit T. Aggarwala, is charged with helping to develop a plan for the cityys long-term growth with sustainability in mind, and to make New York City a green operation,, according to a press release. Given its incipience, the office has yet to detail specific initiatives and would not comment for this article.

The Mayor has also convened a Sustainability Advisory Board, which met for the first time on September 27. Chaired by Deputy Mayor Daniel Doctoroff, the 17-member board includes architect Robert Fox, partner of Cook + Fox Architects, whose firm designed the Durst Corporation and Bank of Americaas One
Bryant Park, which is the first highrise in New York to seek LEED Platinum certification. The board also includes Ashok Gupta of
the Natural Resources Defense Council and Robert Yaro of the Regional Plan Association. The Mayorrs Office will also benefit
from a partnership with the Earth Institute of Columbia University, which will provide pro bono academic and scientific expertise.

In order for the city to prioritize its goals, it must first assess its current environmental impacts. With the looming threat of global warming, the city has taken first steps toward developing a greenhouse gas inventory, by measuring the carbon emissions
of all municipal operations, from the electricity consumption of
city buildings to the exhaust of city vehicles. The Mayor also announced an effort to measure the carbon emissions of the
entire city by March 2007.

Krieble would like to see this inventory used to develop baselines for carbon emissions against which reasonable targets for reduction can be established. He suggests helping city agencies
to work toward lowering their emissions by providing incentives
or access to revolving funds to enact necessary changes.

Raising the bar for municipal buildings and operations is
perhaps an obvious first step for any city with sustainability
goals. However, in a city like New York, where development is
dominated by private builders, itts almost more crucial to
establish policies that regulate or encourage green building practices. For the past few years, the Department of Buildings (DOB) has been working to revise the cityys building code, consistent with the efforts of many cities and states to adhere
to the International Code Councills (ICC) construction codes.
The state of New York adopted a version of the ICC codes in
2002; New York City stayed exempt from the process because
of its size and complexity. The current city building code, though often amended, was last overhauled in 1968. The DOB hopes
that the new codeeits first part was signed in December 2005,
and its second part will be submitted for approval in early 20077will reflect the density and high-rise capacity of New York.

As they currently stand, the ICC and NYCCs building codes do
little to promote green building practices. But Deborah Taylor,
AIA, LEED AP, who serves as the DOBBs executive director for special projects and MEA (Materials and Equipment Acceptance Unit), expects that we will see two major changes that will be unique to the New York City code. First, fee rebates may be offered for seven different types of achievement: energy conservation, renewable energy, water conservation, use of brownfield sites, construction and demolition waste-recycling, bicycle facilities, and achievement of LEED. The commissioner
will be able to draft specific standards to initiate the rebates,
which may apply to new construction, renovations, and existing buildings.

Second, the plumbing code could permit a water conservation
plan that, if approved, will make it possible to use graywater systems and waterless urinals, which are not permitted by the current code without special permission from the DOB. Provisions in the code could also establish green roof standards, to ease
their approval process. The new electrical code, passed into
law in 2001 and with an amendment before City Council, makes
it easier to build with photovoltaics by providing parameters that
were missing prior to the electrical codees own overhaul.

While our current code is not particularly green, we look
forward to passage of the proposed code and further greening
in the future,, Taylor acknowledged. New York, like all cities, is constantly looking at other cities for examples of good green practices. For example Houston is already using the ICC code.

Although the city lacks any formal green building incentive programs, New York became the first state to start a tax
incentive program in May 2000 through the New York State
Green Building Tax Credit (NYSGBTC), in collaboration with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA). Both offer multiple programs to offset energy modeling and other protocols like commissioning and
incorporating green strategies. The Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), which administers the tax credits, began accepting applications for the first period of funds on September 30, 2002, and disbursed $25 million in seven credit component certificates,, which allow recipients to claim credits over five
. In 2005, new legislation was passed to provide another $25
million for tax credits; the DEC has until 2009 to accept
applications for the second period of funds that will be distributed from 2006 through 2014.

Asked if the city should consider mirroring the state policy, architect Chris Garvin, co-chair of the New York AIA Committee
the Environment, stated, Financial incentives are appropriate sometimes, but private industry can make money by saving energy and there is no need for the citizens to subsidize that. [Building green is] a smart way to do business.. However, in
cases where the ownerrs additional expense does not result in savings, incentives could help. For example, owners of buildings that hold water from the cityys overly burdened sewer system
do not typically receive a financial payback. Retaining water
in holding tanks on site burdens owner and helps the city, by reducing combined sewer outflows (CSOs) to our rivers.
Incentive should encourage this type of practice.

Though New York is clearly planning for the future now, in other parts of the country, city initiatives have already had a great
impact on their development. On February 22, 2000, the Seattle City Council approved the Sustainable Building Policy, part of the cityys Environmental Management Program. Under the policy,
new city-funded projects and renovations with over 5,000 square feet of occupied space must achieve a LEED Silver rating. According to the cityys 2005 five-year report, 38 projects were either completed, under construction, or designed to achieve a LEED rating. In the fall of 2001, Seattlees LEED incentive Program began offering $15,000 for LEED-certified buildings and $20,000
for a certification of Silver or above. A year later, the city released strategies for creating more sustainable affordable housing projects in a document entitle seaGreen: Greening Seattlees Affordable Housing. The initiative is part of the cityys Office of Housing and has resulted in the construction of 18 SeaGreen multifamily housing projects as of 2005. Seattle also encourages green roofs via financial incentives. By 2005, the city had
provided over $300,000 for design and consulting fees for LEED projects.

Chicago, too, has enacted several policies to encourage green building strategies. In November 2005, the city announced a new grant program for green roofs. Owners of residential and small commercial buildings may apply for a $5,000 grant to help with
the planning and installation of a green roof. In January 2006,
20 grants were awarded.

While New York is prioritizing green construction, for now, the current trends in green building are driven more by enlightened clients and architects than lawmakers. Though the Mayorrs Office may be feeling the pressure to catch up, the drive to change the building industry continues to come from the private sector.

Sarah Cox is a New Yorkkbased writer who has
worked Previously for Dwell and Architectural Record.

Local Law 86


Sarah Cox