Greening Codes

Some of the most innovative sustainability work is happening by cities for cities. New York continues to be a trailblazer in this area, first with the Greener Greater Buildings Plan, part of PlaNYC, and then with the Green Codes Task Force convened and lead by Urban Green at the request of the City of New York. All these initiatives have made a dramatic impact through changing city codes and practices.

The vast majority of New York City’s 950,000 commercial and residential buildings were constructed in times of presumed energy and water abundance. As a result, limited and expensive resources were needlessly squandered by outmoded plumbing, heating and electrical systems or, worse, careless construction standards in new buildings.

Much of NYC has also been constructed with materials now recognized as hazardous to human health, a condition often worsened by improper ventilation. Inconsistent standards for storm-water runoff, sidewalk construction, and preservation of trees and parks at construction sites are the source of additional problems.

All these issues point to the importance of improved city codes and policies, along with removing barriers to more sustainable codes.

Four years after the Task Force released its influential report, 52 of its 111 recommendations have already been incorporated into laws and practices, with many others in the pipeline.

By 2030, Green Codes measures already implemented will:

  • Reduce citywide carbon emissions by almost 5%
  • Lower daily water consumption by the equivalent of 30 Central Park Reservoirs; and
  • Divert 100,000 tons of asphalt from landfills annually.

Updated codes have also played a critical role following Superstorm Sandy. The Building Resiliency Task Force Report recommended 33 changes to codes, and 16 have already been implemented.