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Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.Torchlight

May The Force Be With Us

By: Nancy Anderson, Ph.D.

July 08, 2014

A long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away… make that December 2013 in New York, a targeted expansion to the plan for shrinking New York City's carbon footprint, was born. This Carbon Challenge was originally devised to get government building managers — "leading by example" — along with voluntary commitments by large institutions like universities, hospitals and large office buildings, to cut their CO2 emissions by 30% in half the time outlined in PlaNYC 2030. The expansion, which came out less than a month before Mayor de Blasio took office, called for some of New York's largest multi-family property managers to encourage their co-op, condo and rental clients to embrace this same fast-track emissions reduction goal and cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 15% over the next decade. Here's how it's designed to work.

The New York City Carbon Challenge: Handbook for Co-ops And Condos is a "tool for co-op and condo residents" and their boards of directors. It provides practical information on how multifamily buildings can improve their energy performance, find cash incentives and other project finance resources, as well as comply with laws aimed at making buildings more energy-efficient, while saving money on operating expenses — and saving the planet too.[1]

Participating property managers identify the buildings in their portfolios with potential as Carbon Challenge participants and then "sign up" those who are interested with a letter of intent.[2] According to Jenna Tatum of the Mayors Office of Long Term Planning and Sustainability, dubbed the "driving force" behind the Carbon Challenge, although the program does not set explicit sign-up target numbers, some 100 sign-up letters from residential buildings have already been received.

Among the energy-savings "opportunities" suitable for multifamily buildings spotlighted in the Handbook are: electrical and heating/cooling system upgrades; building envelope enhancements that improve thermal insulation; installation of on-site energy generation, including solar panels; and a host of operational and maintenance ideas. More leading edge technologies like geothermal heat pumps get a nod and combined heat and power systems get a special shout-out, but only for buildings with electric bills higher than $100,000 a year. Tips for engaging residents in changing their energy behavior, regardless of building size, get another shout-out. The Handbook also features the Clean Heat program, based on the local law requiring buildings to convert from polluting #6 heating oil to cleaner fuels, including natural gas, biodiesel #2 heating oil or steam.

But what is the program rationale for role of a multifamily building's managing agent in meeting the Carbon Challenge? In other words, why did the City turn to intermediaries?

According to the Handbook, the reasoning behind creating the partnership with residential building managers is "Lack of financing and a fragmented decision-making process have been barriers to energy efficiency in multifamily residential buildings in the past, but energy savings will generate financial cost-savings for residents, increase property values, and improve local environmental quality."

Mary Ann Rothman, Executive Director of the NYC Council of Condos and Co-ops is effusive in her praise of embracing residential managers as change agents and calls this program design decision "the best possible creative solution" to getting residential buildings into the Carbon Challenge. Of course, building residents can also seize the Carbon Challenge initiative. As the Daily News notes, "While New Yorkers aren't eligible to participate in the carbon challenge individually, they can still get involved by contacting their building management or calling their condo board."

Next up — what will it take to meet the Challenge and cut building emissions by 15–30%? Because the Carbon Challenge for residential buildings is the first program of its kind in the nation, the City must make this road by walking and has created an informal advisory group composed of firms in the energy efficiency industry along with the Natural Resources Defense Council and the Urban Green Council to serve as technical advisors as the Carbon Challenge finds its way in the residential sector.

Like the City's energy benchmarking law, the unit of measurement for meeting the Carbon Challenge is the Energy Use Intensity (EUI) index, a well-regarded, standardized energy metric. This metric is used by the City to create a software tool for calculating greenhouse gas emissions numbers. According to Ms Tatum, the City is sharing its building energy benchmarking data and Clean Heat program information both with property managers and building residents and their internal boards. Buildings that fulfill their annual benchmarking requirements and have already stopped burning #6 heating oil are just the kind of places that make good candidates for wanting to do more to cut their carbon footprint.

What are the program's milestones? According to Ms. Tatum, who stresses that the residential Carbon Challenge is in year one of a decade-long effort, the milestone now is "getting the word out". Over time, she hopes reporting on program participation and achievement metrics will be made public in an aggregated form. For building boards or tenant groups interested in participating, but who might feel daunted by cutting their greenhouse gas emissions by at least 15%, conversion of boiler fuel from #6 heating oil to cleaner oil or natural gas, starting in 2010, will count in meeting the Carbon Challenge. Ms Rothman looks ahead a year and advocates that the next milestone be a City publication of preliminary program results. She's a great fan of the Carbon Challenge because it's all positive, all incentives and not a mandate. Summer 2015 will be a good time to check out the power of this fledgling force. And that's just what I plan to do.

The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority is a partner and prime supporter of the NYC Carbon Challenge. It will provide specialized technical assistance for multifamily building energy efficiency projects. The local power utilities, Con Edison and National Grid, along with NYSERDA, the State's DHCR and the New York City Energy Efficiency Corporation, offer an array of energy-efficiency financial assistance options to multi-family buildings. See the Handbook Appendices A and B.


  • AKAM Associates, Inc.
  • Century Property Management
  • Charles H. Greenthal Management Corp.
  • Douglas Elliman Property Management
  • FirstService Residential
  • Harlem Congregations for Community Improvement, Inc.
  • Marion Scott Real Estate, Inc.
  • Midboro Management
  • Milford Management
  • New Holland Residences
  • Prestige Management
  • Rose Associates
  • RY Management Co., Inc.
  • Solstice Residential
  • Wallack Management
SOURCE: PlaNYC Green Buildings & Energy Efficiency

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