Carbon-free cities can provide more efficient and economic options that are tailored to different transportation needs—with no emissions—and that create vibrant urban spaces.
The Carbon-Free City Handbook: Buildings
Download this report
The built environment is responsible for nearly 50 percent of all GHG emissions in large cities. So any carbon-free commitment must address building energy use.
Action I: City Building Retrofits
Perform deep energy retrofits on all existing city-owned buildings, including affordable housing, to make municipal facilities ultraefficient and net-zero energy ready. Such buildings would achieve net-zero or nearly net-zero energy if equipped with on-site renewable energy generation.
- European Commission. “Nearly zero-energy buildings.”
Highlights nearly zero-energy buildings goals, national plans, progress reports
- New Buildings Institute. Getting to Zero: ZNE Project Guide.
Action 2: Net-Zero Codes
Phase in requirements for all new buildings to achieve net-zero energy or net-zero energy ready (deep efficiency without renewable energy on site) status using building code requirements. Establish target years after which all new buildings that enter the planning and permitting process will be designed
to achieve net-zero energy. Making a building net-zero energy ready at the point of construction is very cost-effective. All new municipal buildings should be required to achieve net-zero energy.
- City of Santa Monica, Office of Sustainability and the Environment. “Green Building Energy Code Overview.”
Includes code overview, language, and requirements
- New Buildings Institute and City of Santa Monica. Santa Monica Residential Zero Net Energy Guide for New Construction.
Developed to assist builders/developers with code compliance
- New Buildings Institute. “Zero Net Energy Communications Toolkit.” 2015.
- City of Santa Monica. “Santa Monica City Council Votes in the World’s First Zero Net Energy Building Requirement; Implementation Begins in 2017.” PRNewswire, October 28, 2016.
Action 3: Progressive Codes
Require existing buildings to meet a specified energy-efficiency metric based on whole-building energy consumption per unit area after a “trigger” event, such as a sale, a building refinancing, or a major renovation, or in tandem with life safety upgrades.
- City of Vancouver. “Energy Trigger (A-18.104.22.168 Existing Building Upgrade Mechanism Model).”
Energy upgrades trigger process for existing buildings
- New Buildings Institute. “Zero Net Energy Policies.”
- City of Vancouver. ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2010: Truncated Version – For Vancouver’s Existing Buildings Retrofit Requirements. 2013.
- International Code Council. 2015 International Energy Conservation Code.
Action 4: Smart LED Lighting
Create policies to support interior lighting upgrades to LED technology citywide. Provide focused buy-down programs for low-income residents, with graduated approaches for individuals and institutions able to better afford the up-front costs required to secure long-term savings. In addition to energy cost savings, maintenance costs are greatly reduced.
- Energy Efficiency Services Limited. “Energy Service Agreement.”
Energy service agreement for India’s LED replacement program
- Energy Efficiency Services Limited. “Annexure 1: Technical Specifications.”
Technical specifications for India’s LED replacement program
- New York City Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, Green Buildings & Energy Efficiency. “LL88: Lighting Upgrades & Sub-metering.”
Includes energy-efficient lighting upgrade requirements
- Government of India, Ministry of Power. “About UJALA.”
The success of our LED program is the result of EESL’s innovative business model, which is scalable, flexible, and able to embrace emerging technologies.
‐Saurabh Kumar, Managing Director, Energy Efficiency Services Limited (EESL), Ministry of Power, Government of India
Action 5: Benchmarking and Transparency
Require benchmarking for all buildings citywide, which necessitates reporting annual building energy use. This should be paired with a transparency policy that requires commercial and large residential building types to publicly disclose energy use.
- New York City Mayor’s Office of Sustainability, Green Buildings & Energy Efficiency. “New York Benchmarking Law.”
New York City’s building energy benchmarking law
- U.S. Department of Energy, Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy. “State and Local Energy Benchmarking and Disclosure Policy.”
Comprehensive guide includes policy, design, data collection, and quality assurance
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, ENERGY STAR. “ENERGY STAR Portfolio Manager.”
Online tool for measuring and tracking energy, water, and GHG data
- State and Local Energy Efficiency Action Network. Benchmarking and Disclosure: State and Local Policy Design Guide and Sample Policy Language. Prepared by A. Burr, Institute for Market Transformation, 2012.
Get More Action Docs
Browse Additional Recommendations by Sector
Leading cities are transforming electricity generation to carbon-free renewable energy by first committing to bold 100% renewable energy targets, then implementing comprehensive action plans.
Industry is a major employer and economic driver in many global cities, significantly shaping a city’s carbon emissions. Strategic partnerships with corporate residents can achieve economic and environmental solutions that benefit everyone.
Cities can shift the flow and management of their biological resources to reduce emissions, capture carbon, and provide numerous other benefits to a city.
Cities have an important role to play creating or expanding financing options and improving access to such financing.
Engage with Us
City leaders and sustainability officers: take action today to put your city on a pathway to zero-carbon.