New Yorkers are used to seeing letter grades on restaurants and bagel shops. Soon offices and residential buildings will be getting something similar.
Beginning next year, midsize and large buildings will not only have to report how energy-efficient (or not) they are, they will also be required to post letter grades issued by the city, based on the data the buildings submit.
“We have buildings with A’s and buildings with D’s and everything in between,” said Kelly Dougherty, the director of energy management for FirstService Residential, which oversees 500 apartment buildings in the city.
The new grade system springs from Local Law 33, which was passed in 2017, signed into law in 2018 and tweaked in April of this year, when New York City passed its sweeping Climate Mobilization Act. The main goal of that ambitious legislative package is to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions of buildings, which are responsible for two-thirds of emissions in the city.
The grades will apply to structures 25,000 square feet and larger — picture anything from, say, a sprawling single-story warehouse to one of the city’s new supertalls. Over 40,000 of the one million buildings in New York will soon get report cards.
For many years, these buildings have been required to track and report their energy use to the city, a practice known as benchmarking.
Hopefully, they have been paying attention to those numbers, perhaps swapping in LED bulbs for incandescent ones, insulating pipes in the basement and replacing old, leaky windows.
Because by May of 2020, they must submit their latest annual energy-use data, which comes from the utility companies that service them, to an online tool created by the Environmental Protection Agency. The tool will calculate greenhouse emissions and take into account factors like building type and number of occupants. The buildings will then submit their scores to the city. The letter grades will be based on the scores generated by the E.P.A. tool: D’s will go to the energy guzzlers.
Building owners and managers will be required to post signs with the letter grades “in a conspicuous location near each public entrance,” according to the law. Failure to do so will be a violation, subject to a fine, said a buildings department spokesman in an email.
The posting of grades is a sort of “name and shame” strategy, but in phone interviews, city officials chose to speak about “transparency.”
“People want to know what they are walking into, what they are living in and what their contribution to meeting their values are,” said Melanie E. La Rocca, commissioner of the buildings department.
“It’s a nutrition label for our buildings,” said Mark Chambers, the director of the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability.
Some who advise building owners, however, say there is a difference between the restaurant grades, which convey health department assessments based on surprise inspections, and the building grades.
“If I show up at a restaurant with a C, I’m not stepping in the door,” said David Klatt, a senior vice president of Logical Buildings, which advises companies on reducing energy use. It is not clear, he said, how city residents will react to a middling or even low grade of their home or place of work.