By Elena Alschuler, director of Real Estate Strategy, View Inc.
New York City recently passed the Climate Mobilization Act, the first real action by any city to require buildings’ greenhouse gas emissions to meet global climate targets. The law requires owners of large buildings to meet carbon footprint standards or face millions of dollars in annual fines. The emission limits will begin in 2024 and become increasingly stringent from there.
The legislation primarily applies to commercial office and market-rate multifamily buildings over 25,000 square feet. According to Urban Green, these buildings account for about 60% of the total building area in New York City — those that make up the Manhattan skyline. While skyscrapers will be forced to act first, significant levels of investment will also be needed for public buildings, affordable housing and non-profits.
The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY) estimates that the total cost of the upgrades needed to comply with the new law is about $4 billion. Building owners can calculate the performance targets they’ll need to meet and the associated fines if they fail to meet them.
While it may be possible to buy renewable energy credits to offset emissions, it is unclear how many will be available. Some buildings will need to undertake substantial renovations, such as changing their façades or core mechanical systems.
Glass skyscrapers are among the most energy-inefficient buildings. Their windows amplify the sun’s rays like a magnifying glass, leaving owners to suck out all that heat with expensive air conditioning systems. The more glass you design with, the bigger this problem becomes. As the climate changes, with summers becoming longer and days hotter, even more indoor cooling will be required.
Many politicians and environmentalists see glass facades as enemy No. 1 and think we should be making windows smaller. They assume it will be impossible to meet the market demand for glass facades while simultaneously achieving ambitious energy-saving goals. That’s a false choice — smart glass, such as that made by View, can do both.
Rhetoric aside, the law is a performance-based target. This creates great opportunities for a range of new technologies to be part of the solution. And no matter what, windows are the best place to start.
Windows are the skin between the inside and outside of a building — the façade’s overall performance determines how much energy the rest of the building systems have to use. Smart windows automatically change their tints, improving energy efficiency by up to 20% — even during the hottest months of the year — so building owners can downsize heating and cooling systems. In addition, smart windows allow buildings to be entirely free of shades so that occupants can always see outside.
Today’s best building technologies often also have health benefits for occupants. One recent study by Alan Hedge, a professor in the Department of Design and Environmental Analysis at Cornell University, showed that natural light reduces people’s eye strain by 51%, their headaches by 63% and drowsiness by 56%. Reducing these feelings can dramatically improve health and productivity.
Furthermore, people want to be in healthy and sustainable workspaces. We’re seeing a broader trend in real estate wherein design focus is shifting from traditional common-area amenities like lobbies and fitness centers to the aesthetics of the actual workspace where occupants spend most of their time.
A study of 1,600 office workers in the United States and Canada found that access to natural light and outdoor views are the most desirable attributes within the workplace environment, outranking on-site cafes, fitness centers, outdoor spaces and standing desks.
In this strong job market, employers are competing for the high-paid, highly mobile talent. As such, companies are willing to invest in creating great workplaces. In the New York area, The Durst Organization and GFP Real Estate are among those installing View glass to give their tenants this competitive advantage.
By incorporating technology such as smart glass, New York City landlords can take the first big step toward achieving climate goals and make an investment in the building’s value to tenants.