Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell recently proposed legislation that would require the city’s large commercial and multifamily buildings to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (“GhG”) over the next several decades and achieve net-zero emissions by 2050.
Per the City’s press release, the standards were nearly 2 years in the making, are expected to reduce annual commercial building greenhouse gas emissions by 27% compared with 2008 levels,
According to the EPA and multiple studies, the built environment (i.e., buildings) are a large contributor to GhG emissions nationwide, and in Seattle, contributes more than 33% of the city’s total GhG emissions.
Seattle is one of a growing list of cities (including Boston who announced this policy 2 weeks ago) — and more recently, some states (e.g., Washington) — that require many new buildings to be all-electric. While these policies will likely reduce consumption of fossil fuels in many cases, they do not address existing buildings that use gas, oil and fossil fuels to provide heat, hot water and chiller water.
During 2023, more and more states and municipalities are developing building performance standards that aim to reduce buildings’ carbon footprint by requiring them to meet certain standards. These more recent standards focus on greenhouse gas emissions rather than just energy usage.
Seattle’s proposed new standard is, per Construction Dive, the product of nearly 2 years of meetings, open houses, webinars, advisory group and specialized task force sessions. Not surprisingly, not all constituents were happy with pushback during the development of these standards coming from environmental groups that want more and faster emission reductions and from real estate and business groups that believe that standards are far too reaching.
All told, according to the Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment, the new standards will cover approximately 4,100 buildings in Seattle, including about 1,885 multifamily buildings and 1,650 nonresidential buildings that are mostly downtown and in dense neighborhoods. Like many of the other cities adopting these type of GhG emissions based standards (see, e.g., New York City with Local Law 97), the proposal offers several pathways for buildings to comply with the standards; owners who do not comply would be fined.
It is believe by the City Administration that the new standard will help Seattle secure federal funding and incentives. Seattle City Council is expected to review and likely implement the legislation in their fall session.
Parting Shot – Seattle is part of a growing list of cities and States that are looking to reduce energy consumption in its building stock by way of focusing on fossil fuel consumption and GhG emissions by requiring monitoring, measuring and reporting by larger buildings, and, if standards set by the applicable governing body have been exceeded, the owner of the building (and thereafter, likely the tenants under their leases) will be subject to a fine until they correct their exceedance. Carrots have been offered in the past as incentives, these types of ordinances are much more of the stick approach.
Duane Morris has an active ESG and Sustainability Team to help organizations and individuals plan, respond to, and execute on your Sustainability and ESG planning and initiatives. For more information, please contact Brad A. Molotsky, David Amerikaner, Sheila Rafferty-Wiggins, Alice Shanahan, Jeff Hamera, Nanette Heide, Joel Ephross, Jolie-Anne Ansley, Robert Montejo, Seth Cooley, or the attorney in the firm with whom you are regularly in contact.