Christopher Colasanti
Associate Partner
Jaros, Baum & Bolles, New York City

For the first time in US history, legislation has passed in New York City that establishes a cap on carbon emissions for most buildings over 25,000 square feet (2,322 square meters). The new regulations, effective in 2024, will impose an absolute cap on the energy use of a building, with few carve-outs or exceptions.

The financial penalties are severe: $230,000 per year between 2024 and 2029 for a 1 million-square-foot (92,903-square-meter) office building just 10 percent above the limit; $1.28 million between 2030 and 2034; and $2.12 million after 2035.

As a result of this unprecedented new legislation, the New York City development community has embarked on an ambitious path to redefine what it means to be sustainable. The carbon cap is based on actual energy use rather than on predictive values, which form the basis of most environmental design rating systems. The lens now needs to encompass all aspects of a building’s systems: design, construction, and operation—all of which contribute to energy use.

The new legislation aligns with the city’s 80 by 50 carbon reduction plan, which aims to decrease carbon dioxide generation by 80 percent by 2050. The collaborative efforts of legislators, industry, and academia will evolve as the law's nuances are developed. Through the use of case studies, these reforms will highlight the challenges faced by both new and existing buildings in meeting these new thresholds, and suggest viable strategies for addressing them.