Will new green laws for buildings in New York, Pittsburgh and San Francisco be coming to your city soon?

by Brianna Crandall — December 11, 2019 — New York City, Pittsburgh and San Francisco have all passed green laws for buildings within their city limits in recent months, as many US cities have started doing in order to reduce energy and water consumption and address the threats of climate change at the local level.

New York City

The New York City Department of Buildings (DOB) announced that, effective November 15, Local Law 92 of 2019 and Local Law 94 of 2019 require all new buildings and existing buildings undergoing certain major roof renovations to have a solar photovoltaic (PV) system, a green roof system, or a combination of the two. These systems must cover 100 percent of any applicable roof.

Starting November 15, 2019, all new application filings for new building projects and alteration projects that include vertical and horizontal enlargement or replacement of the entire roof deck must include a form certifying their compliance with Local Laws 92 and 94 prior to plan approval from the Department.

Building emissions currently account for about 70 percent of greenhouse gas emissions in New York City. These new laws are said to represent a significant step forward in realizing Mayor de Blasio’s ambitious goal of New York City becoming carbon neutral by 2050, and are a major component of the City’s efforts to mitigate climate change. The laws also support efforts to enhance stormwater management in order to reduce urban flooding and improve the health of New York Harbor and its tributaries.

Local Law 92 and Local Law 94 are components of the City’s Climate Mobilization Act (CMA), which was passed by the City Council in April 2019, as part of the Mayor’s New York City Green New Deal and OneNYC 2050 plan. In addition to the roof requirements, the CMA also established an Office of Sustainability within the Department, and has mandated additional requirements to improve the energy efficiency of buildings in NYC:

  • Buildings Mandate (Local Law 97 of 2019): The centerpiece of the CMA, Local Law 97 requires all buildings larger than 25,000 square feet to meet ambitious carbon reduction targets.
  • Building Energy Efficiency Grade (Local Law 95 of 2019): Local Law 95 amends the ranges for how energy efficiency grades are calculated as required by Local Law 33 of 2018, which required the display of energy efficiency scores and grades for larger buildings in New York City that are required to that annually benchmark their energy and water consumption. The energy label will be displayed near a public entrance and include both a letter grade and the energy efficiency score.

To view the entire NYC announcement or for more information about DOB resources for and requirements for energy-efficient buildings, visit the DOB website.


Pittsburgh’s Mayor William Peduto signed an ordinance in November that requires all new or renovated City government buildings to be net zero, meaning they are so efficient that they produce as much energy as they consume.

The ordinance defines net-zero energy buildings as those that are “designed and constructed to be highly efficient and to produce enough energy through renewable resources to offset its energy consumption on an annual basis. A net-zero energy building could also be defined as a net-zero energy ready building that includes on-site or local renewable energy.”

Since buildings are the largest end-users of energy in the world, Pittsburgh and other cities seeking to fight the earth’s climate change crisis are seeking new ways — such as net-zero energy efficiency — to significantly address the challenge.

The City of Pittsburgh’s Climate Action Plan 3.0 aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50 percent by 2030, and 80 percent by 2050. It also seeks to reduce energy and water use by 50 percent by 2030. To meet those goals, the City must address buildings, which currently account for 80 percent of the City’s carbon emissions and a significant portion of the City’s energy use and spending.

The ordinance covers all construction of new buildings on City-owned property, and all major renovations of existing buildings on City-owned property. It includes exemptions for renovations of buildings that are being decommissioned or sold within five years; emergency renovations; short-term buildings (such as trailers); and other exemptions requested by the mayor and City Council.

In a related effort, the Planning Department’s Sustainability and Resilience Division released in August the first annual energy benchmarking report for municipal buildings owned and operated by the City. It followed adoption of an energy and water benchmarking and transparency ordinance requiring all non-residential buildings over 50,000 square feet to share their energy and water consumption data with the City by June 1, 2018, and yearly thereafter.

San Francisco

In September, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved Mayor London N. Breed’s legislation to transition private commercial buildings of 50,000 square feet and larger to 100 percent renewable electricity. Almost half of San Francisco’s citywide emissions come from buildings, and half of those emissions come from the commercial sector. San Francisco has already reportedly reduced its greenhouse gas emissions 36 percent below 1990 levels.

The new clean electricity requirement is touted as the first of its kind in the nation. The law will reduce emissions from the City’s largest commercial buildings by an additional 21 percent to accelerate San Francisco’s drive towards 100 percent renewable electricity by 2030.

The legislation calls for the City’s largest commercial buildings to procure 100 percent renewable electricity from any of the City’s electricity providers by 2022. Then, starting in 2024, additional buildings will be subject to the requirement, eventually encompassing all commercial buildings 50,000 square feet or larger. The requirement is currently phased-in chronologically to ensure adequate renewable electricity is available for procurement:

  •     2022 — commercial buildings over 500,000 square feet
  •     2024 — commercial buildings over 250,000 square feet
  •     2030 — commercial buildings over 50,000 square feet

The legislation is part of the Mayor’s vision of an “all-electric City” in which 100 percent renewable electricity replaces the use of fossil fuels in the building and transportation sectors. San Francisco’s emissions primarily come from the transportation and the building sectors, with each sector responsible for 46 and 44 percent of the City’s emissions, respectively. Cross-sector electrification will be necessary to achieve deep greenhouse gas emissions reductions and Mayor Breed’s Global Climate Action Summit commitment for net-zero emissions by 2050.

Today, all of the City’s major electricity providers, Hetch Hetchy Power, CleanPowerSF, and PG&E, provide 100 percent renewable electricity products, points out the announcement.

The Mayor’s legislation complements similar building programs such as the City’s auditing and energy benchmarking program for existing buildings, Better Roofs ordinance, the EV Readiness ordinance, and the Mayor’s proposal to expand the number of EV charging stations in San Francisco parking facilities.

Last year, at the unveiling of the City’s largest new conventional rooftop solar installation on the roof of the Moscone Convention Center, Mayor Breed had committed San Francisco to four key policy pledges:

  • Zero Waste: Reduce waste generation by 15% and landfill disposal by 50% by 2030
  • Decarbonizing Buildings: Net-zero carbon buildings in San Francisco by 2050
  • Green Bonds: Issue more green bonds to finance infrastructure and capital projects
  • 100% Renewable Energy: Switch all electricity in San Francisco to renewables by 2030

For more information, see the recent announcement.