Let’s start with the idea that saving NYC money is a good thing, if it aims to keep taxes from growing too quickly.
Lower costs mean that it’s easier for people to live and prosper in the city.
If there is an intersection of saving money and doing good for the environment, that is a wonderful thing, too.
Finally, if there is a way to save the city money, help the environment, and actually make the quality of life better for New Yorkers in terms of overall enjoyment – well, that’s quite a trifecta.
This intersection can get buy-in from all walks of life.
Who says saving the world has to bankrupt a city?
Over the last decade, reaching these three goals has become possible through sustainability.
Here area few visible ways in which momentum has manifested:
- Building heating systems moving from Number 6 oil to Natural Gas
- New construction – office buildings move toward zero footprint
- Car sharing companies – reducing the number of actual cars on the road in NYC
- Recycling – reducing landfill, saving the city hauling costs, reducing the city’s reliance
- Major water infrastructure projects – fixing massive water waste
Taking these one at a time, anyone can see that the city is acting responsibly, both leading and following private business in making New York better.
The Shift to Natural Gas
While many would argue a focus on the frontier of wind and water power, a wonderful alternative to moving
quickly in a cost-effective and cleaner direction, in the near term, is natural gas.
Since nearly all the city’s pollution comes from building systems, burning a cleaner alternative to Number 6 oil achieves a few things.
First, natural gas is less expensive than oil.
The cost of oil has dropped precipitously, but natural gas is abundant in the US, and already has reduced building operating costs in the short-term.
Residential buildings have been able to pass those savings on to owners.
Second, capital expenditures such as new boilers and new gas lines to buildings have been aided by NYC subsidies by ConEdison.
What a perfect public-private partnership enabling buildings to move to cleaner fuel.
These boilers can be paid for in less than 5 years, in most cases, from the savings in heating buildings.
So these costs get covered in the medium-term.
Of course, the immediate and long term advantage is vastly improved air quality
– now and
New Construction Promoting Sustainability
I was at a panel discussion on sustainability this week sponsored by Bisnow.
What began 10 years ago as building codes designed to encourage construction, LEED Codes
ultimately have been absorbed by the development community wholeheartedly.
I was surprised to learn that building to these codes not only saves building owners in the short-to-medium term, but it helps attracts tenants.
That is, more and more companies want their office environments – light and air quality – to be improved, along with pleasant amenities like green spaces.
Employee happiness becomes critical: funny how this hasn’t been tackled sooner, but here the benefits of new construction and benefits to the environment intersect.
The city’s Office of Sustainability has found it a very easy sell to encourage builders to move in this direction.
Further, an energy consultant disclosed that a 12-15% annual energy savings was the result of nearly all of their audits, whether in newer or older buildings.
Nudges in the right direction through revised building codes and city rules apparently have been working very well!
Con Edison’s representative talked about the rollout over the next 5-6 years of nearly 5 million “smart meters,” which will be able to stream
wirelessly data on energy usage, both gas and electricity.
While this ultimately may eliminate jobs of those who check meters from apartment to apartment (and eliminate more cars on the road), this implementation
will take years.
This is part of what’s known at Local Law 88.
Perhaps they had China in mind when they numbered it – the double lucky number .
The icing on the cake was when a speaker from the Hudson Companies discussed their
“Passive House” project on Roosevelt Island, in conjunction with Cornell and Technion Universities’ technology campus.
This is residential dorm
essentially stays cool in the summer, and warm in the winter, through efficient construction.
type of construction, on this scale, will provide a great model for future developments.
Car Sharing Companies
Uber, Via, Lyft, and other new firms aim to improve the daily ridership experience of those scooting around town.
Taxis driving empty like sharks patrolling Caribbean waters seem quite archaic.
Yet even they have great apps like Way2Ride
that aim to make even hailing a taxi more efficient.
I would argue that the experience of riding in a taxi using these apps very much rivals those other apps.
Here’s to competition!
And car sharing companies like Zipcar have reduced car ownership further.
Uber estimates 1 million cars off the road – who knows how these numbers will bear out?
But if renting a car for a few hours or a day has become easier and easier, why would New Yorkers want to own cars?
The added result is happier people and fewer cars circling blocks looking for parking.
Not to mention
Citibike, nor other ways to get you from here to there.
It’s all helping improve quality of life, while likely helping the environment.
Funny enough, while this has been a headline item, the first thing that you might think of when thinking about sustainability, I would argue that it probably ends up doing a lot less than making buildings more energy efficient, by a long shot.
That said, eliminating landfill and encouraging recycling probably keeps our streets cleaner, and puts people into a mindset that encourages better behaviors as related to the environment, too.
As I understand it, NYCHA, the city’s housing authority that manages 3,000 buildings, finally is rolling recycling into all of its buildings.
So, despite years of this being perhaps the obvious first step, it may actually be a laggard in NYC.
And definitely not the cost saver that so many other sustainability measures can be.
I’m no expert on water technology, but Seth Siegel is.
Having researched and written an absolutely fabulous book called Let There Be Water, focused on the advances that Israel has made in water technology and management, now he’s turned his focus to spreading the word on how that know-how has been utilized around the world, and how the US perhaps can learn and take steps as well.
A few months ago, he wrote about his visit to Newtown Creek, the wastewater treatment facility.
It’s a very quick read about how clean and efficient New York’s facilities like this are.
The issue of dealing with our water supply in New York City is among the least visible, yet among the most important, goals in terms of sustainability.
At a recent event Seth mentioned that over 30 MILLION (!) gallons of water are lost to leaks EVERY DAY on the way to and through New York City.
I was shocked! The main tunnel, which is leaking so abundantly, has been open since 1917 without ever being closed or repaired.
Yet, there are some major infrastructure projects underway, such as the new water tunnel 3.
Some slowdowns and delays had happened even as recently as earlier this month, but some very recent adjustment are exciting: first, Queens and Brooklyn will get a sped up testing process to ensure they will have clean water from the new tunnel.
Second, some tax shenanigans will likely be eliminated, opening up a bit more transparency in the way water is paid for by end users.
Seth, in his book, argues for actual fees for water use.
Right now we are getting our water nearly free.
If this structure changed, the odds that water technology would be adopted would be quite likely, and this would help create a much more sustainable water environment.
We as New Yorkers happen to be very lucky to have such an abundance of water.
But this could change.
Even more obvious is the need to resolve the Tunnel 2 leaks.
This week I asked the representative of the office of sustainability what the city is doing today to mitigate the everyday leaks in New York City?
Her answer was entirely unsatisfying.
She acknowledged that it was an issue, and
that the city was taking steps to improve it.
In all, New York is making huge strides today toward a far more efficient and environmentally friendly operation.
It’s very exciting to watch and learn about!