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From the Atlantic to the Pacific, state and local governments are implementing new policies to lessen the built environment’s contribution to climate change.

These so-called “green building” strategies are taking a more prominent place in traditional building codes as they seek to address categories of indoor environmental quality, energy efficiency, conservation of resources, renewables and more. New strategies to become carbon neutral are going into effect across the country.

New York

Earlier this year, the New York State Assembly approved the Advanced Building Codes, Appliance and Equipment Efficiency Standards Act of 2022. The legislation adds the promotion of clean energy and the implementation of the climate agenda outlined in the state’s climate leadership and community protection act to the state energy conservation construction code. It also increases the energy efficiency standards of appliances and equipment by the state energy conservation construction code.

The action further bolsters initiatives like New York City’s Local Law 97, which was enacted in response to the fact that two-thirds of greenhouse gasses in the city reportedly come from existing buildings. The Climate Mobilization Act was passed in April 2019 as part of the city’s plan for a “Green New Deal.” Most new and existing buildings over 25,000 square feet are impacted by Local Law 97, which requires building owners and operators to adhere to new energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions limits by 2024. The law generally covers (with some exceptions):

  • Buildings larger than 25,000 square feet;
  • Two or more buildings on the same tax lot that combined exceed 50,000 square feet; and
  • Two or more buildings owned by a condo association and governed by the same board of managers that together total more than 50,000 square feet.

While the compliance burden goes to the owners of these structures, tenants should also be aware of the potential impact Local Law 97 can have on future lease negotiations. Tenants are encouraged to pay special attention to term sheet negotiations with prospective or current landlords, including the following questions.

  • Have there been any efficiency audits conducted by the building owner/operator to assess building systems?
  • What steps are being taken to address Local Law 97 requirements?
  • Will the cost of compliance be passed on to tenants through rent increases or other provisions?
  • What green lease provisions (if any) are included in the landlord’s contract?

Asking these questions is especially important for multi-tenant buildings. Renters should also note any operating expense provisions that may include pass-through of certain expenses to the occupant. Working together, tenants and owners/operators have a better chance of meeting the overall goal to cut building emissions in New York by 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050. The Department of Buildings Greenhouse Gas Emission Reporting website has more information on emissions limits as well as clarification about which buildings are exempt from the New York law.


At roughly the same time the NY Assembly was taking action, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot and the city’s Department of Buildings unveiled the 2022 Chicago Energy Transformation Code, which would make Chicago one of the first major U.S. cities—and the first city in Illinois—to adopt and exceed the latest edition of the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), a widely used model code. The city council is expected to address the ordinance at its September meeting.

The action is further evidence of the city’s commitment to addressing the built environment’s impact on climate change. For example, in its first major revision since 1949, the Chicago City Council approved an update to the city’s building code in 2019.
New regulations streamline cost-effective construction and expands the number of options for designs and building materials. The new code also promotes greater use of green technologies and best practices for sustainable building design and construction.

More recently, the Chicago Building Code was further revised to update energy efficiency and sustainable design requirements to align with requirements adopted by the state and established by the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC).

The city has also published a Chicago Sustainable Development Policy Handbook to help guide development projects to adopt sustainable strategies.


The mile-high city is living up to its nickname by setting high standards for achieving sustainability. Denver is seeking to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 90% by 2050. To hit that goal, the city must find ways to eliminate 100 million tons of carbon emissions each year. Under recent building code regulations, facility owners are required to either cover 70% of their roofs with solar panels or source renewable electricity offsite if the building location does not adequately support solar power.

In addition to new guidelines, Denver is encouraging building owners to go above and beyond the minimum requirements. The city launched the Denver Green Code in November 2019—a voluntary set of guidelines for pilot projects based on the International Green Construction Code and is 10% better than existing city codes. Developers can benefit in different ways when they adopt the Denver Green Code. These advantages include expedited permitting of projects. This initiative offers compliance options for LEED Platinum and net-zero building certifications.

San Francisco

The goal of the California Green Building Code (CALGreen) is to set building regulations to optimize environmental preservation. CALGreen and local requirements are collectively known as the San Francisco Green Building Code (SFGBC). Regularly updated to maintain alignment with California Green Building Standards Code, the SFGBC also calls for stricter local requirements, such as:

  • New construction is restricted to being all electric;
  • For new buildings 10 floors in height or less, mandated installation of solar electric, thermal or green roof features;
  • Provide on-site facilities for collection and conveyance of compost, in addition to recycling;
  • Buildings specifically wired to supply electricity for electric vehicle charging at 100% of new parking spaces; and
  • Meet city green building requirements tied to the LEED and GreenPoint Rated green building rating systems.

The California Building Standards Commission (CBSC) is also authorized to propose CALGreen standards for “nonresidential structures that include new buildings or portions of new buildings, additions and alterations, and all occupancies where no other state agency has the authority to adopt green building standards applicable to those occupancies.”

Other Cities Follow

While major cities seem to be at the forefront of new initiatives, the rest of the country appears to be following their lead by looking toward cleaner, more efficient and healthier built environment as well. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) offers resources, such as its table comparing Green Building Standards, to encourage building owners, operators and occupants, as well as community leaders, to adopt greener building and development. Challenges will not be solved by any single entity. Everyone needs to work together to push for a greener, more sustainable future.


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