EXPERT VOICES: Jonathan Laski, Director of C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group's Private Sector Buildings Energy Efficiency Network

Ten cities from the C40 Cities Climate Leadership Group (C40) gathered in Houston to discuss the challenges and opportunities of reducing emissions from each of their city’s private sector building stock during the first meeting of C40’s “Private Sector Building Energy Efficiency Network.” The workshop, held on March 5-7, took place in conjunction with an Urban Land Institute (“ULI”) Forum on real estate, technology and sustainability.

Self-reported data provided by each of the 10 cities prior to the workshop revealed that buildings account for approximately 40 percent of their total city-wide emissions. Within the larger building sector, private sector buildings account for 67.9 percent of all building emissions and is evenly split between commercial buildings (office, retail, manufacturing) and residential (single-family and multi-unit).

The importance of city action on this topic is, therefore, quite apparent. As private sector buildings account for one of the largest percentages of emissions, huge opportunities exist for cities to engage with each other on how to best take action on this segment of emissions.

The C40 Network Workshop, as the event was called, addressed all of the current workstreams of the Network. These workstreams are:

  1. sharing best practices on foundational topics such as building energy data and engagement with stakeholders; 
  2. sharing best practices on mandatory policies passed by city governments; and 
  3. sharing best practices on incentive programs, both financial and non-financial, developed and/or administered by city governments.

The discussion and outcomes of the Workshop were meaningful and exciting. City representatives provided updates on their world-leading policies and programs. Tokyo not only announced revised figures on their cap-and-trade program, which revealed an overall 23 percent energy reduction over two years from the city’s 1,300 largest commercial and industrial buildings, they also shared strategies for addressing the ideas and concerns of affected property owners. New York City provided invaluable insight into the process it undertook to pass the suite for four local laws under its Greener Greater Buildings Plan, including lessons from their on-going collaboration with the local utility, property associations and other partners. Providing a European perspective, Stockholm illustrated how they work closely with their national government to comply with EU directives on building certificates, the data from which can be accessed by the city to gain a better understanding of consumption across sectors and from different building types.

Prior to departing from Houston, the participating cities pledged to collaborate on a few specific deliverables. Cities affirmed the three major workstreams for the Network and agreed to work on an output for each:

  1. On data and engagement, cities will be developing a shared strategy for working with their local utility, property owners and tenants to develop a meaningful vehicle to drive the benchmarking of private sector buildings. This may be done through policy or through incentivized measures as appropriate in each city. 
  2. For those cities with the power to enact mandatory policies through regulation, cities agreed to more closely share thoughts on the full spectrum of potential policies, and work with partners to identify the most locally-appropriate way forward. 
  3. Finally, for incentive programs, cities agreed to work collaboratively to catalogue existing incentive programs and their impact on the local property market. The recognition that a lack of analysis currently exists on how well existing incentive programs actually drive GHG reductions in cities was an important development, and a gap that cities will be looking to close through collaborative research and analysis.

Each of the above outcomes represents an important piece of the complicated puzzle that is building energy efficiency. Through the creation of the Private Sector Buildings Energy Efficiency Network, C40 recognizes the immense opportunities that cities have if they can fully-utilize available “carrots” (incentives) and “sticks” (policies) to work with the local property sector towards lowering their energy consumption costs and associated GHG emissions. Now nine months old, the C40 Private Sector Buildings Energy Efficiency Network is ready to move from development to action towards supporting cities as they navigate their locally-appropriate path towards greater energy efficiency in private sector buildings.