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At left, Chairman John B. Rhea, center, with DOB Assistant Commissioner James Colgate and DOB First Deputy Commissioner Fatma M. Amer. At right, Member Margarita López, left, with DOB Sustainability Officer Deborah Taylor and DOB Executive Director Helen Gittleson. Photo by: Leticia Barboza

Speaking Green Lecture Series; Climate Change and Energy Conservation

The temperatures in New York City are cooling down as of late to more seasonal temps, but that wasn't the case just a week ago when the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA) held its first outdoor SpeakingGreen lecture on a warm, muggy evening last July 28th, in the Queensbridge North Houses courtyard.

The heat wave vividly demonstrated concerns expressed by three guest speakers from the NYC Department of Buildings (DOB) about climate change and energy conservation. It also affirmed the importance of initiatives at DOB that they described to help achieve a sustainable environment.

“A community as large as NYCHA must be a part of the city's environmental sustainability efforts for us all to make a difference,” Chairman John B. Rhea said, in introductory remarks. Those efforts include “reducing the energy consumption of our buildings by changing our personal habits- to save energy and money, and to set a good example for our children.”

DOB's First Deputy Commissioner, Fatma M. Amer
Department of Buildings
First Deputy Commissioner,
Fatma M. Amer
Photo credit: Leticia Barboza

DOB's First Deputy Commissioner, Fatma M. Amer, oversaw the recent development of new Construction Codes that raise safety and sustainability standards for new buildings. Ms. Amer described the frightening ecological consequences of carbon emissions from energy creation and consumption, which depletes the Earth's ozone layer that protects us from the harmful rays of the sun. These include rising temperatures and sea levels, droughts, and floods. She also described the City's ambitious plan-PlaNYC 2030-to reduce carbon emissions by 30 percent by the year 2030.

“Buildings are responsible for 75 percent of carbon emissions, far more than cars, factories and other sources,” she said. “If we don't win the fight on buildings, the war is lost. That is why we are here today.”

While the revision of construction codes to reduce carbon emissions for new building is vital, “eighty-five percent of the city's buildings that are already here now will be here in 2030,” noted DOB's Executive Director of Code and Sustainability Affairs, Helen Gittleson.

Ms. Gittleson described three laws enacted by Mayor Michael Bloomberg in 2009 to measure and reduce energy consumption in existing buildings of 50,000 square feet, or more. There are 975,000 buildings in the city, and NYCHA, whose developments contain 2,600 buildings, is the city's single largest building owner.

Greener, Greater Building Plan

DOB's Executive Director of Code and Sustainability Affairs, Helen Gittleson
Department of Buildings
Executive Director of Code and
Sustainability Affairs, Helen Gittleson
Photo credit: Leticia Barboza

DOB's “Greener, Greater Building Plan” requires owners of large existing buildings to annually:
  • benchmark building energy consumption to track progress, effective for city buildings May 2011;
  • audit building systems such as building envelope (windows and walls), hot water, lighting, electrical systems, and elevators to identify problem areas; and file an energy efficiency report every ten years, effective 2013;
  • upgrade lighting for energy efficiency and install meters, effective 2025.

DOB's Chief Sustainability Officer, Deborah Taylor, described a fourth law that requires all building renovations to comply with the NYC Energy Conservation Code, enacted in July 2010, which sets a higher standard than the state code that previously applied. The law also requires contractors to file progress reports to ensure adherence to approved designs.

Green Codes Task Force

DOB Assistant Commissioner James Colgate described the agency's ongoing legislative efforts in diverse areas to further the sustainability campaign. There are presently 111 recommended green changes to laws and regulations for new and existing buildings that would result in “greener, healthier buildings for all New Yorkers,” many of which NYCHA is already implementing. Proposals affect codes, zoning, environmental and health issues.

Proposals ranged from increased availability of drinking fountains to reduced lighting levels in hallways, and from more restrictive water faucet flows to use of recycled water in rooftop air conditioner units.

Mr. Colgate also described the NYC CoolRoofs initiative to promote the covering and cooling of the city's roof- tops with white, reflective surfaces instead of dark tar or other substances that absorb heat, raising temperatures in top floor apartments and even on the city's streets. NYCHA is already participating in this voluntary program.

In closing remarks, Member Margarita López, NYCHA's Environmental Coordinator-who led the development of the Authority's green agenda and the mobilization of residents to conserve energy-reminded residents and guests: “Everyone is a soldier in the fight we are mounting against global warming. We need to change our behavior,” she said, holding up a copy of The Power is in Your Hands, NYCHA's resident guide to saving energy. Citing a survey in the booklet that lets readers assess their own energy habits, Member López challenged individuals to “rate your own emissions just like the new codes require each building to do.”

The quarterly SpeakingGreen lecture series is part of NYCHA's green agenda, and is co-sponsored by the Clinton Climate Initiative.

August 2, 2010
By Howard Silver