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Sustainability Thought Leaders Plant Seeds for Greener Cities at Boot Camp

07/25/2022

In a city like New York, where historic buildings are the stars of the skyline and the streets are dense with prewar building stock, going green is not easy.

But as new, sustainable structures are erected and older buildings are retrofitted into more environmentally friendly versions of themselves, the city plans to be a leader in fighting the impacts of climate change, says Frank V. Carone ’94, chief of staff to New York City Mayor Eric Adams.

“It’s not just about ideas, it’s about action and it’s not happening in decades. It is really happening right now,” said Carone, who gave a keynote address at the Law School’s Sustainability and Future Cities Boot Camp on June 23. “We are on the cusp of a massive transformative way in which we live, work, and do business. Our city is ready.”

It needs to be ready, he acknowledged, as there is an abundance of work to do, with a series of ambitious sustainability milestones to reach within the coming years and decades.

Because of its public transit system and population density, “New Yorkers already emit fewer carbon emissions per person than virtually every other city in America,” Carone said. “However, the energy that we do use to heat, cool, and power our buildings accounts for nearly 70 percent of the emissions in New York City. Our building stock, which is dense, complicated, and aging, is our greatest opportunity and our biggest challenge to achieving these goals.”

Pivotal to reaching those milestones is the city’s Climate Mobilization Act of 2019, which, as Dean Michael T. Cahill said in opening remarks, “may be the single largest climate-focused set of regulations yet put forth by any city in the world.”

The act includes a slate of local laws intended to dramatically reduce carbon emissions in buildings, including new requirements for sustainable roofing and Energy Star ratings, as well as programs to help owners bring buildings up to speed.

The centerpiece of the legislation is Local Law 97, under which buildings larger than 25,000 square feet will have to meet the guidelines for greenhouse gas emissions starting in 2024. To “de-carbonize our building stock,” Carone says, will also require a 20 percent reduction in energy consumption, including for city-owned buildings, by 2025, plus phasing out fossil fuel hookups in new buildings beginning in 2023 and in small buildings by 2027. Further-out goals include building 100 percent net-zero new buildings by 2030 and getting New York City to complete carbon neutrality by 2050.

To help business owners get there, the city has established the PACE financing program to help fund the changes, and established The New York City Accelerator, which will provide free technical assistance, training, and education. Carone says the Adams administration is intent on working with building owners to help them to comply.

Sustainability is an important part of both the Law School’s curriculum and the professional lives of alumni, particularly those working in real estate development, property and land use regulation, construction law and environmental law, and Cahill says the school will build on its strengths in these areas and focus more on sustainability in years to come.

Among the faculty experts are Richard J. Sobelsohn ’98, Professor of Practice & Adjunct Professor of Law, who has LEED AP and GGP certifications, and who launched the first sustainable building courses at the Law School in 2009. Sobelsohn moderated most of the day’s panels, which featured an array of professionals, including architects, attorneys, commercial property executives and professors who shared information on topics such as “green leases,” systems that bring fresh, clean air into private homes, and the “carrots and stick” type legislative initiatives that encourage building owners to retrofit their buildings with a mix of incentives for those who do so (such as saving on energy costs) and penalties for those who do not.

Sheppard Mullin was the silver sponsor of the all-day bootcamp, which was also supported by Avison Young, Commonwealth Land Title Insurance Co., and Ganfer Shore Leeds & Zauderer.

View video of the Boot Camp and look for more on the Law School’s involvement in sustainability efforts in the fall edition of Brooklyn Law Notes.