Clean Construction - NYC Mayor's Office of Climate and Environmental Justice
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Clean Construction

How we construct our buildings and infrastructure greatly impacts the sustainability and resiliency of NYC. Construction is responsible for 23% of global greenhouse gas emissions, of which cement and steel/iron alone contribute 8% and 7%, respectively. In PlaNYC, Getting Sustainability Done (2023), the City committed to reduce the carbon footprint of the construction industry 50% by 2033, in part by implementing performance-based standards for low-carbon materials and equipment by 2025.  We aim to grow a construction system that is resilient, resource-efficient and decarbonized to ensure people enjoy thriving and just lives. 

Clean construction actions tackle the negative impacts of our current construction systems in terms of emissions and resources depletion, adaptation and climate risks, and socio-economic and health damages. These actions require a concerted approach to ensure inclusivity and social justice. Such actions aid in delivering a green recovery from COVID-19, improve social equity and support the creation of green jobs by investing in local sustainable business communities and expanding already existing solutions, and by educating and reskilling workers. To counter emissions from the construction sector and address the realities of a changing climate, the city needs to develop policies that develop the net zero emissions buildings and infrastructure of the future.

Construction Innovation 

The City plays a powerful role in paving the way to decarbonize the built environment and scale the clean construction industry by enabling innovative solutions, facilitating bold policies, and operating pilot programs to overcome implementation challenges in tangible ways. As part of the City’s decarbonization efforts, New York City Economic Development Corporation (“NYCEDC”) launched the New York City Mass Timber Studio (the “NYC Mass Timber Studio”), a technical assistance program to support active mass timber development projects in the early phases of project planning and design. MOCEJ is a key partner in the program. 

Architects and engineers are at the forefront of exploring new materials and methods of clean, sustainable construction, such as Mass Timber.The NYC Mass Timber Studio will enable selected teams to explore and fully consider the environmental, economic, and structural benefits of mass timber building materials and practices—all in a structure that will engage local stakeholders and provide multiple visibility platforms for best practice discussions, product presentations, study reports, and summary findings. The City is incentivizing the use of mass timber in construction through grants provided by the U.S. Forest Service’s Wood Innovations Program, Softwood Lumber Board, and matched funds from NYCEDC through the NYC Mass Timber Studio.  

The Studio will distribute $250,000 in grants between a set of selected design teams. MOCEJ hopes to leverage lessons learned to inform future potential opportunities to support the development of the mass timber industry both within NYC and regionally. The Studio will produce a final report to capture lessons learned and prevailing challenges to inform NYC Building Code revisions. 

For more about the NYC Mass Timber Studio, see the NYCEDC website.   

The City is exploring opportunities for synergy between clean construction and waste reduction, in the form of adaptive reuse, recycled glass pozzolan in concrete, and construction waste matching, among others.  

Ground Glass Pozzolan is made from recycled post-consumer glass, can replace up to 50% of cement in concrete, dramatically reducing embodied carbon emissions. NYC seems to be a hotbed for this innovative material. Partnering with NYCEDC and the Battery Park Coastal Resilience projects, the City will study ground glass pozzolan in marine applications to enable industry professionals to gain experience with these materials and potentially incorporate them into large coastal infrastructure projects. 

Embodied carbon, the greenhouse gas emissions arising from the manufacturing, transportation, installation, maintenance, and disposal of building materials is an important, untapped area to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, to improve local air quality, and to reduce noise pollution and waste. The City of New York can improve people’s lives by incorporating sustainability and health into infrastructure and construction.  In order to effectively reduce the impact of the construction sector, we are developing a robust baseline to fully understand its impact in NYC and the opportunities for reduction.  

Most emissions from construction come from the embodied emissions in the materials used to build a project. Unlike operational carbon which can be reduced over time with building retrofits, embodied carbon emissions are locked in place as soon as the building is constructed. Because our city is mostly built but has a plethora of retrofit and fit-out spaces, we aim to ensure that the full scope of common activities of the construction sector is represented in this baselining study. The materials that are most relevant to understand from an embodied carbon perspective may be different than in other cities, thus a NYC-specific embodied carbon baselining study is necessary.

As announced by Mayor Adams during Climate Week 2023, and in partnership with C40 Cities and City agencies, New York City is launching a Clean Construction Accelerator, a group of signatory cities committed to clean construction.

We understand our built environment is one of the largest sources of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and drives a significant amount of air pollution in our cities, threatening our public health and the well-being of our communities. Building materials, construction, maintenance, and demolition are responsible for a growing share of buildings’ carbon footprint, and they make up the largest share of the infrastructure we rely upon daily. 

The Clean Construction Accelerator values our existing stock, prioritizes building retrofits, and ensures new buildings and infrastructure embed circular economy principles in their design, material, and construction choices. Following a series of commitments, New York City endeavors to meet the following goals: 

  • Reduce embodied emissions by at least 50% for all new buildings and major retrofits by 2030. 
  • Reduce embodied emissions by at least 50% of all infrastructure projects by 2030. 
  • Require zero emission construction sites city-wide by 2030, where technology is available. 

For more information on the Clean Construction Accelerator, visit the C40 website. 

May 2024: The Battery Coastal Resilience Project is the first major project in the city to reduce embodied emissions by over 50%. It’s using low-carbon and recycled materials and reducing truck traffic by using barge transportation, which equates to the removal of more than 2,000 trucks from Lower Manhattan’s roadways. Battery Coastal Resilience shows that GHG emissions mitigation and climate adaptation can be complementary, and it raises the bar for other coastal and climate infrastructure projects. Read more about the project’s groundbreaking.

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When we bring our voices, our action, and our advocacy to our schools, our homes, and our workplaces, we can create a more sustainable and resilient future for the 8.3 million people who call our five boroughs home.

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