State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


‘Building’ Sustainability for Buildings

John Mandyck, CEO of Urban Green Council

The Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development was pleased to host John Mandyck, the CEO of Urban Green Council as part of the Spring 2020 Speaker Series. With a mission to transform buildings for a more sustainable future in New York City and around the world, the Urban Green Council researches and educates on policy solutions to enhance the sustainability of buildings.

Mandyck has extensive experience in improving the sustainability of buildings. For the past 25 years, he worked for United Technologies Corporation where he retired as chief sustainability officer. He was the founding chair of the corporate advisory board for the World Green Building Council, and a former board chair of Urban Green. He believes that buildings play a critical role in combating climate change and establishing a low carbon future. On average, across the United States, buildings consume 40 percent national energy. In New York City, buildings consume almost 80 percent of energy, and account for 70 percent of carbon emissions.

In 2019, New York City introduced the building emissions law, which imposes a carbon emissions cap for energy use in large buildings. The legislation currently covers 50,000 buildings in the city, which constitutes 60 percent of New York City’s building area. While the cap is expected to curtail carbon emissions of buildings significantly, there are still a number of policy concerns to improve the practicality of the legislation. To be specific, the legislation does not take into account the operation of the building, such as hours of operation and density of the building. It is almost impossible for buildings to operate below the energy requirement when a building accommodates energy-heavy facilities such as 24-hour data centers, even with energy efficient technologies and designs. Additionally, many small-scale commercial buildings may have difficulties following the stringent regulation due to lack of capacity, such as human resources or knowledge.

To address this policy gap, Mandyck discussed carbon trading as a solution. When carbon trading is allowed, buildings that save energy beyond what is required can sell the excess efficiency to those that cannot. Not only does this help achieve the energy target of the city as a whole, it can also monetarily incentivize buildings to go the extra mile to improve their energy efficiency. To implement the carbon trading policy in New York, Urban Green Council convenes experts to develop key policy design questions and conduct feasibility studies. By the end of 2020, the roadmap of New York’s carbon trading policy will be evaluated by partner organizations in other cities, such as Hong Kong, Singapore, and London. Additionally, the majority of buildings in New York City use fossil fuel-based heating systems.

To accelerate renewable energy use, the building emission law can adopt different policy approaches. For instance, New York adopted the Renewable Energy Credit Policy for NYSERDA-funded projects, which financially incentivizes private companies to invest in clean energy to comply with environmental laws. Taking this into consideration, the building emissions law can allow buildings to use renewable energy credits to offset carbon emission requirements. Promoting building sustainability and renewable energy could present economic opportunities. Urban Green Council projects that the building retrofit market can grow up to a 20 billion dollar market that creates 141,000 new jobs.

“New York is an urban laboratory of sustainability,” Mandyck said. The building emission laws in New York are in the beginning stages. Implementation requires rigorous research, innovation, and education. However, Mandyck underscored that solutions to sustainability do not come free. This should be an investment we make for the future, because climate change is not a theory. It is real.

Photo: Roberto Vivancos

Columbia’s Undergraduate Program in Sustainable Development hosts speaker series every semester to provide opportunities for students to explore professional development related to sustainability and the environment. To learn more about the program, please visit our website or contact Program Manager Cari Shimkus at

Minji Ko is an intern for the Office of Academic and Research Programs at the Earth Institute, Columbia University. She is an MPA candidate at the School of International and Public Affairs, Columbia University.

Banner featuring a collage of extreme heat images.

Recent record-breaking heat waves have affected communities across the world. The Extreme Heat Workshop will bring together researchers and practitioners to advance the state of knowledge, identify community needs, and develop a framework for evaluating risks with a focus on climate justice. Register by June 15

Notify of

Inline Feedbacks
View all comments