05/31/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

NYC Can't Afford Not to "Go Green"

This week, Mayor Mike Bloomberg and Council Speaker Chris Quinn announced plans to introduce legislation that will require owners of 22,000 office and apartment buildings around the five boroughs to invest in building improvements that will reduce their energy consumption and carbon emissions. The announcement, which came on Earth Day, seems like a winning proposition in a city where 80 per cent of the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming and air pollution emanate from buildings and their tenants.

Coming on top of tax increases and a lousy economy, the threat of a new mandate has raised some concerns in the business community. Can we afford the cost of "greening" so many buildings in the current economic climate? The answer turns out to be a resounding yes! In fact, widespread compliance with green building laws will end up saving money for businesses and helping to launch New York's economic recovery.

Here is why:
• First, businesses and property owners will save more than $750 million a year by reducing what they currently spend for electricity and gas.
• Second, buildings that are energy efficient are far more attractive to commercial and residential tenants, who will enjoy the savings and the public benefits of reduced energy consumption.
• Finally, this investment will help establish a new industry in the city, providing thousands of jobs, training for skilled "green-collar" workers, and start-up business opportunities for New Yorkers who will create and install the products and carry out building improvements.

When it comes to new buildings, New York's premiere companies are already competing to have the greenest facilities in the world. They understand that this is the way to attract the best employees, reduce operating costs and to demonstrate corporate understanding of the most critical issues facing society. Time Warner, Bank of America, Hearst Corporation and Goldman Sachs are examples of leading companies that have invested in platinum standard energy efficient, iconic headquarters here.

Once adopted, the city's plan allows plenty of time for compliance, with major investments not required before 2013. There will be a pilot financing fund to get the program started. This will allow early movers to establish a track record so that, going forward, banks will make loans to finance improvements based on "pay back" from energy savings that are virtually guaranteed.

Energy costs in New York City exceed $15 billion a year, and retrofitting existing buildings is just one component of a larger program that will include more efficient gas power plants, upgraded electrical transmission facilities, and the widespread use of alternative energy sources to reduce dependence on fossil fuel.

The city has committed to upgrading its own public buildings to higher energy efficiency standards, but that will not be enough to make a difference in our environment or our energy consumption patterns. Most buildings are privately owned. Enlightened owners recognize that they can and must share in responsibility for dealing with the energy challenge facing New York. The plan announced this week will ensure that happens.