Climate change, accelerated by global warming, is one of the most pressing problems facing the world today. Buildings are the largest contributor to carbon emissions around the world. 39% of the annual global greenhouse gas emissions are attributed to the buildings, of which 28% originate from the operation and maintenance of existing buildings, and 11% result from building construction.
Additionally, buildings add pollutants to the environment in different forms. On top of the 1500 billion bricks produced each year as construction materials, buildings combust fuels to meet power requirements during operations. Furthermore, hydrofluorocarbons (HFCs), the cooling agents found in air conditioning and refrigeration systems, are powerful contributors to global warming.
As the world population continues to increase, urbanization has become a greater trend resulting in more buildings for construction and maintenance. New York City (NYC) alone has over one million buildings that cover a total of 5.75 billion square feet of built area. This has led to 70% of NYC’s greenhouse gas emissions originating from buildings.
So NYC decided to do something about it - their answer to the building pollution problem was the Climate Mobilization Act.
This groundbreaking law - also known as Local Law 97 -- impacts 60% of New York’s buildings (about 50,000), spanning both residential and commercial properties.
But what exactly is the Climate Mobilization Act, and what does it mean for NYC’s building emissions?
The Local Law 97 (Climate Mobilization Act) states that buildings larger than 25,000 square feet will have carbon caps placed on them. The carbon caps start in 2024, with a goal to reduce 40% carbon emissions by 2030 (from a 2005 baseline) and continue to become more stringent with time. The ultimate goal is an 80% reduction of carbon emissions by 2050, commonly known as 80 x 50.
The law is designed to have a real and measurable impact on climate change because it ensures strict retrofits on existing buildings. Until the introduction of this law, similar carbon caps had only been enforced for new constructions.
Lawmakers and policy supporters consider this a historic move, a successful implementation of which could serve to inspire cities and their governing bodies around the world.
And they weren’t wrong.
Similar targets are now also being adopted in other United States cities such as Denver, Philadelphia, Dallas, Seattle, and San Francisco, to name a few.
Energy efficiency targets are now being adopted in other major U.S. cities
Under Local Law 97, building owners have to file annual Greenhouse Gas Emission reports, starting from May 2025 (reporting for 2024). The report requires buildings to record and provide their data on annual energy and water consumption through benchmarking.
Building owners could potentially face fines of $268 per ton of emissions above their designated cap. In some cases, the total fine can cost up to thousands of dollars.
This poses an important question:
How do building owners and managers find practical ways that drive this behavior change?
Failure to comply not only results in huge financial penalties but also adds to the longer-term consequences of increasing carbon emissions.
Space cooling, appliances, and other plug tools are the fastest-growing end-uses of energy demands in the building industry globally. Better energy management tools can reduce the amount of energy needed and therefore help with building emissions.
But how can building managers reduce energy consumption if they have no insight into what’s causing the electricity bill and related emissions to run high?
That’s where sensor technology comes in.
One of the key actions to improve the energy efficiency of buildings includes retrofitting buildings with sensors that collect data about how building spaces and equipment are being used. Sensor technology can thus provide a full overview of building operations by collecting data on assets that impact energy and resource use. This includes asset temperature & humidity, space occupancy, the opening of doors and windows, water use, etc.
For example, sensors could reveal that lights are on in Conference Room 3 after everyone has left the building, or that energy use reaches its peak at 3 PM on a Wednesday.
Once building managers have insight into what is driving unnecessary energy use, they can make actionable, data-driven decisions to reduce it.
Building managers around the world have started piloting and deploying sensor solutions in an effort to improve their triple bottom line. These deployments are usually a joint effort between pioneering technology companies and innovative facilities management teams.
Here are six case studies that showcase the true value of sensor technology towards energy efficiency and sustainability goals.
Image: Mesa by Sidewalk Labs
Building managers often don’t have access to monitoring systems, which makes dealing with building emissions difficult.
However, new sensor-based kits, such as Mesa by urban innovation company Sidewalk Labs, provide real-time access to information about the status of office spaces and building assets.
By providing a full overview of buildings through remote monitoring and tracking external factors such as temperature and humidity, Mesa helps commercial building owners, tenants, and managers save up to 20% on energy bills. This is achieved by optimizing energy usage based on occupancy, tenant preferences, and external factors such as temperature and humidity.
The best thing about Mesa is that it’s affordable, and designed for commercial B/C class buildings, making access to more efficient operations widely accessible for smaller buildings.
How to prepare your building for Local Law 97
Hotels and conference venues run around the clock without supervision and therefore are often unaligned in energy use with occupancy timings. This leads to intense overload on equipment and heating/cooling inefficiencies.
With real-time temperature monitoring thanks to sensor data, hotel managers can get information on when rooms are too hot or too cold and adjust ambient temperatures accordingly. With the sensor solution by 4D Monitoring, managers get alerts when tenants are out of the office, which has led to the Lambert Smith Hampton saving 36% on air conditioning energy.
Equipped with similar insights, site management teams can shut down the air conditioning in case of non-occupancy, and vice versa. Optimizing room temperature according to occupancy times can also save thousands of dollars in the process.
Sometimes, server rooms are overheated, which causes outages and temporary power breakdown, resulting from operational inefficiencies. Therefore, the server room needs constant temperature monitoring. Conrad Connect's sensor solution automatically adjusts the A/C run-time to ensure temperature optimization in servers, preventing server outages.
By installing temperature sensors in the server room, the A/C run time was lowered by 20%, saving up to 8700 KWh per year. That's comparable to the energy costs of two 4-person households.
A workspace in London wanted to focus on the health, wellbeing, and safety of users due to COVID-19 while making the space sustainable.
Envio Systems used temperature sensors to monitor water pipes and ambient & asset temperature. Monitoring how energy was being led to the workspace getting to the bottom of which activities were behind the excessive energy spend.
Within five months of installing sensors, the workspace reduced their monthly electricity consumption by 31%. This resulted in a 30% lowering of CO2 emissions. Additionally, the cost and hours of manual labor were cut by 48%.
A property in Rogaland, Norway was using excess energy to run its operations. The payment structure for energy use in Rogaland requires building owners to pay an extra fee when electricity consumption peaks. During the winter months, the power consumption increased by 34%.
The building managers placed temperature sensors on the HVAC systems, data from which was then used to optimize the building’s energy use, leading to cost savings and more sustainable operations.
The iconic Empire State Building in New York City relied on tedious retrofits for addressing environmental issues. Renovations in the building became a never-ending process. Tired of the situation, the building managers adopted smart sensor technology.
Implementing wireless sensor technology enabled automated control over the building’s cooling, electricity use, room temperature, indoor air quality, etc. Along with CO2, motion, load occupancy, and room temperature tracking with sensors, the building collects data, self-monitors conditions, and provides efficient coordination to minimize energy waste.
Moreover, the technology provides tenants with real-time data to monitor power consumption, compare performance, and make insight-driven decisions for optimization.
New York, among many other cities, is a member of the Carbon Neutral City Alliance. Regulations such as Local Law 97 will become increasingly prevalent as local and federal governments look towards achieving carbon-neutral cities.
Fortunately, sensor technology is changing the way buildings operate, making them smarter and more energy-efficient. Sensors enable real-time visibility of energy consumption and help take proactive decisions to save energy, ensure safe water, and reduce waste.
At the same time, thanks to companies like Sidewalk Labs, sensor technology is becoming more affordable and accessible than ever. If all buildings in New York started having insight into what is driving their energy use, they could take actionable steps towards reducing it, leading to a healthier city and a more sustainable planet.
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