Michael Bloomberg’s vision for carbon neutral buildings

By Adam Freed and Panama Bartholomy, Special to CalMatters

Climate action starts at home. It’s where we cook our meals, plug in our appliances, heat our water, and as a result, homes are a large source of our carbon pollution.

Approximately 20% of the U.S. greenhouse gas emissions are associated with the electricity and fuels used in our commercial and residential buildings. 

Add on top of that the energy needed to create the materials our buildings are made of, such as concrete and steel, whose production are responsible for more than 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions. It all means our buildings have a huge amount of embedded carbon before we even turn on the lights.

Even as our electricity supply becomes cleaner, buildings will continue to be a source of carbon. About half of the homes in the U.S. use natural gas for heating, cooking, and hot water. 

In 2018, the residential sector alone accounted for almost 17% of U.S. natural gas consumption. We will not solve our climate crisis without addressing fossil fuel use in buildings and the making of building materials. 

We need the political leadership and policy innovation to make this happen. 

The federal government and states need to give market certainty for designers, manufacturers, building owners, occupants, utilities and workers by setting strong and achievable targets to transition our building stock off of gas. We all need to see a vision and the leadership to get there.

Democratic presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg released a comprehensive clean buildings plan that lays out the concrete actions to transform our nation’s buildings that recognizes the need to get fossil fuels out of our homes and businesses. 

Electrifying buildings makes sense. It will save building owners and occupants money through lower energy bills, lower construction costs, create hundreds of thousands of jobs, and reduce indoor and outdoor air pollution.

First, former New York Mayor Bloomberg’s plan will shift new construction to all electric appliances and equipment, which is central to getting fossil fuels out of buildings.

Summit co-host Michael Bloomberg. Photo by World Bank via Flickr
Michael Bloomberg, Democratic presidential candidate

Next, because 85% of existing buildings will remain in use through mid-century, it’s critical that we make them more efficient and fossil-fuel free. 

Critical in doing this is ensuring low- and moderate-income residents can afford these investments so our transition to a clean economy will benefit everyone.  

In addition to reviving the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program and increasing funding for energy retrofits through the Weatherization Assistance Program and Low-Income Home Energy Assistance program, Bloomberg’s plan will create financial incentives, such as point-of-sale rebates, low-cost financing, and trade-in programs to accelerate the replacement of oil-burning and natural gas equipment. This will help overcome the upfront costs that are often a barrier for households.

Former Mayor Bloomberg has shown he knows how to get this done. As mayor of New York, he enacted building codes to improve energy efficiency in the city’s largest buildings, which were projected to reduce citywide greenhouse gas missions by 5% and save customers $700 million in annual energy bills. 

He banned the use of heavy heating oil in buildings, which improved air quality. He instituted nationally-recognized green building standards for affordable housing to ensure housing was efficient and healthy for residents. And he led by example, completing more than 174 energy-efficiency retrofits in city-owned buildings.

Modernizing our building stock will be one of the biggest reconstruction efforts our country has ever taken. But by reinvesting in our homes, we can prove that climate action is not just about taking carbon out of buildings, but keeping cash in people’s wallets, and creating healthier places to live and work.


Adam Freed is a principal at Bloomberg Associates and was acting director of New York City’s Office of Long-Term Planning and Sustainability under Mayor Bloomberg, [email protected] Panama Bartholomy is a clean energy advocate who has worked in the California Legislature and California Energy Commission, [email protected] They wrote this commentary for CalMatters.

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