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Seattle Building Emissions Performance Standards Policy Development

Climate change is impacting Seattle residents, disproportionately harming people of color and people with lower incomes. Buildings are responsible for more than one-third of Seattle's carbon emissions and must be part of the solution. The City of Seattle developed the proposed Building Emissions Performance Standard (BEPS) policy with input from hundreds of building owners, managers, tenants, labor representatives, affordable housing proponents, environmental justice groups, and others in 2022. OSE is continuing this collaborative effort in 2023 to maximize benefits to building owners and tenants and to ensure equitable pathways to high quality green jobs, especially for people of color and women.

A Building Emissions Performance Standard or "BEPS" is high impact solution to the climate crisis to create healthy and efficient buildings where we work and live. Learn more about Seattle's proposed policy:

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    Why Reduce Building Emissions

    In Seattle, buildings are one of the largest sources of climate pollution, responsible for more than a third of our City's greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions pollute our air, accelerate climate change, and harm people's health and the environment, disproportionately impacting communities of color and people with lower incomes.

    Burning fossil fuels like gas and oil for heating, hot water, appliances, and cooking in Seattle's existing commercial and multifamily buildings accounts for over 90 percent of all building related greenhouse gas emissions (see dashboard). According to a recent study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, fossil fuel use in buildings is responsible for thousands of early deaths and hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of annual health impacts. Continuing to power our buildings with gas and other fossil fuels is an issue of climate justice as explained in this OSE infographic. 

    Policy Background

    Mayor Harrell directed the Office of Sustainability & Environment (OSE) to develop legislation for carbon-based performance standards for existing commercial and multifamily buildings 20,000 sq. ft. or larger in 2022 and OSE is continuing this work in 2023. The Building Emissions Performance Standard or "BEPS" Seattle is considering would phase-in and get more stringent overtime to net-zero by 2050. To lead by example, Seattle is transitioning its City-owned buildings off fossil fuels by 2035.

    The 2018 Climate Action Strategy calls for Seattle-specific building performance policy to reduce emissions by gradually transitioning nonresidential and multifamily buildings to use cleaner energy instead of more polluting fossil fuels like gas and oil. It calls for Seattle to reach an almost 40% emissions reduction in the buildings sector by 2030 and to be net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The City Council Green New Deal Resolution (Res 31895) calls for a Seattle free of climate pollutants sooner by 2030. And the October 2021 Executive Order: Driving Accelerated Climate Action directed OSE to accelerate action toward net zero emission buildings, healthy and equitable transportation, and clean energy workforce development to advance climate justice.The order also established a city workgroup to report on potential options to lower upfront and operating costs to build, operate and maintain affordable housing to address the climate crisis and improve resilience.

    Seattle BEPS approach will complement the Washington State energy performance standards and build on the City's existing Energy Benchmarking and Building Tune-Up programs. Although the State energy performance standards are an important start, OSE projects they will only result in about a 4% reduction by 2030 in meeting the City's 2050 carbon-neutral goal, whereas Seattle-specific GHG emissions standards for larger buildings could result in up to a 27% decrease (see image below).

    Wedge diagram that shows the projected impact of various building energy policies on GHG emissions.

    In creating building emissions performance standards that phase-in over many years, Seattle joins a growing cohort of other leading cities, including Boston, St. Louis, Washington DC, and New York City that have worked with local buildings stakeholders and community members to establish energy and/or carbon emissions performance standards. Seattle has also joined the White House-led Building Performance Standards Coalition. The coalition is comprised of dozens of state and local governments that have committed to inclusively design and implement building performance policies and programs. It is a first-of-its-kind partnership designed to unlock energy efficiency and electrification across the buildings sector as an engine for job creation all while lowering energy bills.

    Anticipated Policy Timeline (updated 01/19/23)

    • January - June 2022 - Focused stakeholder engagement, open houses, and affordable housing and technical advisory groups
    • April 5, 2022 - 1st Online Open House: Seattle BPS concept and background presented. (slidedeck and recording links below)
    • June 16, 2022 - 2nd Online Open House: Draft Seattle BPS framework presented. (slidedeck and recording links below)
    • June 2022 - January 2023 - Continued stakeholder meetings to refine draft policy
    • October 25, 2022 – Webinar: Draft emissions targets and analysis (slidedeck and recording links below)
    • January/February, 2023 - State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Process (specific dates TBA)
    • February 2023 - Policy recommendations and proposed legislation delivered to Mayor's Office
    • March - April 2023 (Timing TBD) - City Council review and legislative process
    • April - December 2023 - Rulemaking, including public engagement, and program development*
    • 2024 to 2026 - Program development*
    • 2027 to 2050* - Initial proposed requirements start for the largest nonresidential buildings in 2027 (220,001 SF and greater). Requirements the phase-in by building size and type, with performance targets becoming gradually stronger over time through 2050*

    * Pending legislative requirements

    Stakeholder Engagement Process Overview

    OSE is responsible for developing a building emissions performance standard policy with community input for the Mayor's and City Council's consideration. Our engagement efforts to date have included:

    • Two online open houses in April and June 2022 attended by more than 500 people in total. 
    • A webinar attended by nearly 200 people that shared the draft greenhouse gas intensity targets and overview of the proposed policy in October 2022.
    • OSE also convened a technical advisory group, and participated in an affordable housing advisory group (led by the Housing Development Consortium) and workforce strategy development (led by Emerald Cities).
    • From November 2021 through December 2022, OSE staff engaged in more than 100 meetings with stakeholders to discuss the Building Emissions Performance Standard policy as well as refine initial proposals. This included equity focused engagement with non-profit owners and community-based organizations, tenants, and small businesses, and dozens of meetings with professional and building ownership organizations, labor organizations, colleges and universities, hospitals, utilities, and government partners.

    The following broad themes emerged from the stakeholder process:

    • Timing – communicate targets now to provide long lead time for owners to plan and the labor workforce to grow and transition. 
    • Flexibility – create a streamlined but flexible policy to allow for diversity of compliance needs by ownership and building types.
    • Support – increased financial incentives, lower interest financing and robust technical help are critical for all types of owners and buildings – and to successful BEPS policy implementation.

    Advisory Group Updates

    Online Open Houses & Webinars

    Webinar: Draft Emissions Targets for Seattle Building Performance Standards - October 25, 2002

    At this technical webinar, OSE and SBW Consulting shared the draft greenhouse gas intensity targets and the analysis conducted to inform the targets. A brief overview of the proposed policy and the updated policy timeline was also shared.

    • View the slide deck (Includes an appendix that outlines the proposed individual targets pathway and other alternative compliance and exemptions that were briefly covered during the webinar.)
    • View the recording (PDF)

    2nd Online Open House - June 16, 2022

    This 2nd open house, attended by 200 people, provided a brief policy background and update on work to date and shared highlights of stakeholder feedback received on developing a BPS policy. OSE also shared the Draft Seattle BPS policy framework for the regulations, the updated policy timeline, and took comments and questions on the draft policy framework. 

    1st Online Open House - April 5, 2022 

    This open house, attended by 350 people, gave an overview of how buildings contribute to climate pollution and the ways this pollution affects people’s health and our community, especially impacting communities of color. Staff presented on existing City policies to reduce climate pollution and discussed building performance standards (BPS) — what they are, how they work, how they might complement current state and city policies, and their benefits. Following the presentation, staff responded to audience questions and comments, which are summarized in the Q & A below. 

    How to Share Your Feedback

    OSE's welcomes your thoughts about these potential regulations and what types of support your organization might need to meet them.

      Links for More Information

      Case Studies & Fact Sheets

      Sustainability and Environment

      Jessyn Farrell, Director
      Address: 700 5th Avenue, #1868, Seattle, WA, 98104
      Mailing Address: PO Box 94729, Seattle, WA, 98124-4729
      Phone: (206) 256-5158
      maketa.brazier@seattle.gov

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