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 and 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.

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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. 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 has reduced building related emissions 24% and energy 25% across the municipal portfolio from 2008 through 2021, and is developing a plan to transition all City-owned buildings to net-zero emissions.  

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 08/28/23) 

Note: upcoming timeframes are estimated, with final timing TBD

  • 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 
  • June 16, 2022 - 2nd Online Open House: Draft Seattle BPS framework presented 
  • October 25, 2022 – Webinar: Draft emissions targets and analysis
  • June 2022 - May 2023 - Continued stakeholder engagement and policy updates
  • May 2023 - Proposed legislation delivered to Mayor's Office
  • June 8 - 29, 2023 - State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) public comment period 
  • November 15 - December 2023 - Legislative process
  • 2024 to 2025 - TBD - Rulemaking, including public engagement, and program development
  • 2027 to 2050 - Initial proposed benchmarking verification requirements start in 2027. GHGI target requirements start in 2031, with performance targets becoming gradually stronger over time through 2050. See latest proposed policy guides in sidebar for details.

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. This has included more than 125 stakeholder meetings, advisory group meetings, and webinars between late 2021 to May 2023. In addition, OSE has received both comment and support letters, and more than 100 comments or questions were emailed to OSE or conveyed by phone during this timeframe. The BPS stakeholder engagement has been conducted in two broad phases:

  • Phase 1 – Stakeholder Engagement Prior to Policy Proposal: This phase, through June 2022, included OSE’s two online open houses attended by about 550 people in total, six technical advisory group meetings, and six meetings of the Housing Development Consortium’s affordable housing task force. OSE also met with climate advocates, labor organizations, building owners, building professionals, government partners, and utilities. This included equity focused engagement with non-profit owners, community-based organizations, and engaging residential tenants.
  • Phase 2 – Focused Stakeholder Engagement to Refine Draft Policy: This phase, from July through Mid-May 2023, included two online webinars, attended by about 330 people in total that shared details about draft greenhouse gas intensity targets and an overview of the proposed policy. OSE also reached out to stakeholders on specific aspects of the draft policy for feedback. This feedback has led to updates that will be incorporated into the final policy draft.

For more details, review the BEPS Stakeholder Engagement Summary (May 30, 2023 Update)

Advisory Group Summaries 

Online Open Houses & Webinars

Webinar: Estimating Your Building’s Emissions and Draft Targets for the Proposed Seattle Building Emissions Performance Standards (BEPS) - March 23, 2023

This webinar provided a brief overview of the proposed policy. It then provided basic instructions, suitable for beginners, to learn how to quickly estimate and track a building’s current greenhouse gas emissions and estimate BEPS proposed targets. It also showed how to retrieve energy data from Portfolio Manager. *See policy guides on sidebar for current proposed targets & timeline.

Webinar: Draft Emissions Targets for Seattle Building Performance Standards - October 25, 2022

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. *See policy guides on sidebar for current proposed targets & timeline.

  • 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. *See policy guides on sidebar for current proposed targets & timeline.

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. *See policy guides on sidebar for current proposed targets & timeline.

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

Archive (SEPA)

This section archives the State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) process documentation, which took place in June 2023.

June 8, 2023 – State Environmental Policy Act (SEPA) Determination Issued - The Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections (SDCI) has issued a Determination of Non-Significance under SEPA (no Environmental Impact Statement required) for the proposed Building Emissions Performance Standard. More information:

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

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