Earth Day 2017
Have you noticed the effects of climate change in NYC?
Mayor de Blasio notes, “Cities are where most of the world’s population lives, and coastal cities like ours are among those most impacted by climate change.” Indeed, downpours increased over 70% in the northeast between 1958 and 2010 and New York’s rate of sea level rise, 1.2 inches each decade, is nearly two times higher than the global rate of 0.7 inches per decade. New York’s temperature has also increased about 2.4 degrees Fahrenheit since 1970 and average temperatures are expected to increase 10 degrees by the 2080s.
The good news is that New Yorkers are conscious about sustainability. Citywide greenhouse gas emissions have decreased about 12% over the past decade despite increases in population, building area, and economic activity. City dwellers are more likely to use public transportation and less heat for smaller living spaces compared with the average American. And add to the equation the over 206,000 annual subscribers to Citi bike as of 2016. Notably, in 2014, New York City’s per capita emissions—5.8 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent—were about a third of the American average of 17 tons.
In honor of Earth Day, let’s consider how New York City is going green—from employment opportunities in sustainability to solar panel installations and recycling efforts. Green jobs are those involving ‘green skills’ such as environmental regulations, water treatment, and energy efficiency. New York consistently ranks among U.S. cities with the highest number of green job postings along with Houston and San Francisco. Houston’s postings are from the many oil, gas, and energy corporations located in Texas while Silicon Valley’s postings stem from development geared toward energy-efficient infrastructure. Meanwhile, New York City emerges as a leader in green job postings as of 2016 (Figure 1). Among New York’s green job postings last year, the top three occupations were engineering managers (256 postings), project managers (229 postings), and mechanical engineers (223 postings).
Figure 1: NYC green job postings increase to surpass Houston’s in 2016
Data source: Burning Glass Labor Insight
2016 was also a strong year for venture capital in NYC-based green/clean tech companies. Nine investment deals totaled over $252 million in 2016, the highest amount of aggregate funding in over a decade. The majority of last year’s venture capital total comes from a $200 million contribution to Brooklyn-based United Wind which offers small-scale wind turbine leases. Just as increased green job postings highlight businesses’ focus on sustainability, high levels of venture capital may indicate that more green/clean tech companies are starting up in NYC. We’ll keep an eye on this trend as it develops.
Energy conservation and renewable energy are priorities for New York City. In 2016, the City Council introduced a new energy code to prevent energy losses, ensure efficient insulation, and require that homes with potential for solar energy adopt it. Some of the most cost-effective energy conservation measures include improving burner controls for boilers, covering open freezers and refrigerators in retail stores, and upgrading exterior lighting fixtures to current Energy Code standards. Additionally, large and mid-size building owners will be required to improve heating systems. In total, energy conservation measures are expected to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 2.7 million tons, which is comparable to removing 560,000 from the road—nearly four times the number of cars in midtown on the average business day. Furthermore, improved air quality will prevent 60 hospitalizations and 20 premature deaths annually, not to mention the $900 million in energy costs that building owners will save each year, according to the City Council.
New York City is also in the midst of a solar boom (Figure 2). While solar installations used to be more evenly shared by residential and non-residential sectors, growth in residential projects has picked up recently, while non-residential projects have lagged. Home owners have more incentives to install solar panels than building owners because they directly reap the cost saving benefits. Reportedly, “homeowners say that once solar panels are up and running, monthly energy bills can fall by as much as 85 percent.” Additionally, building owners often have more reservations due to the uncertainty of future city rezoning plans; they do not always have access to the long-term pay off that residents do.
Figure 2: Completed residential solar installations have skyrocketed in NYC as the cost of solar decreases
Data source: NY Solar Map
Figure 3 breaks down residential solar installations by borough. Suburban homes of the outer boroughs have large roofs with more space for solar panels. The New York Times notes that installations took off in Staten Island because residents own homes “with large pitched roofs that face south, optimal conditions for generating the most kilowatts.” On the other hand, shade limits solar opportunities in more built-up areas. NYC’s solar grid is only expected to expand: last year, Mayor de Blasio launched Solarize NYC, a citywide program aimed at increasing solar capacity in communities which have had limited access to solar power. Currently, 3,215 residential and non-residential solar installation projects are in the works.
Figure 3: Residential solar installations have increased exponentially in all boroughs, with the largest share in Queens and Staten Island
Data source: NY Solar Map
On the recycling front, New York City had 186 (2%) of the country’s 8,943 firms in recyclable material merchant wholesale in the country in 2014, up from 156 firms the previous decade, in 2005. Of the 113,090 employees who worked in recyclable material merchant wholesale in the U.S. in 2014, 1,486 of them worked in NYC.
Furthermore, in 2016, NYC recycled 72.5 tons of paper and cardboard per day as well as 10.9 tons of metal, glass, and plastic. Recycling efforts have been even stronger this year, with 75 tons of paper and cardboard and 12 tons of metal, glass, and plastic collected each day in 2017. With the highest number of residents compared to the other boroughs, Manhattan recycles the most in total: 30.6 tons of paper products and 4.2 tons of other recyclables are collected each day. On the other hand, Queens and Staten Island recycle the most organics: 12.6 tons of Christmas trees, leaves and yard waste, and food waste are collected each day in Queens and 3.6 tons are collected in Staten Island.
Has Earth Day inspired you to make your community greener? Explore Sustainable CUNY’s NY Solar Map to see how much your building could save annually when solar powered, read more about Solarize NYC, and submit a community application. Or take your community’s recycling efforts to the next level with resources from the Department of Environmental Conservation. And don’t miss events going on in the City during the week of Earth Day (April 22, 2017), including opportunities to cleanup and plant in local parks.
 American Community Survey, 2014 and 2005 Geography Area Series: County Business Patterns: https://factfinder.census.gov/faces/nav/jsf/pages/searchresults.xhtml?refresh=t