NYC is rapidly becoming one of the most sustainable cities in the United States. Multiple plans for tackling climate change are in the works as New Yorkers are realizing that environmental issues are on the rise worldwide – and in our own backyards, too. We all can create a positive impact on our environment, making NYC sustainability a reality for our neighborhoods.

Is New York City a sustainable city?

Carbon emissions, landfill waste, air and water pollution and the use of fossil fuels has always been an issue for the concrete jungle known as the Big Apple. With its ambitious sustainable development goals, New York City is making major strides towards becoming a sustainable city through initiatives in transportation, waste management, retail, and energy.

The City has shown great progress by implementing legislation that’s facilitating a sustainable future. For example, the Climate Mobilization Act, enacted in 2019, set the city on a path towards carbon neutrality. The Zero Waste Act has also started taking action by making composting accessible to ALL New York residents and will put the city on track to mandatory composting by Spring of 2025. 

Bike sharing programs such as Citi Bike and Revel have been developed and expanded upon to encourage the use of alternative forms of transportation and reduce gasoline-powered vehicle use. Citi Bike has around 40,000 bicycles in NY, granting New Yorkers greater accessibility to bike riding. Plus, the Department of Transportation is on track to install a record number of protected bike lanes, harden more than 10 miles of existing bike lanes, and to use sturdier materials in new bike lanes. With safer bike lanes being created, the DOT is seeing an all time high of bike ridership!

bikers in bike lane on prospect park west in brooklyn
Prospect Park West has a dedicated bike lane with multiple Citi Bike stops.

Unlike conventional bus transportation, hybrid MTA buses use a diesel hybrid electric propulsion system which relies on both fuel and electricity, resulting in a reduction of gas emissions in public transportation. The MTA revealed it has over 1,300 low-emissions hybrid buses and 399 2nd generation hybrid buses up and ready to transport New Yorkers to their destinations.

Lastly, with NYC incentivizing residential solar installations, the solar movement is alive and well. Because of the tax incentives and electricity bill savings it provides, solar has become a great option for homeowners. As a local solar installer, we’ve completed nearly 2,000 installations in NYC and continue to see growth in interest from New Yorkers of all boroughs!  

Interested in solar for your NYC home? Get in touch with us.

Environmental Sustainability Issues in NYC

Although it’s fair to say that NYC is making much-needed strides to become a more environmentally-friendly city, we still have a long way to go to protect our future as the climate crisis looms. 

Air Pollution and Quality

In general, due to the City’s hard work towards lowering local emissions, NYC has been seeing consecutive decent air quality since 2017 with an average AQI of below 50! Even though air quality in NYC is progressing, it still remains a leading environmental health threat to all New Yorkers. Emissions from transportation, commercial and residential heating, industrial activities, and more contribute to the city’s air pollution challenges. On June 7, 2023, New York City had the worst air quality in the world reaching an AQI of 405 out of 500 due to wildfires in Canada. This year’s wildfire season in Canada is on track to be the most destructive in history, made more severe by climate change-induced droughts and extreme temperatures. For us New Yorkers, it’s safe to say it could become a recurring issue.

Greenhouse Gas Emissions

New York City emits a substantial amount of greenhouse gases. NYC buildings make up a majority of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions, accounting for over 70% of total emissions. These emissions contribute to global climate change, prompting the city to take proactive steps to reduce its carbon footprint.

Waste Management

NYC is a city full of waste – simply taking a walk around your neighborhood on garbage day is proof of that! Our city sends millions of tons of waste to landfills and incinerators every year, which in turn releases tons of emissions. In 2015, Former Mayor De Blasio set a goal of sending zero waste to landfills by 2030, a goal which necessitates the development of stronger recycling and composting programs in order to divert waste. In 2024, curbside composting will be expanding to ALL NYC residents!

Water Management

As a coastal city, NYC must protect its water resources from pollution, aging infrastructure, and rising sea levels. Sustainable water management practices are essential for safeguarding the city’s future.

Urban Heat Island Effect

The concrete and asphalt of NYC can create an urban heat island effect, leading to higher temperatures in the city compared to surrounding areas. This effect can have adverse consequences on public health and air pollution levels as well as increased energy costs (higher AC usage).

Biodiversity Conservation

Preserving biodiversity is crucial for a healthy environment. NYC strives to protect its natural areas and diverse ecosystems. The NYS Pollinator Protection Plan is one effort the NYS Dept. of Environmental Conservation takes to conserve biodiversity in the area.

Coastal Resilience

With its vulnerability to sea-level rise and extreme weather events, NYC is investing in coastal resilience efforts to protect its communities and infrastructure. The Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency (LMCR) is the City’s plan to adapt Lower Manhattan to climate impacts, for this generation and the next. This plan will protect Manhattan from flooding via sea level rise and coastal storms. The plan will ensure the area’s continuity in serving the many businesses, residents, workers, visitors, and commuters in the area who rely heavily on its transit network and want to remain in their dynamic neighborhoods.

Lower Manhattan Coastal Resiliency Project: Credit

Transportation

Even with NYC’s extensive public transit system, there’s still a great reliance on cars. In New York City, transportation accounts for 30% of its greenhouse gas emissions. Looking to transition to an electric vehicle? In 2022’s federal climate bill, all Americans are now eligible for a $7,500 tax credit for purchasing a new EV and $4,000 for a used vehicle. To go even greener, you can pair your EV with rooftop solar for maximum environmental impact!

Energy

NYC’s energy consumption is enormous and Con Edison’s recent price hikes for electricity is a bit alarming. Transitioning to cleaner energy sources, like solar, is essential for reducing the city’s carbon footprint and saving you some cash. See if your home qualifies for solar today!

What is NYC doing about Climate Change?

Former Mayor Bloomberg kicked off his initiative for a greener city by implementing the PlaNYC in 2007. PlaNYC was implemented to support efforts to reduce waste with recycling, to create parks within every neighborhood, to adopt renewable energy sources, and to improve air quality. 

This plan was absorbed into OneNYC in 2015. OneNYC takes PlaNYC’s goals further by promising to cut greenhouse gas emissions by 80% by 2050. With the former Mayor De Blasio issuing an executive order to adopt the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2017, New York City established itself as a city that takes climate action.

Another plan in action is the NYC Climate Mobilization Act (CMA), passed by the City Council in 2019. This legislative package is a set of sustainability laws that put NYC’s buildings on a path toward lower greenhouse gas emissions. Local Law 92 and 94 are a pair of laws mandating the installation of “sustainable roofing zones” – a green roof, solar panels, or a combination of the two – on all rooftops undergoing major construction. Local Law 95 requires buildings to display their energy efficiency grades on for the public to see. Local Law 96 established Property-Assessed Clean Energy (PACE) financing to help building owners fund energy efficiency upgrades. 

Considered the cornerstone of the CMA, NYC Local Law 97 set emissions limits for buildings greater than 25,000 square feet. These buildings are required to reduce their emissions by 40% by 2024 and then by 80% by 2050. Owners of these buildings must submit their yearly emissions reports starting in May 2025 or they will face heavy penalties.

How New Yorkers Can Positively Impact NYC’s Environment

Although our city officials are implementing plans to help the environment, there’s ways New Yorkers can positively contribute to the fight against climate change and reduce their carbon footprints too.

1. Invest in Solar Energy & Switch to Electric Appliances  

If you’re a homeowner in NYC, one of the best ways to make an impact is by investing in a rooftop solar system. Solar panels allow you to harness the sun’s energy to power your home, reducing, or eliminating, your reliance on fossil fuels coming from the grid. Once you install solar, you have access to clean, reliable, and free energy for decades. 

Many of our customers choose to take their impact even further by electrifying their homes. Making all-electric upgrades to your home, such as air source heating and electric water heating, after going solar allows you to run your home completely clean. Upgrading to electric appliances not only helps you save on energy costs, but it also supports a cleaner and healthier environment for you and your loved ones. 

Want to learn more about installing solar on your NYC home? Get in touch with us.

2. Support Local Agriculture

Urban farming is crucial to NYC’s sustainability efforts. Buying produce locally helps to cut down on waste and on emissions from transportation, and supports local biodiversity. Local farming also improves air quality and gives communities access to affordable, fresh food. 

Farmer’s markets are an excellent way to support local agriculture – GrowNYC hosts Greenmarkets every week at locations throughout the five boroughs, including Union Square in Manhattan and Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn. Some Greenmarket events also offer textile recycling and composting opportunities.

Depending on where you live or work, rooftop gardening is something you can take up on your own. In fact, Brooklyn SolarWorks’s HQ now has its very own rooftop garden! Our garden has a variety of fruits and vegetables, like strawberries, peppers, eggplants, edamame, carrots, watermelons, bok choy, and more.

3. Shop Local & Second Hand Products

Shopping locally benefits the local economy and the environment. It reduces waste and cuts down on transportation emissions. Purchasing clothing or home goods second hand from thrift stores, consignment shops, or stoop sales can help to reduce waste (and help you find something unique!).

Check out Big Reuse or Beacon’s Closet for local second hand clothing, furniture, and other home goods.

4. Compost and Reduce Plastic Use

Composting is the practice of recycling organic waste, like leftover food, into fertilizer for soil or energy. Composting does wonders for the environment – it cuts down on methane emissions from food waste, reduces the need for chemical fertilizer, and aids in water retention in soil.

The Zero Waste Act passed in New York City, making composting mandatory for all NYC residents by April of 2025. As of now,  Curbside Composting is available for all Queens residents and will roll out for Brooklynites October 2, 2023. To continue making composting accessible for New Yorkers, there are also a number of food scrap drop-off sites throughout the city.

NYC Smart Compost Bins Credit

5. Use Alternative and Sustainable Forms of Transportation

Fortunately, we live in a city that provides plenty of transportation alternatives. With the subways, buses, and bike shares available, there are now many ways to get around without using a car. When you choose to utilize these means of transportation as opposed to cars, you can significantly reduce your personal carbon footprint. 

6. Educate Others on Sustainability and Get Involved

Sustainability efforts spread by word of mouth. Choosing to make sustainable lifestyle changes can have a ripple effect. By encouraging your friends, family, and neighbors to take public transportation, recycle more often, or install solar on their homes, you can make an impact within your very own community. 

7. Conserve Energy and Water

Conserving energy and water is more than turning off the lights when not in use and fixing leaks. Many New Yorkers are making energy efficient home improvements to save money on their bills, add value to their homes, and reduce their personal carbon footprint! Some of these home improvements include: additional home insulation, switching to an electric heat pump water heater, and professionally sealing their homes.

8. Support Green Spaces and Biodiversity

Participate in community gardens, tree planting, and wildlife conservation programs to enhance urban biodiversity! A few of our favorite green spaces throughout the city is the Brooklyn Grange Farm, Brooklyn Botanic Garden, and Brooklyn Bridge Park! There’s a lot of sustainable areas and activities in NYC, if you know where to look.

Reducing Your Carbon Footprint One Day at a Time

NYC sustainability efforts are moving a positive direction, with New Yorkers pitching in on both legislative and individual levels. New York City deserves to become a city that is cleaner, safer and more sustainable for you, your loved ones and the next generation thereafter.

If you’re a homeowner in NYC, switching to clean energy is one of the best ways to make a difference. After installing solar, you’ll be able to say that you are making a difference on our planet and our city.

Ready to make the switch? Contact us to get started.

Recent Posts

Does Solar Increase My Home’s Value in NYC?

Feb 22, 2024

In New York City, where real estate values soar and sustainability is becoming increasingly important, the question of whether solar panels can boost your home’s value is a pertinent one….

Solar Power Benefits for NYC Businesses

Jan 26, 2024

In the ever-evolving landscape of New York City, businesses are facing a unique set of challenges, and one prominent concern is the increasing energy costs. As the city strives for sustainability, complying…