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Does New York Sleep on Green Solutions?

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By Nuno M. Barracha Gaspar

· 6 min read

New York City

New York City is one of the largest cities in the world and one of the most known one as well. It concentrates around 8 million people on a considerably small piece of land. This means that the pollution here is highly concentrated and, of course, highly related to the quality of life level of its population. This density has its pros and cons but, before we submerge ourselves in detail, is New York a remarkable example of what the cities shouldn’t do for their environmentally friendly solutions? No, it isn’t, and I found out why.

The population density

In terms of population density, we can describe New York as a “full of people” city. The fact is that this overcrowded city is really well managed. The use of public transports is highest in the US and the gas consumption is equaled to 1920’s tax of gas consumption in the whole country. This giant population density and the low personal transport dependence makes the city that never sleeps one of the most efficient cities energetically in the US.

The national tax of greenhouse gases emissions is 24.5 tons per capita, while new york’s is 7.1 tons per capita (almost half of a resident in San Francisco and almost a quarter of a Dallas resident).

The problem is focused on the air pollution, since the density is huge. It leads to a enormous incidence of respiratory problems. This things consider, the New York City Hall is now obligated to acquire only the highest efficient devices and infrastructures (energetically), in order to reduce green impacts. New York has the largest hybrid buses fleet (clean air diesel and compressed natural gas) in the country. Cars are also progressively turning hybrid or even electric (most taxis).

Figure 1: New York Greenwich Lane building picture.

to reduce green impacts. New York has the largest hybrid buses fleet (clean air diesel and compressed natural gas) in the country. Cars are also progressively turning hybrid or even electric (most taxis).

The city is also leader on green buildings and bioclimatic infrastructures including the Hearst Tower, The Visionaire, 7 World Trade Center, and the Greenwich Lane (the last one is a full block made up of 204 luxury units which was built with recycled and local building materials, a storm water collection system, low emitting paints and flooring, high-efficiency LED lights and water efficient plumbing).

It's all about the details

New York introduced many policies on reducing energy consumption, including changing more than 11 thousand common traffic lights and pedestrian signs to new ones with low energy consumption (90% less than the conventional ones). The city also replaced 149 thousand light posts and more than 180 thousand refrigerators (low efficient) in public habitations (these ones were replaced with new ones that use a quarter of the energy needed to the old ones).

Also, the electricity used in the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and other 22 federal buildings around New York is provided by wind energy.

Figure 2: Offshore Wind energy infrastructure in New York State.

New York also has different clean energy projects, including the Clean Path New York, an 11 billion infrastructure that will provide 7.5 million megawatt-hours of emissions-free energy to New York City every year, 1800 megawatts of new solar power generated in Upstate and Western New York, 2000 megawatts of new on-shore wind power generated in Upstate and Western New York. Coupled with 8300 new jobs created in the state and 49 million tons of CO2 Emissions eliminated statewide. These projects comprised of over 20 wind and solar generation projects – all in New York State – and a new 175-mile underground transmission line will be extremely helpful to turn New York greener.


New York is unique in so many ways but one of those is the large use of public transports in the city. While in the US almost 90% of the Americans drive to work, in New York is the opposite. In New York City (according to a study in 2000), more than half of the families don’t have a car (In Manhattan this number increases to almost 75%, while nationally this number is at 8%). Around a third of the public transportation users in the Us are New Yorkers, considering only 6% of new yorkers’ trips are made with cars.

This outstanding use of public transports saved 1.8 billion gallons of oil in 2006 and almost 4.6 billion dollars on gas costs.

Green Developments

According to the Green Building Information Gateway, there are now more than 2 thousand green-certified spaces in NYC, with approximately another thousand registrations on file for projects in development.

New York also ranks 3rd in the nation with 2924 commercial buildings that are LEED registered and certified, totaling more than 519 million square feet of LEED registered and certified green building space (LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) is the most widely used green building rating system in the world. Available for virtually all building types, LEED provides a framework for healthy, highly efficient, and cost-saving green buildings. LEED-certified buildings are designed and constructed with a focus on energy savings, water efficiency, reduced carbon emissions and improved indoor air qualit).

The future ahead and bold new initiatives

  1. Schools are cutting out meat: School cafeterias in NYC are cutting meat from their menus one day a week from September. 1800 state schools will now have vegetarian options on Mondays, to improve health and cut meat consumption. NY schools also have recycling facilities in place to teach children how to separate food waste from other types of rubbish and have banned polystyrene plates in favor of compostable plates.
  1. It’s rebelling against fast fashion: Fashion designers in the city are teaming up to change the throwaway attitude to clothing that has developed with the rise of cheap rapid-turnaround copies of catwalk items. Make Fashion Circular, a project launched by Ellen MacArthur Foundation, is aiming to create a circular fashion economy in which clothes are made from renewable material, including textiles from old clothes. Every year, New York sends 200 million pounds of clothing to landfill (equivalent to 440 Statues of Liberty). Brands including ASOS, Gap, and H&M will work with the New York City Department of Sanitation and contribute to a network of more than 1,100 drop off points around the city where people can hand in their old clothes to be reincarnated.
  1. Focusing on renewables: To boost the city’s green energy credentials, New York Ex-Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a $1.4 billion commitment to fund renewable energy projects, powering 430,000 homes. The money - the largest single commitment to renewable energy by a state in US history - will be spent on 26 large-scale initiatives, including 22 solar farms, three wind farms and one hydroelectric project. The Ex-Governor planned to meet 50% of New York’s energy demands with renewable sources by 2030. By the end of this year, the projects should be reducing carbon emissions by 1.6 million metric tons, equivalent to taking 340 thousand cars off the road.
Figure 3: Clean Energy bus circuits in NYC.

4. Daily fees for drivers: For the first time in the country, a daily fee is charged to drivers passing by electronic checkpoints in the busiest parts of the city. As well as aiming to reduce emissions by keeping cars off the road, the initiative is expected to raise billions of dollars that will be reinvested in the public transport system.

Future Thought Leaders is a democratic space presenting the thoughts and opinions of rising Sustainability & Energy writers, their opinions do not necessarily represent those of illuminem.

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About the author

Nuno M. Barracha Gaspar is an European climate pact ambassador based in Portugal. He’s a member of two NGO’s in his country and has been participating in many projects and forums related to environmental sustainability. His objective is to become an architect focused on sustainable constructions, accessible to everyone.

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