Cities have had a longstanding association with pollution and environmental degradation. Government officials recognized their shortcomings and instilled sustainability back into these regions. Many cities have taken various eco-conscious measures, like adopting electric taxis and installing cooling green roofs.

As urban areas inevitably grow, officials establish ambitious green building policies. Each U.S. city is different, generating guidelines based on geography and surrounding resources. In coming years, we can also expect to see smaller cities develop eco-conscious building regulations.

New York City

New York passed a nation-leading climate act in 2019, empowering citizens to work together and reduce carbon emissions. Fueling the city with 100% zero-emission energy by 2040 is its goal. In the next decade, the city plans on sourcing 6,000 megawatts of solar electricity.

The plan’s next phase includes storing 3,000 megawatts of renewable energy by 2030. Energy storage helps grids meet peak electricity demands even when the sun and wind are inaccessible. The city also plans to fuel 70% of its electricity from renewable sources by the same year.

The seven-stage plan calls for reaching an 85% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Just under four decades seems like a long time, and the city must act now to achieve its goals. The climate act influenced the development of stricter green building standards as well.

NYC developed its City Capital Green Building Program to ensure the energy efficiency of construction projects. The current law requires more rigorous sustainable building design standards for city-funded projects. They must utilize significantly less energy than previously built facilities.

The new law also requires the building’s major appliances and systems to reduce their water and electricity use. Construction companies can help the city meet its goals by increasing heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems’ efficiency. They are also required to install energy monitors in all commercial buildings.

One component of these green building plans, Local Law 84, helps the city collect data on building performance as new standards are rolled out to the city’s almost one million buildings. Buildings must submit information to rate their size, usage and type against EPA guidelines and score their energy efficiency in letter grades A through D. Now, city residents can see a building’s compliance posted in its window — similar to Health Department ratings for restaurants.

These regulations, in conjunction with others, can reduce the city’s environmental impact and ensure all buildings are engaged in an effort to improve energy efficiency.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles recently updated their pollution plan after meeting its first set goal. They were able to bring economy-wide emissions down to levels calculated in 1990 without altering modern lifestyles. The city’s new plan is to reduce climate pollution by 40% in the next nine years.

They plan to achieve this goal by enhancing their green building policy and other sustainability regulations. The California Green Building Code (CALGreen) provides building regulations for optimal environmental preservation. Construction companies must provide the capability for electric vehicle charging in newly built homes.

They also must create these regions in townhouses, hotels, and motels. The regulations additionally require stormwater management systems that limit runoff. All coastal cities must have adequate runoff restriction methods.

When composing a new building, construction workers must use caulks, sealants, and adhesives with limited volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and other toxic elements. When installing a stove, the appliance needs to meet a specific emission-limiting certification.

Though L.A.’s projected emission reduction plan seems ambitious, some organizations are proving its efficiency. Habitat for Humanity of Greater Los Angeles incorporated green building elements into new housing sectors. They constructed their buildings with Energy Star appliances, recycled insulation, rainwater harvesting systems, recyclable building materials, high-efficiency HVAC systems, solar panels, and more.


The Mile-High City also holds high standards for sustainability in coming years. Denver plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 90% before 2050. The city must eliminate 100 million tons of carbon emissions each year to reach its goal.

In 2017, Denver established the first phase of its climate plan. The city generated a green roof ordinance to limit atmospheric air pollution and reduce urban heat island effects. It states that all buildings over 25,000 square feet must install a cool roof.

Since then, the city took regulations up a notch. They now require buildings to source 100% of their electricity from on-site renewable energy systems. The code guides building owners to cover 70% of their roofs with solar panels.

If the placement of the building or surrounding elements limits solar panel energy generation, owners can source renewable electricity off-site. When individuals take this route, they must purchase a five-year contract with a clean energy production facility. These efforts will help reduce Denver’s greenhouse gas emissions over time.

U.S. Cities Set Ambitious Green Building Policies

As green technology advances, cities can adopt sustainable building methods with ease. Historically high emission-generating regions will soon pave the path for global environmental practices. In the past decade, we’ve made great strides by developing electric cars and efficient residential solar panels, and we can expect sustainable development to continue.