Mayor Sylvester Turner recently signed a sweeping decarbonization policy for City-owned and operated buildings, following the recent release of the two-year update on Resilient Houston and the Climate Action Plan (CAP). As the CAP outlines, buildings represent over 40% of both municipal and city-wide emissions, making them a key lever for achieving the CAP’s emission reduction targets (40% from 2014 levels by 2030, 75% by 2040, and 100% by 2050). This policy addresses the emissions associated with the City’s 550+ buildings, by:
Promoting a shift away from onsite combustion of fossil fuels and their associated health impacts
Targeting a five percent annual reduction in consumption of energy and water across most of the City’s building portfolio, and decreasing and diverting building waste
- Promoting readiness for onsite renewable power generation and electric vehicle charging
- Shifting procurement to lower-impact building equipment and building materials
- Investing in the City’s workforce and its capacity to manage high-performing buildings, including designating new building decarbonization staff across five City departments
“This Earth Day, we are doubling down on our efforts to reduce the City’s emissions and make City buildings more sustainable and resilient,” stated Mayor Turner. “The benefits of this policy change will extend far beyond my term as mayor. This is the first step, and I am confident that we are setting up the City to be both an example for the wider Houston community and a leader in Texas in designing, constructing, and maintaining buildings that are more resilient, consume less energy, and produce fewer greenhouse gas emissions.”
The Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Sustainability, with the support of climate action nonprofit RMI, shepherded the development of this policy, in concert with various City departments that manage City buildings, including General Services, Houston Public Works, Parks and Recreation, and the Houston Airport System.
The City estimates that implementing this policy will avoid over 250,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions (over 40% of the City’s direct, or Scope 1 and 2, emissions in 2019) by 2030. It will also pay for itself in as little as six to seven years, primarily through energy savings. Achieving the aims of the policy could save the City $20 million in energy costs in 2030 alone, compared to business as usual. At the same time, the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act adds to available funding and financing to support these efforts, making the economics even better for Houston. In January of this year, the White House announced $1.8 billion from the IIJA for state and local governments to expand building retrofits and policies, on top of other existing programs.
“By signing this policy to decarbonize municipal buildings, Mayor Turner continues to lead by example, demonstrating how ambitious action by local government can result in broader community impacts,” stated Michael Donatti, Senior Associate at RMI. “Houston joins other leading cities, like Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, Georgia, in leveraging government-owned assets to pioneer innovative energy, decarbonization, and resilience solutions.”
Elements of the City’s new policy directly support Texas grid resilience efforts. New energy performance targets, energy efficiency standards, and guidelines around demand response will reduce the City’s strain on the state’s electric grid, leaving the community better prepared for extreme weather events. The policy also lays the groundwork for the City to engage further with the private sector in reducing building energy impacts and increasing resilience across Houston.
“As we have seen during natural disasters such as the Winter Storm, many of our homes are not built or maintained with energy performance in mind,” said Priya Zachariah, Houston’s Chief Resilience and Sustainability Officer. “This leads to high energy bills on a good day, and life-threatening conditions on a bad day if the power goes out. We are very excited to make this commitment as a City to advance climate action, resilience, and equity through our built environment.”
For more questions on the Municipal Building Decarbonization and Benchmarking Policy, or to get involved in implementation, please contact the Mayor’s Office of Resilience and Sustainability.