July 23, 2021 | Ryan Freed

The consequences of continued warming of the climate are well-known and devastating, but while U.S. Congressional action has stalled, cities and states across the country are developing effective, ambitious, and equitable approaches to decarbonize buildings and strengthen our economy. Increasingly, these governments are looking at Building Performance Standards (BPS) as the solution to achieving climate goals, adding local jobs, and mitigating the energy burden that disproportionately falls on communities of color and low-income residents.

We need BPS to meet climate goals—and center equity

BPS are an emerging policy tool that local governments are developing and implementing to reduce energy consumption and carbon emissions from buildings—which is critical since we cannot reach climate goals without substantially reducing emissions from buildings. The appeal of a BPS is that it addresses a large swath of buildings at once, whereas other approaches specifically target new building construction, or have limited participation. To date, four cities and two states have adopted BPS laws, and, as of this writing, Boston, and Montgomery County, MD have pending legislation while the City and County of Denver is seeking public comment on a draft BPS policy.

One critical lesson we’ve learned from working on BPS with the municipalities across the country is that, for these policies to succeed, community stakeholders must be involved early in policy creation, and equity must be a priority throughout the policy design process. The promise of BPS is that it can spur much-needed improvement in all buildings, leading to dramatic carbon reductions, but building performance is about more than energy. Crafting policy that avoids displacement and increases affordability of housing should also be central goals in BPS policy design, along with commitments to improve health and resilience. Cities and states can embrace the Justice40 principles to ensure the benefits of their policies extend to those who have been most negatively impacted in the past.  The best way to do this is to engage early and often with community members who have been historically excluded from policymaking, and cities such as Portland, OR and Orlando, FL are leading examples of these efforts.

Want to Get Started?

As cities and states embark on this new policy pathway, there are many details to consider, and IMT offers a host of resources to help cities and states start this process. IMT is proud to be a part of the American Cities Climate Challenge and this week’s release of the new guidebook, “Building Performance Standards: A Framework for Equitable Policies to Address Existing Buildings.” In partnership with the Building Electrification Institute, Emerald Cities Collaborative, the Natural Resources Defense Council, New Buildings Institute, Upright Consulting Services, and the Urban Sustainability Directors Network, IMT helped identify a starting guide for cities and states to begin their exploration of BPS.

Want to take the next step? If you’re ready to get into the details of policy development, you can read IMT’s Model BPS Ordinance, see a comparison of BPS policies already passed, and explore more technical resources via IMT’s BPS resource collection at imt.org/bps. And IMT experts are available to help guide you along the path to an equitable, robust BPS. Contact us at bps@imt.org.

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Meet the Author

Ryan Freed

Former Senior Director, Policy and Regulatory Strategy

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