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Ithaca 2030 District Sees Progress Towards Greener Downtown

2022 Annual Progress Report Released

Sustainability is one of the buzzwords of urban development these days. In a time where climate change and its drivers have become major concerns, it’s become ever more important to make cities like Ithaca more environmentally sustainable if we’re to ward off the worst potential impacts.

The latest greenhouse gas inventory shows that buildings in the city make up about 58% of Ithaca’s total greenhouse gas emissions, and the commercial sector, such as stores, hotels, and offices, contributes 38% of total emissions.

The vast majority of these buildings are older buildings using outdated utility systems. The city’s goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030 depends on its ability to retrofit existing structures and infrastructure.

Some cities have turned to public-private coalitions of environmentally-minded business and property owners working with local officials to create more sustainable communities. The Ithaca 2030 District, a voluntary effort by local government, property owners and tenants to improve the energy and water performance of their buildings as well as to bring about cuts in commuter transportation emissions, is a prominent local example.

Focus on Existing Buildings

“At least for now, the Ithaca Energy Code Supplement focuses on new construction — we work with already existing buildings. If at some point the city establishes performance standards for already existing buildings as in New York City and other cities, we will have established a process and beachhead for that sector,” said Peter Bardaglio, Executive Director for the Ithaca 2030 District.

Since its launch in June 2016, the district has expanded considerably as more building owners have opted in. In 2021, the district comprised 33 buildings and about 417,089 square feet. By the end of 2022, there were 30 building owners with 41 buildings and 532,097 square feet, and at present, it’s 44 buildings with 584,381 square feet, basically another Harold’s Square worth of space. Ithaca was the 13th city to launch a 2030 District, and today there are 24 (and the city of gorges remains the smallest in the group by population, as most are urban juggernauts like New York, Philadelphia, and Toronto).

Members committed to a 20% reduction by 2020 in energy use, water consumption, and transportation-induced emissions. That figure increases to a minimum 35% reduction in all three categories from the baseline “starting point” by 2025, and a 50% decrease by 2030. Members may still use natural gas, but they’re taking steps to reduce their natural gas use, whether that be more efficient heating systems, electrification, or other means.

To ensure accountability, each member building’s energy and water data are collected, analyzed, and aggregated to determine the overall District level results. The results for each individual building are made available to the owners, while the district-wide results are publicly distributed to demonstrate whether or not benchmarks are being met.

As a whole, in 2022 the District’s members had reduced their energy consumption by 27% from their aggregate baseline, and they also achieved a savings of 40% in water use. That means that by the end of last year, they were over three-quarters of the way toward the 2025 energy goal and 80% of the way towards the 2030 water target – in other words, on track and then some. In fact, thirteen buildings have already met their 2030 goals. The collective savings is about $395,000 in energy and water costs, 7.3 million gallons of water, and about 194,000 pounds of CO2.

There is one area of concern that remains, however: commuter emissions. The 2020 goal was 1,200 kilograms of CO2 emitted per year per commuter (kg CO2e/commuter/year). In 2021, it was 1,706, far short of the goal and above the pre-pandemic 2019 value of 1,603 kg CO2e/commuter/year. The silver lining is that there was a sizable 16% reduction in 2022, to 1,421 kg CO2 emitted per commuter per year.

“The issue of commuter emissions is by far the toughest nut to crack. We don’t focus on tracking the emissions for each property — we use the annual survey to see how the district at large is doing. We work with GO ITHACA, the Downtown Ithaca program, to make sure each of the property owners is aware of the various benefits of this program, which can help in reducing greenhouse gas emissions in the transportation sector,” explained Bardaglio.

- Brian Crandall, Ithaca Voice, 5/23/23