Building decarbonization and the SF Climate Action Plan: Is your building ready?

In an era where climate change and sustainability dominate headlines, the role of building owners in driving decarbonization and embracing environmental awareness has never been more critical. As the city of San Francisco progresses towards its ambitious climate goals, the building sector plays a vital role in achieving decarbonization. But how well prepared are you for a zero-emission future?

Last month, the SF chapter of BOMA (Building Owners and Managers Association) brought together industry leaders—including Ana Duffy, Sustainability Manager at Hudson Pacific Properties; Ben Myers, SVP of Sustainability at BXP; Becca Timms, Director of ESG at Jamestown; and Tom Arnold, CEO of Gridium—for a crucial discussion on the city’s ambitious Climate Action Plan (CAP) and steps building owners and operator can take to get ahead of the impending regulation. With a primary objective to “eliminate fossil fuel use in existing buildings” by 2035, the plan has far-reaching implications for the building operations sector. It’s worth noting that changes of this magnitude in San Francisco are likely to serve as a catalyst for similar initiatives worldwide.

Before we dive in, a quick reminder of San Francisco’s Climate Action Plan (CAP) goals. The CAP sets a series of milestones to achieve significant greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reductions:

  • 2030: Targeting a 61% reduction in GHG emissions.
  • 2040: Aiming for net-zero emissions.
  • 2021: Requiring new buildings to achieve zero emissions.
  • 2035: Large commercial buildings must achieve zero emissions.

In the coming years, BOMA leaders expect the implementation of a number of regulations to help hold local building owners and operators accountable. Compliance will require a comprehensive decarbonization strategy, but what can building owners do now to prepare? A few takeaways from the webinar:

  1. Make sure energy efficiency your #1 priority. 

The strategic roadmap towards decarbonization always always starts with energy efficiency. Becca Timms of Jamestown provided a quick overview Jamestown’s adoption of the Department of Energy’s Decarbonization Priority Waterfall, which serves as a great roadmap for organizations seeking a strong framework for their efforts. As Ben Myers of BXP noted, “Most of the buildings that are around today will be here in 2050, so we need to address the existing building stock.” The most fundamental step is to start measuring what energy you’re already using, in order to determine where the opportunities for efficiency are. As Ben Myers added, “to measure is to understand.”  

  1. Don’t let perfect be the enemy of good.

This was the key advice from Becca Timms at Jamestown, regarding the decarbonization journey. It’s important to acknowledge that long-term goals can be overwhelming, and many businesses make the mistake of expecting immediate changes once an investment is made. The transition to carbon-neutral is not a simple process. Build a multi-step plan with year-by-year goals that provide focus and lead towards the ultimate objective. 

  1. Start thinking of your path to electrification now.

Prioritizing electrification efforts is crucial to meet the ambitious target of achieving zero-emission buildings by 2035. By embracing efficient and all-electric alternatives, building owners can reduce operational expenses associated with fossil fuel consumption, maintenance of combustion-based systems, and potential fluctuation in fuel prices– all while seizing an opportunity for financial resilience and improved economic viability. But where to begin?

First, understand what you have. Here are four key questions to ask yourself to to begin the electrification journey, according to Tom Arnold, CEO of Gridium:

    1. How do you heat your building? What’s your fuel source? (If you’re on steam, you’re set!)
    2. How do you distribute heat in your building? For a lot of buildings this is hydronic, but if you have a hydronic system that’s powered by natural gas you have to start paying attention. 
    3. What is the lowest water temperature that you can run and still reach your set point on cold mornings? This might be the most important question for building owners. All of the electric heating technologies that are permittable require you to run very low water temperatures, but if you run very low water temperatures you may not be able to heat the building in a suitable manner. 
    4. Lastly, how much space do you have for additional mechanical equipment? For instance, in the building or rooftop. 

Ultimately, preparing for decarbonization requires an inquisitive mindset to ask the right questions (How does the building get heated? How is the heat distributed inside? What’s the minimum water temperature needed on cold mornings? And is there enough space for extra mechanical equipment?) and a focused effort on proactive measures from building owners. Embracing the above priorities today (and seeking the right guidance along the way) will not only help you meet climate goals but also empower your teams to improve building performance, reduce operational costs, and create healthier and more resilient spaces for occupants.

Catch the full webinar here, and if you’re interested in discussing how to take your decarbonization strategy to the next level, contact the Gridium team below.  

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About Toby Noyes

Toby is a marketing and sales operations intern for the summer of 2023. He’s currently heading into his fourth year of undergraduate studies at the University of Denver studying marketing and business data analytics. While he’s not working through spreadsheets or creating new marketing materials, he is often found exploring the outdoors or hanging out with animals.

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