Green Healthy Schools: A Blueprint for Mayor Adams
K-12 public schools are among the biggest public polluters in New York City. New York City has the largest school district in the country and the agency that makes up one-quarter of the City’s public building stock, so what happens with public schools in the coming years will significantly shape recovery, especially in low-income Black and brown communities that have borne the brunt of both historic environmental racism and the COVID-19 pandemic.
Green, Healthy Schools are a long-term solution that yields short-term results. Citywide emission reductions will require an expansion of renewable energy generation and investments towards energy efficient buildings. Many of the City’s K-12 public schools are older buildings that rely on inefficient, fossil fuel dependent systems for essential needs like heating and cooling. Investing in renewable energy sources like solar and conducting deep retrofits that directly address energy inefficiency can help New York City significantly reduce its emissions. The City can and should start this work on K-12 public schools. Research estimates that if New York City became a net-zero school district by 2030, it could reduce emissions by 713,382 metric tons of CO2e.
Last year, we released an action plan for the City to equitably invest in its environmental justice communities by creating Green, Healthy Schools. This report is a follow-up to that action plan and assesses the City’s progress towards two key climate goals: installing 100 MW of solar energy on public buildings and reducing emissions to meet targets outlined in Local Law 97 of 2019. Both of these goals complement the 2019 Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act (CLCPA), and set the stage for New York City to build regenerative economies that address renewable energy generation, sustainable manufacturing, and more resilient communities.
Now more than ever, New York City must prioritize investments and job creation for the communities that have been hit the hardest by both the COVID-19 pandemic and long standing environmental racism. Investing in Green Healthy Schools will be critical to ensuring the City does its part to get New York State in compliance with its CLCPA goals, and will create thousands of good, green jobs. New York City can do this by annually investing at least $1.8 billion by 2030.
Key Findings and Highlights of this Report:
- Significant citywide emission reductions will require an expansion of renewable energy generation and investments towards energy efficient buildings.
- A majority of K-12 public schools are older buildings that rely on inefficient, fossil fuel dependent energy systems for everyday essential needs like heating and cooling. Because of this, public schools are among the biggest polluters in the city.
- Installing solar systems to reduce the City’s reliance on fossil fuels and conducting deep retrofits that target energy inefficiency in K-12 public schools will be critical components of New York City’s greater emission reduction strategy.
- If New York City became a net-zero school district by 2030, it could reduce emissions by 713,382 metric tons of CO2e.
- New York City is more than 80 percent behind on its 100 MW solar energy goal. With only 15.6 MW installed, the City will need to install at least 43 MW each year by 2025 to meet its solar commitments.
- Prioritizing solar installations in K-12 public schools will reduce air pollution, support the City’s transition away from fossil fuels, and allow the City to make aggressive progress toward its solar goal.
- New York City public schools spend $275 million per year on energy costs alone. Research estimates deep retrofits can result in 50 percent energy savings, which means New York City could save at least $175 million per year in energy costs by conducting deep retrofits in all K-12 public schools.
- Deep retrofit repairs in K-12 public schools, like HVAC installation, will ensure the City prioritizes health and climate equity in its recovery efforts. Research suggests air control systems and reliable air quality monitoring can minimize the airborne transmission of COVID-19. 70 percent of schools with the highest ventilation needs are located in environmental justice communities, highlighting the disproportionate resource distribution in low-income Black and brown neighborhoods already burdened by the climate crisis.
- The City can and should annually invest $1.8 billion by 2030 to become a net-zero school district, ensuring that all students have equitable access to clean air at school, no matter their zip code.