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Sustainability

Seattle’s Green Horizon: An Overview of the Building Emissions Performance Standards

The Building Emissions Performance Standard (BEPS) proposed in Seattle sets carbon emissions targets that larger existing buildings need to achieve in the coming two to three decades.

By: Nina Olivier, Manager of Sustainability

Background

In Seattle, buildings are one of the largest sources of climate pollution, responsible for more than a third of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions pollute the air, accelerate climate change, and harm people’s health and the environment, disproportionately impacting communities of color and people with lower incomes. Burning fossil fuels for heating, hot water, appliances, and cooking in Seattle’s existing commercial and multifamily buildings accounts for over 90 percent of all building-related greenhouse gas emissions.

The City of Seattle developed the Building Emissions Performance Standard (BEPS) policy through stakeholder engagement to maximize benefits to building owners and tenants and to ensure equitable pathways to high-quality green jobs. Seattle BEPS’ approach will complement Washington State’s Clean Buildings Performance Standard (WA CBPS) and expand upon the city’s existing energy benchmarking and building tune-up programs. Although the State energy performance standards are an essential start, the City’s Office of Sustainability and Environment projects they will only result in about a 4% reduction by 2030 in meeting the City’s 2050 carbon-neutral goal. In contrast, Seattle-specific GHG emissions standards for larger buildings could result in up to a 27% decrease by 2050.

Figure 1. City of Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment

Proposed BEPS Requirements

BEPS will require building owners of non-residential and multifamily buildings over 20,000 square feet, excluding parking, to complete the following:

Buildings used for industrial and manufacturing purposes are exempt.

  • By 2027, verify the previous year’s energy and emissions data to ensure accuracy.
  • By 2027, document current emissions performance and building equipment, develop plans, and start actions needed to meet upcoming greenhouse gas intensity (GHGI) targets.
  • Starting in 2031, demonstrate that the building’s previous year emissions meet GHGI targets or achieve alternative compliance.
  • By 2050 or earlier, depending on building size and type, achieve net-zero building emissions.

BEPS will sunset the Building Tune-Ups programs after its 2023-2026 compliance interval to reduce overlap with the State Standard.

Timeline of Requirements

BEPS is designed to address Seattle’s largest buildings with the greatest emissions impacts. The policy has flexible compliance pathways to accommodate buildings of many uses, sizes, types, ownership, ages, and systems, with low-income housing and human services given a longer lead time to prepare.

BEPS sets carbon-emissions targets for buildings that become progressively lower in five-year intervals until reaching net-zero emissions by 2050.  Compliance starts with verification and reporting requirements to encourage owners to prepare and develop plans and, if not already below targets, start actions to meet upcoming emissions targets. Affordable multifamily housing and human services are provided with a longer lead time to prepare. In each subsequent interval, buildings are required to meet progressively lower emissions targets.

Figure 2. City of Seattle Office of Sustainability and Environment

Greenhouse Gas Intensity Targets

BEPS specifies greenhouse gas intensity targets (GHGITs) in KgCO2/SF/Year for building activity types (e.g., office, retail, multifamily) for each compliance interval to net-zero emissions. The GHGITs are required for 2031-2035, and the 2036-2040 targets can be revised based on building performance data, evolving technology, new regulations, or other relevant factors.

For more information surrounding flexible paths to compliance, visit the City of Seattle’s Office of the Environment and Sustainability’s BEPS Proposed Policy Guide.