EPA Releases “NextGen” Criteria for Low-Carbon Buildings

EPA's NextGen Building Label

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released long-awaited final criteria on Tuesday for ENERGY STAR’s voluntary “NextGen” certification to recognize buildings with reduced carbon footprints.

Three Criteria

  • NextGen builds upon ENERGY STAR’s popular “label” for highly efficient buildings. The new label has three criteria that must be independently verified to:

    • Demonstrate Superior Energy Performance
      The building must achieve an ENERGY STAR score of 75 or higher and meet all criteria associated with ENERGY STAR certification.

    • Use Renewable Energy
      At least 30 percent of a building’s total energy used onsite must derive from renewable sources. Market-based measures like power purchase agreements (PPAs) and renewable energy certificates (RECs) can qualify as long as they meet certain quality control criteria (e.g., Green-e certified).

    • Meet a Direct Emissions Target
      The building must meet a GHG intensity target for its property type, which adjusts to account for days of extra heating required in colder climates.

CRE Recognition

Tony Malkin (Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Empire State Realty Trust, Inc.), chair of The Roundtable’s Sustainability Policy Advisory (SPAC) Committee.
  • “NextGen highlights RER’s constructive engagement with decision makers who translate policy to action,” said Tony Malkin, above, (Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer, Empire State Realty Trust, Inc.), chair of The Roundtable’s Sustainability Policy Advisory (SPAC) Committee.
  • He added, “The NextGen voluntary standard provides specific metrics-based criteria to recognize the very best performers who increase efficiency, reduce emissions, and help expand the nation’s supply of renewable energy. This new framework allows our members to urge cities and states to look to these researched and logical federal standards rather than create their own unduly complicated and punitive mandates.”
  • “Our work with EPA is not done,” Malkin continued. “Our next project with our EPA partners is to recognize inefficient buildings which will never reach ENERGY STAR levels and still take steps to reduce materially energy use in common areas and tenant spaces.”      

Planning Considerations

  • Companies can apply online to EPA for the NextGen label starting in Sept. 2024.
  • EPA’s response to public comments noted the agency will explore “separate recognition” for inefficient buildings that significantly improve energy performance.
  • In February, RER and Nareit urged that EPA’s NextGen label should be considered a critical intermediate step for an asset to show it is “on a path” to meet the Energy Department’s yet-to-be-released, voluntary Zero Emissions Building (ZEB) definition.
  • Building owners may report to investors about assets certified with the NextGen label. Information on green-labeled buildings could be within the scope of disclosure requirements released earlier this month by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and passed last year in California. (See RER’s facts sheets on the SEC and California requirements).
  • Court challenges are currently underway against both the SEC and California corporate climate reporting rules. The SEC’s rule has been stayed at least temporarily by a federal appeals court. (POLITICOPro, March 20 and Roundtable Weekly, March 15).

EPA staff overseeing the NextGen program will participate on SPAC’s next Zoom meeting on April 11 to field questions on the new building label.

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Federal Initiatives on Buildings, Climate Gaining Momentum Ahead of 2024 Elections

The White House

The Biden-Harris administration is accelerating actions at the intersection of climate and real estate policy in the lead-up to November’s elections to implement its signature clean energy legislation passed during its first years in office. RER’s Sustainability Policy Advisory Committee (SPAC) remains engaged with policymakers on a variety of initiatives coalescing in 2024 that include the following:

Climate-Related Financial Risk

  • The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is expected to issue a final rule this spring for registered companies to disclose financial risks from climate change.(RER fact sheet and Roundtable Weekly, March 10, 2023).
  • Scope 3 “indirect” emissions from sources in a company’s supply chain are controversial elements of the anticipated SEC rule. RER’s 2022 comments urged the Commission to drop its “back door mandate” for Scope 3 disclosures. (Roundtable Weekly, June 10, 2022)
  • Litigation against the SEC’s imminent rule is widely expected. A recent lawsuit filed by industry groups against a California disclosure package passed last summer (modeled after the SEC’s proposal) signals similar claims that the federal government might face in court. (Wall Street Journal, Jan. 30 and RER fact sheet)

Voluntary Frameworks

EPA's NextGen Building Label
  • NextGen certification may serve as an “intermediate step” for buildings that strive for a voluntary Zero Emissions Building (“ZEB”) definition coming from the U.S. Energy Department. Recent comments from RER and Nareit maintain that the federal ZEB definition can lend consistency to the confusing state-local regulatory patchwork of building performance standards. (Roundtable Weekly, Feb 2.)
  • EPA is acting on requests to update Portfolio Manager, CRE’s standard tool to measure metrics for building efficiency and emissions. Portfolio Manager upgrades announced at last month’s SPAC meeting will help real estate companies strive for NextGen or ZEB status. (Coalition letter, Sept. 14, 2023)
  • This spring, the influential GHG Protocol—an international framework heavily relied upon by the SEC, EPA, DOE, and institutional investors—will undertake its first revisions since 2015 to its guidance for companies to account for emissions from electricity use. RER will participate in the upcoming Scope 2 guidance public comment process.

Tax Incentives

Ben Myers, left, and Tony Malkin, right -- SPAC leadership
Roundtable Sustainability Policy Advisory Committee Chair Tony Malkin, right, and
Vice Chair Ben Myers
  • The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) has issued dozens of proposed rules and notices to implement clean energy tax incentives available to real estate and other sectors since Congress passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) in 2022. (RER fact sheet)
  • The IRS is expected to release final rules before November on topics such as the ability of REITs to transfer certain tax credits, proposed rules on non-urban census tracts eligible for EV charging station credits, and the 179D deduction for building retrofits.
  • RER has submitted comments on these and other topics in response to initial IRS notices and will continue to provide feedback as opportunities arise. (RER letters Oct. 30 and July 28, 2023;  Nov. 4 and Dec. 2, 2022)

The Roundtable’s SPAC—led by Chair Tony Malkin (Chairman, President, and CEO, Empire State Realty Trust) and Vice Chair Ben Myers (Senior Vice President of Sustainability, BXP)—will press forward with RER’s climate and energy priorities for the remainder of the current administration and into the next.

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Roundtable Comments on EPA’s Proposed Voluntary Label for Low-Carbon Buildings

EPA NextGen logo

The Real Estate Roundtable submitted comments to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) yesterday on the agency’s proposed voluntary label for low-carbon buildings. (Roundtable letter, March 2)

Voluntary Building Label

  • EPA’s NextGen building label would expand upon the agency’s successful ENERGY STAR program for assets that attain high levels of energy efficiency.
  • The NextGen label would allow companies to highlight buildings that go beyond top efficiency performance—and further rely on renewable energy use and reduce their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. (EPA’s proposal and Roundtable Weekly, Jan. 27)
  • NextGen recognition has great potential for widespread market acceptance, The Roundtable stated in its comments.
  • EPA’s proposed program could create a uniform, voluntary federal guideline to simplify the confusing patchwork of city and state climate-related building mandates that exists across the country. (EPA Policy Brief, Jan. 19; Roundtable Weekly, Jan. 20)
  • EPA staff discussed its NextGen proposal with The Roundtable’s Sustainability Policy Advisory Committee (SPAC) at the “State of the Industry” meeting in January. (SPAC slide presentation)

Roundtable Recommendations

SPAC Chair Tony Malkin and Vice Chair Ben Myers

  • The Roundtable’s SPAC, chaired by Tony Malkin, above left, (Empire State Realty Trust Chairman President and CEO) and vice-chaired by Ben Myers, right, (BXP Senior Vice President, Sustainability), convened a working group to develop the comments submitted to EPA.
  • The Roundtable stated that NextGen recognition criteria “must be grounded in financial performance that offer building owners reasonable returns on their investments.”
  • The Roundtable’s comments suggested refinements to improve EPA’s proposed components, including:
      

    • Efficiency:
      Significant and demonstrated reductions in a building’s energy use should be eligible for the NextGen label (as an alternate, additional criterion to EPA’s proposal that only ENERGY STAR certified buildings could qualify).
    • Renewable Energy:
      The NextGen proposal would require that 30% of a building’s energy use must derive from renewables. The Roundtable recommends that the level should start at 20% and adjust over time to reflect the changing status of the electric grid as it decarbonizes through increased reliance on solar, wind, and other clean power sources.
    • GHG Reductions: 
      The Roundtable supports EPA’s proposal for a GHG “intensity target” that reflects a building’s unique weather conditions by a factor known as heating degree days (HDD). The Roundtable worked closely with EPA in the pre-pandemic era to consider HDD as a key variable in the underlying ENERGY STAR building score process. (Roundtable Weekly, July 19, 2019)
    • Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs):
      The Roundtable explained that voluntary NextGen recognition can provide much-needed guidance on corporate accounting for REC purchases and enhance credible claims on the environmental benefits from offsite clean power procurement.  

The Roundtable further advised EPA that it should conduct a pilot of the low-carbon label with private and public building owners before broad release to U.S. real estate markets. EPA intends to make the NextGen label available in 2024.

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