If you’re looking for green practices that have really worked, see what New York State is doing

by Brianna Crandall — September 4, 2020 — New York State agencies issued last week the Greening New York State report for 2018-19, which documents how innovative energy efficiency and sustainability programs have substantially reduced energy use in state buildings, tripled the generation of solar energy over the past two years, and significantly curbed paper use.

Most significantly, the report highlights a 22.6% reduction in state agency energy use over the last decade, especially in large state buildings, through the New York Power Authority’s (NYPA) BuildSmart NY program. The energy reduction exceeded Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s 2012 goal established by Executive Order 88 for reducing energy use 20% by 2020. State agencies also cut paper use in half over the last 10 years and doubled the composting of organic waste over the last five years.

NY State pie graph on tons of material by type recycled

Image courtesy NY State. Click to enlarge.

Developed by the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), NYPA, Office of General Services (OGS), and New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the report details progress on a wide range of key green initiatives, many of which save state resources or make operations more resilient, both crucial benefits during the state’s ongoing response to COVID-19 when it is imperative for agencies to work efficiently.

In addition, the governor launched the GreenNY Council, a multiagency working group led by DEC, NYPA, OGS, and NYSERDA, and charged it with helping agencies implement the state’s lead-by-example directives. The GreenNY Council will also serve as a key resource to support the state’s strategy for reducing agency greenhouse gas emissions. Council members have been working together for more than a year to leverage resources, create guidance, harmonize reporting, and make it easier for agencies to meet the state’s ambitious climate and sustainability goals.

The Greening New York State report shows that efforts to reduce energy use and waste result in significant savings:

  1. Under NYPA’s BuildSmart NY program, large state facilities have reduced Source Energy Use Intensity by 14.4% since 2010, and through the implementation of 158 energy efficiency projects committed to by the end of 2019, will decrease energy use 22%, achieving the Executive Order’s goal of reducing such use 20% by 2020;
  2. In 2019 alone, energy efficiency improvements saved New York State an estimated $65 million and reduced CO2 emissions by more than 290,000 tons relative to the baseline of 2010;
  3. Copy paper purchasing decreased 60% over the last decade, saving the State $64.1 million since reporting began, and more than $8 million in 2019 alone; and
  4. Cumulatively, these actions accounted for more than $73 million in savings in FY 2018-19.

Additional achievements detailed in the report include:

  1. Recycling rate of 66%, compared to 50% first measured in 2008, and doubling the number of agencies composting organic waste since 2012;
  2. The state’s green purchasing program investing $114 million on green products, up $7 million from the previous year, and garnering a national award for the purchase of sustainable electronics in both 2018 and 2019, which will save taxpayer dollars over the lifetime of the equipment;
  3. Generation of nearly 10 million kWh of solar energy for agency use, a 10% increase from the previous year and triple the amount generated in 2016; and
  4. Virtual elimination of the purchase of bottled water by New York State Executive agencies; 73% of authorities have also eliminated or restricted use to special circumstances, such as soldiers and emergency response personnel.

A majority of state agencies have adopted practices to reduce use of energy, materials, toxic chemicals, and water. Several agencies are also managing their outdoor spaces to reduce pollution and increase climate resiliency. Efforts include:

  1. 96% of all buildings covered by EO 88 are now submetered for electricity, and 90% are submetered for all energy use.
  2. 92% of agencies use two-sided printing either all or most of the time;
  3. 78% of agencies use green general-purpose cleaners, and 79% use less-toxic disinfectants and sanitizers;
  4. 71% of agencies use integrated pest management indoors, and 47% use non-chemical pest control for turf and ornamentals outdoors;
  5. 53% use high-efficiency plumbing fixtures in all (28%) or a majority (25%) of their facilities, a 12-percentage-point increase compared to previous years;
  6. The majority (54% and up) use sustainable landscaping practices at some or most of their facilities, including composting on-site, preserving and using native vegetation, and less mowing.

In addition, the state announced that 57 green specifications are currently approved for use in state procurement, covering approximately 100 different products such as general-purpose cleaning products, disinfectants and sanitizers, furniture, and lighting fixtures. Ten of these specifications were finalized in 2019, including “Imaging Equipment,” “Paint,” “Trash Bags,” and “Reusable Bags.” These purchasing specifications all reduce environmental impacts in their product class.

Reducing and recycling waste

The GreenNY program has significantly impacted how state agencies generate and handle waste. Most agencies adopted paper use reduction practices in the past 10 years, resulting in a 60% decrease in copy paper purchasing in FY 18–19 as compared to FY 08–09. These actions have saved a total of $64.1 million since reporting began and will continue to save approximately $8 million per year going forward. Almost half (48%) of dollars spent on copy paper in FY 18–19 ($2.8 million) went to purchase 100% post-consumer recycled content, processed chlorine-free paper, a 26 percentage-point increase from the 22% spent on such paper in FY 08–09.


NY State graphic on copy paper

Image courtesy NY State. Click to enlarge.

Overall, the state continues to maintain an encouraging waste reduction trend and robust recycling rates. FY 18–19 saw a decrease in overall waste generation to 469,402 tons. This decrease, like other large fluctuations over the years, was largely due to a drop in the generation of construction and demolition debris (C&D) by two large agencies responsible for maintaining transportation infrastructure: The Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and the Department of Transportation (DOT).


NY State graph on waste reduction

Image courtesy NY State. Click to enlarge.

The number of agencies composting has more than doubled since FY 12-13. SUNY, Parks, and the Department of Corrections and Community Supervision accounted for 92% of the material composted in FY 18–19.

Saving money

On average for FY 09–10 through FY 18–19, agencies reported saving money through energy reduction (32%), waste reduction and reuse efforts (27%), and eliminating the purchase of bottled water (26%).


NY State bar graph on sustainable practices

Image courtesy NY State. Click to enlarge.

Most reported either a reduction or no change in costs due to the implementation of projects across GreenNY’s other areas of focus:

  • Recycling and composting (51%)
  • Water conservation (50%)
  • Less-toxic pest management (48%)
  • Stormwater management (48%)
  • Green cleaning (45%)
  • Green purchasing (41%)
  • Green transportation (41%)
  • Sustainable landscaping (47%)
  • Renewable energy (38%)
  • Large-scale green infrastructure (34%)
NY State bar graph on savings and costs of sustainable actions

Image courtesy NY State. Click to enlarge.

Significantly fewer agencies (2% to 11% depending on the activity) experienced increases in costs. This data again shows that sustainable practices do not typically cost more, and that reducing energy use and waste can save money, according to the report.

Lessons learned

Among the lessons learned from the research:

  • Waste audits continue to be the most effective way to obtain data for reduction and recycling efforts, especially in leased space.
  • While sustainable practices do not cost more in the long run, they can require the investment of capital, operations funding, or staff time up-front.

A series of laws, executive orders, and policies have created a strong framework to support New York State government as it strives to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and adopt sustainable practices; these are listed in the report.

The full Greening New York State [PDF] report is available online on the state’s “GreenNY” website, along with more details about New York’s efforts to green state purchasing and operations.

For information about energy efficiency programs for large buildings, visit NYPA’s BuildSmart NY webpage.