Seattle Building Performance Standards Policy Development

Developing a successful Seattle Building Performance Standards (BPS) policy that builds on the State energy standards and establishes Seattle specific emissions-based standards will require understanding and offering solutions to meet the challenges - technical, financial, operational, or otherwise - that building owners, managers, and tenants may face in making upgrades. OSE is committed to a collaborative effort to maximize benefits to building owners and tenants and to ensure equitable pathways to high quality green jobs, especially for people of color and women.

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Why Reduce Building Emissions

In Seattle, buildings are one of the largest and fastest growing sources of climate pollution, responsible for more than a third of our City's greenhouse gas emissions. These emissions pollute our 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 like gas and oil 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 (see dashboard). According to a recent study from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, fossil fuel use in buildings is responsible for thousands of early deaths and hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of annual health impacts. Continuing to power our buildings with gas and other fossil fuels is an issue of climate justice as explained in this OSE infographic. 

BPS are a powerful and flexible tool to create healthy and efficient buildings where we work and live.This BPS factsheet describes the benefits.

Policy Background

Mayor Harrell has directed the Office of Sustainability & Environment (OSE) to develop legislation for carbon-based BPS for existing commercial and multifamily buildings 20,000 sq. ft. or larger in 2022. The standards Seattle is considering would phase-in and get more stringent overtime to net-zero by 2050. To lead by example, Seattle is transitioning its City-owned buildings off fossil fuels by 2035.

The 2018 Climate Action Strategy calls for Seattle-specific BPS to reduce emissions by gradually transitioning nonresidential and multifamily buildings to use cleaner energy instead of more polluting fossil fuels like gas and oil. It calls for Seattle to reach an almost 40% emissions reduction in the buildings sector by 2030 and to be net-zero carbon emissions by 2050. The City Council Green New Deal Resolution (Res 31895) calls for a Seattle free of climate pollutants sooner by 2030. And the October 2021 Executive Order: Driving Accelerated Climate Action directed OSE to accelerate action toward net zero emission buildings, healthy and equitable transportation, and clean energy workforce development to advance climate justice.The order also established a city workgroup to report on potential options to lower upfront and operating costs to build, operate and maintain affordable housing to address the climate crisis and improve resilience.

A Seattle BPS approach will complement the Washington State energy performance standards and build on the City's existing Energy Benchmarking and Building Tune-Up programs. Although the State energy performance standards are an important start, OSE projects they will only result in about a 4% reduction by 2030 in meeting the City's 2050 carbon-neutral goal, whereas Seattle-specific GHG emissions standards for larger buildings could result in up to a 27% decrease (see image below).

Wedge diagram that shows the projected impact of various building energy policies on GHG emissions.

In creating building performance standards that phase-in over many years, Seattle joins a growing cohort of other leading cities, including Boston, St. Louis, Washington DC, and New York City that have worked with local buildings stakeholders and community members to establish energy and/or carbon emissions performance standards. Seattle has also joined the White House-led Building Performance Standards Coalition. The coalition is comprised of dozens of state and local governments that have committed to inclusively design and implement building performance policies and programs. It is a first-of-its-kind partnership designed to unlock energy efficiency and electrification across the buildings sector as an engine for job creation all while lowering energy bills.

Stakeholder Engagement Process Overview & Timeline

OSE is responsible for developing a building performance standards policy with community input for the Mayor's and City Council's consideration. Our engagement efforts include online open houses, a technical advisory group, an affordable housing advisory group (led by the Housing Development Consortium) and workforce strategy development (led by Emerald Cities). OSE is also conducting equity focused engagement with non-profit and community focused owners, residential tenants, small businesses, and community organizations, and meetings with professional and building ownership organizations.

Anticipated Policy Timeline (updated 10/05/22)

  • January through June 2022 - Focused stakeholder engagement, open houses, and affordable housing and technical advisory groups
  • April 5, 2022 - Seattle BPS concept and background presented. (See 1st Online Open House materials below)
  • June 16, 2022 - Draft Seattle BPS framework presented. (See 2nd Online Open House materials below)
  • October 25, 2022 – Draft emissions targets and analysis webinar
  • December 2022 - Policy recommendations and proposed legislation, delivered to Mayor's Office
  • February - March 2023 (Timing TBD) - City Council review and legislative process
  • 2023 - Rulemaking, including public engagement, and program development*
  • 2024 to 2025 - Program development*
  • 2026 to 2050 - Initial requirements start phasing-in for largest nonresidential buildings in 2026. Requirements phase-in by building size and type, with performance targets becoming gradually stronger over time through 2050*
    -- 2030: 39% reduction in carbon emissions from building sector goal --   
    -- 2050: Net-zero carbon emissions from building sector goal --

* Pending legislative requirements

Advisory Group Updates

Online Open Houses & Webinars

Webinar: Draft Emissions Targets for Seattle Building Performance Standards - October 25, 2002

At this technical webinar, OSE and SBW Consulting shared the draft greenhouse gas intensity targets and the analysis conducted to inform the targets. A brief overview of the proposed policy and the updated policy timeline was also shared.

  • View the slide deck (Includes an appendix that outlines the proposed individual targets pathway and other alternative compliance and exemptions that were briefly covered during the webinar.)
  • View the recording (PDF)

2nd Online Open House - June 16, 2022

This 2nd open house, attended by 200 people, provided a brief policy background and update on work to date and shared highlights of stakeholder feedback received on developing a BPS policy. OSE also shared the Draft Seattle BPS policy framework for the regulations, the updated policy timeline, and took comments and questions on the draft policy framework. 

1st Online Open House - April 5, 2022 

This open house, attended by 350 people, gave an overview of how buildings contribute to climate pollution and the ways this pollution affects people’s health and our community, especially impacting communities of color. Staff presented on existing City policies to reduce climate pollution and discussed building performance standards (BPS) — what they are, how they work, how they might complement current state and city policies, and their benefits. Following the presentation, staff responded to audience questions and comments, which are summarized in the Q & A below. 

How to Share Your Feedback

OSE's welcomes your thoughts about these potential regulations and what types of support your organization might need to meet them.

    Links for More Information

    Case Studies & Fact Sheets