Seattle City Council passes landmark building emissions standards law to combat climate crisis, pollution

The Seattle City Council unanimously passed landmark legislation today to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from existing buildings, which account for 37 percent of Seattle’s total core emissions. The legislation was sponsored by Councilmember Lisa Herbold (District 1 – West Seattle) and co-sponsored by Councilmembers Teresa Mosqueda (Position 8 – Citywide) and Dan Strauss (District 6 – Northwest Seattle).

This is the most ambitious plan to reduce building emissions in Seattle history. While the City has required some bigger buildings to track and decrease their building energy use, this is the first time City law will target existing buildings’ greenhouse gas emissions specifically. It’s estimated that the policy will reduce emissions from buildings by 27 percent and reduce Seattle’s total core emissions by about 10 percent.

“Addressing greenhouse gas emissions is one of the greatest challenges of our time. Future generations will look back to this moment and judge us by what we did today to address our climate crisis. We experience the impacts here in Seattle: extreme heat, drought, and forest fire haze during the summer and even autumn has become normal. It’s time for us to take big swings and make sure we’re doing everything we can – for ourselves and for all future generations of Seattleites. I’m proud to have had the opportunity to answer the call from Mayor Harrell, the Office of Sustainability and Environment, and advocates to sponsor and shepherd this legislation through the Council in our last weeks of 2023,” said Councilmember Herbold

What the legislation will do

The bill will combat our climate crisis by enacting the Building Performance Emissions Performance Standard (BEPS), which will set targets and timelines for the city’s large buildings to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

The BEPS will require owners of existing buildings larger than 20,000 square feet to take steps to incrementally reduce those building’s greenhouse gas emissions. The standards are performance-based, which means that owners can choose what investments to make as long as they are meeting the reduction targets.

This bill will work in tandem with new state regulations.  The knowledge of the BEPS regulations now can help building owners make smarter decisions about the investments they must soon make to comply with State Law, so that they their buildings both reduce energy use and use energy sources that produce less greenhouse gasses.

The City of Seattle is also offering assistance to building owners who have fewer resources, including nonprofits.

The ultimate goal is to reach net zero emissions for these buildings by 2050.

To learn more about how the legislation will be implemented, refer to this memo.


“Growing up in Seattle, I watched as our summers became hotter, our skies smokier, and our weather less predictable. Inaction is not an option, and we must urgently combat one of the largest emitters of greenhouse gasses, the buildings we work and live in. We already passed the strongest energy code in the nation to make new buildings more efficient and now, with this policy, we will ensure the buildings already built help address the climate crisis too,” said Councilmember Strauss, co-sponsor of the legislation.

“Passing this legislation is one of the most important steps the City can take right now to tackle our local climate emissions. Paired with the record investments we are making with Jumpstart Green New Deal funding to shore up the resilience of our local communities and workforce, this policy will strengthen the City’s climate response and show strong leadership on local climate action. While there’s still so much left to do to advance climate justice, today we should all celebrate passage of this landmark policy. Thank you to the Office of Sustainability and Environment, MLK Labor and Seattle’s building trades, affordable housing advocates and providers, and the climate advocates whose years of advocacy and collaboration made this possible.” said Councilmember Mosqueda, co-sponsor of the legislation.