BERDO Focus Groups: Discussions and Insights

In 2021, BCAN helped pass the Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO), a Boston-wide law that requires buildings to publicly report and reduce their emissions. Building emissions, caused by fossil fuels used for heating, cooling, and electricity, are responsible for 70% of Boston’s greenhouse gas emissions. BERDO aims to reduce building emissions in large buildings, attaining net zero emissions by 2050.  The City is now working on detailed regulations and policies that iron out the details for implementing BERDO.

Getting input from community members who will be impacted by BERDO is a key part of this process. The ordinance applies to different types of large buildings, both residential and non-residential (the full list of covered buildings is available here.) The City suggested holding community conversations to gather input from anyone who might be affected by BERDO, and BCAN chose to specifically invite residents of buildings covered by the ordinance. To this end, we led two community conversations about BERDO this past August. These focus groups had two goals: giving out information to community members who lived in BERDO-covered housing, and gathering their thoughts about the ordinance. We sent our findings to the City, and they will be combined with those from other conversations held by community organizations or by the City itself.

At the focus group which I observed, a few main points came up. The community members in attendance, who lived in different neighborhoods across Boston, felt enthusiastic and had a generally positive impression of BERDO. They anticipated that the ordinance, if correctly implemented, would result in improved air quality and help lessen the impact of climate change. Despite their optimism, many of them were concerned that BERDO regulations would result in increased rent and property taxes. Several in attendance wondered who they could contact for questions about BERDO, and it was unclear to some of them whether their building owners had been effectively notified that they needed to report their emissions.

Community members made it clear that good communication is needed between landlords and renters if BERDO is to be implemented. Some condo owners and board members also raised several potential issues that applied to their situation. Since condos are owned and shared by a number of individuals, sometimes including absentee owners who rent out their units, the residents were wondering if the regulations would clearly spell out who is responsible for reporting and managing building emissions. Some condos are run by a board of owners, by a management company, or by a single owner; some contain both market rate units and subsidized units. These differences also impact how buildings can address BERDO regulations.

Under BERDO, large buildings that do not follow the reporting guidelines and emissions regulations will be fined. This money will be pooled in the Equitable Emissions Investment Fund (EEIF), which will aim to support projects on emission reduction that directly benefit the Boston community. Community members in attendance suggested several requirements that they’d like to see for fund applicants. An attendee wished to see a list of vetted vendors that stick to certain environmental standards, and another suggested compiling a list of women- and minority-owned businesses. Air quality monitoring, preservation of green space, and effective communication with tenants were also brought up.

The City has held several working sessions on the regulations, and you can stay updated with the developments here. If you’d like to get involved with BCAN as the BERDO regulations are developed, sign up to volunteer with us.

Written by Michèle Duguay

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