Green Buildings, Not Greenhouse Gases

Deep Energy Retrofits for Boston’s Largest Buildings

A new Building Emissions Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance was passed on October 5, 2021. Read more about this campaign below.

Boston’s buildings are a significant source of the greenhouse gases (GHG) that cause climate change. In fact, over half of total emissions from Boston are produced by just 3% of its buildings. In some properties, like hospitals, high emissions come from energy-intensive activities, but in others they come from energy inefficiency caused by air leaks, inadequate insulation, or older equipment.

The Walsh administration has set a goal of citywide carbon neutrality by 2050, with a 50% reduction of GHG below 2005 levels by 2030. (The interim target aligns with scientific consensus calling for significant worldwide reduction by 2030 to avoid the worst effects of climate change). Retrofitting our most wasteful buildings would go a long way toward meeting these goals.

Boston Climate Action Network focuses on ways that City policy can be changed to expedite retrofits of the city’s largest, most inefficient buildings. Specifically, we oversaw the successful strengthening of the Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO). Prior to BERDO being amended, the energy use of buildings over 35,000 square feet in size was reported annually to the City, but the corrective action required by owners of high-GHG buildings were very limited. The stated consequences for non-compliance were limited, too, and the City did not accrue the resources to pursue violators. The City of Boston Climate Action Plan 2019 Update, published in October 2019, called for replacing BERDO’s limited requirements with a new “building emissions performance standard.” This means that buildings covered under a law would be required to meet specific emissions reduction targets based on their energy usage and building typology.

BostonCAN insists that, to achieve the City’s carbon reduction goals:

  • the building emission performance standard must be set high,
  • offsets are not an option,
  • a Review Board must include at least two-thirds community stakeholders,
  • enforcement must be strict, and
  • the City must allocate enough resources to implement the ordinance.

After writing our November 2020 letter to Chief Cook, garnering more than 2,000 petition signatures, sending 210 letters to district and at-large City Councilors, canvassing 9 Boston neighborhoods, producing educational videos for Boston Neighborhood News, and presenting to 14 numerous neighborhood associations and student organizations to educate our fellow residents about this issue, we successfully helped pass an amended BERDO. Read more about this historic victory for climate justice here.

Our work continues, however. BostonCAN continues to advocate in ensuring our above-listed demands are included during the regulation-writing process that is now underway. To follow more of our work on slashing emissions from Boston buildings, sign up for our newsletter, follow our blog, and come to meetings!