Green Buildings, Not Greenhouse Gases

Deep Energy Retrofits for Boston’s Largest Buildings – Updating Boston’s BERDO

A new Building Emissions Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance – regulating all big buildings in Boston with environmental justice at its core – was passed on October 5, 2021. Read more about this campaign below.

BCAN and numerous partners who helped get this law passed gathered to celebrate our victory in November 2021.

As of summer/fall 2022, the city is writing the regulations for the ordinance. This is how a law actually turns into meaningful action! We will need continual vigilance and pushing to keep the city accountable to our goals of environmental justice, a community-centered inclusion process, and timeliness. The first Listening Session on July 19, 2022 was the first one around the Review Board (ie. Phase 2 regulations). See the slides and notes from the session.

The materials and other info may also be found on both the main BERDO website and the regulations website. You can sign up for their newsletter about updates here.

You can also ask questions, give feedback and ideas at this form at any time!

If you’re interested in joining a BCAN BERDO working group – that’s paying particular attention to this issue and putting our heads together about specific demands and action around the city’s regulation-writing – please let us know.

Campaign context and history:

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 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.

BCAN insisted 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!