Last week, A Better City hosted an event with staff from the City of Boston and members of the real estate community interested in engaging in net zero building policy. Yve Torrie, Director of Climate, Energy, and Resilience at A Better City welcomed Alison Brizius, Director of Climate and Environmental Planning for the City of Boston’s Environment Department, and Richard McGuiness, Deputy Director for Climate Change and Environmental Planning at the Boston Planning and Development Agency (BPDA). To kick off the meeting, Yve highlighted the building codes work A Better City and Boston’s Green Ribbon Commission’s Commercial Real Estate Working Group have engaged in over the past two years. This work includes the ongoing convening of members that have developed and are advocating for a set of net zero buildings policy principles. These principles were released in June by ABC and can be accessed here. They include recommendations to jurisdictions, including the City of Boston, on technical considerations, implementation actions, and process steps for effectively developing net zero policies to achieve ambitious climate targets.
Rich McGuiness and Alison Brizius introduced the ongoing work the City of Boston is conducting to implement the building policies called for in their 2019 Climate Action Plan Update. Rich introduced the BPDA’s process to develop a Zero Net Carbon (ZNC) code. He highlighted that while 85% of the buildings that exist today will still exist in 2050, the 15% of the building stock that will be developed in the next three decades must be net zero or will need to be retrofitted. The BPDA is hoping to encourage and then require buildings to take on the responsibility for reducing emissions now. To this end, since 2019, the BPDA has required building owners to submit a Carbon-Neutral Building Assessment as part of Article 37 zoning review. This year, the BPDA is launching a technical analysis and public process to assess the feasibility of ZNC standards for building types and develop a timeline for implementation and, ultimately, develop a recommendation for a ZNC standard.
Alison introduced a parallel process being pursued by the City’s Environment Department to develop an existing building emissions standard. The Department is currently evaluating three potential scenarios for the standard with the support of a Technical Advisory Group (TAG). These emission reduction scenarios include: (1) a threshold set by building type; (2) a self-improvement strategy (like BERDO); or (3) giving buildings the option to select between (1) and (2). In addition to evaluating these options, the TAG and additional stakeholder groups are considering how to treat portfolios, building size thresholds, emissions factors, the use of RECs, offsets, and additionality, and support actions for the City to take. The City will be conducting additional focus groups and community engagement later this summer.
With this background, Yve facilitated a discussion with members in attendance. The discussion included many topics the coalition has previously discussed and developed recommendations for, including the importance of focusing on carbon, rather than energy, in setting targets; the importance of providing guidance on how to include grid cleanliness, on- and off-site renewables, renewable energy credits, and offsets in targets; the possibility of reporting as a portfolio and the associated implications for ownership; cost-benefit analysis and potential financial considerations; and ensuring both landlords and tenants have a role to play in reducing emissions under new requirements.
At the conclusion of the conversation, Alison and Rich thanked participants for their input and highlighted that continued feedback is welcomed. Areas for feedback to the City include:
A Better City and the City of Boston anticipate setting up another meeting this fall to share updated results and approaches and gather additional feedback.
A recording of the event is available: Password: 9I$w&u3%