UPDATE: Oct. 6, 2021: Boston’s acting mayor, Kim Janey, signed the ordinance known as BERDO 2.0 on Oct. 5. In a statement, Janey described the ordinance as "a monumental achievement that will have positive impacts on our residents for generations to come.”
- The city of Boston will require all buildings over 20,000 square feet to achieve zero carbon emissions by 2050 under a new ordinance the Boston City Council approved Sept. 22.
- The ordinance applies to about 4% of the city’s structures, including commercial and residential buildings that produce 60% of the city’s building emissions.
- Environmental groups and those representing commercial builders worked with the city to finalize the ordinance. The city also worked to include organizations representing marginalized communities in the process, since those groups are among the people most affected by climate change.
Boston is the latest in a series of municipalities to consider regulations to help mitigate the effects of climate change by reducing or eliminating emissions from buildings.
In California, the cities of Berkeley, San Jose, and Oakland have restricted natural gas infrastructure in newly constructed buildings. In August, The California Energy Commission voted to adopt changes to the state building energy efficiency standards that in part encourage the use of electric heat pumps over gas alternatives.
Seattle last year updated its building code to ban fossil fuels for heating in new commercial and large multifamily construction. Chicago also recently created a building decarbonization working group that places an emphasis on equity. Meanwhile, Denver announced it is creating a new city role to advance building decarbonization incentives.
An earlier version of Boston’s Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO) went into effect in 2020, requiring that all residential and nonresidential buildings 35,000 square feet and larger report their annual water and energy usage from the previous year.
The unanimous passage of Boston’s most recent measure — which some are referring to as BERDO 2.0 — capped a process that included a diverse group of stakeholders, including the businesses represented by NAIOP Massachusetts, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association.
In a statement, the association’s CEO, Tamara Small, said climate change is an economic development, public health and environmental issue that affects all Boston residents and that the association recognizes the importance of the city achieving its carbon-reduction goals.
"Implementation of this ordinance is critical for commercial real estate," Small said in the statement. "NAIOP Massachusetts will remain engaged throughout the regulatory process to advocate for industry representation, share critical expertise and provide thoughtful feedback to ensure the adoption of clear, predictable and achievable rules and regulations for a successful program."
That involvement from owners and developers doesn’t surprise Marta Schantz, senior vice president of the Greenprint Center for Building Performance at the Urban Land Institute. Many real estate owners and developers have been proactive in decarbonizing their buildings and getting them carbon-neutral for several years, including in anticipation of the push for local regulations such as Boston’s, said Schantz.
"Additionally, they're getting pressure across the board from stakeholders like occupants, whether it’s residents or tenants in their building," said Schantz. "They’re getting pressure from investors to operate at net-zero carbon. And they’re trying to get ahead of the curve so their buildings don’t become obsolete if they can’t meet these climate expectations."
By moving toward full electrification and eliminating the use of fossil fuels in oil or natural gas heating systems, the buildings not only cut their emissions significantly, but also are better positioned to take advantage of renewable energy sources such as wind and solar, said Emily Barkdoll, the Natural Resources Defense Council’s deputy director of strategy and city engagement for the American Cities Climate Challenge.
Barkdoll said Boston worked diligently to bring all affected parties into the process, which she hopes serves as an example to other cities on how to implement new emissions rules.
"They really wanted to make sure that the people who feel the biggest effects from climate change not just had a seat at the table, but generally had power-sharing on how this would be implemented," she said.
Community members also will be part of a new commission that advises BERDO 2.0 in directing resources toward environmental justice priorities, said Barkdoll. The NRDC helped craft the policy. The city is providing building owners with resources on how to retrofit their buildings.
"This is really an across-the-board, all-hands-on-deck process, where we’re trying to grapple with a lot of needs and trying to meet them through this process," Barkdoll said.