Boston Passes Building Emissions Ordinance


In a unanimous decision, the Boston City Council has recently approved a new ordinance, requiring all buildings larger than 20,000 square feet to eliminate carbon emissions by 2050.

“This is the most transformative thing we have done for climate in Boston’s 400-year history,” said City Councilor Matt O’Malley, the driving force behind the rule. “It’s aggressive, but achievable, and it allows for five-year increments to check on our progress. This is a big win for the city.”

The Building Emissions Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO 2.0) now heads to the desk of Acting Mayor Kim Janey.

Emissions Ordinance

According to reports, the new ordinance will affect roughly 3,500 commercial and residential buildings, or about 4% of all structures in the city. Boston officials report that the structures account for 60% of the city’s building emissions.

The Natural Resources Defense Council adds that the policy was developed with feedback from residents most impacted by pollution and climate change. The city convened a Resident Advisory Group with community organizations including Alternatives for Community & Environment (ACE), the Chinese Progressive Association, City Life/Vida Urbana, and New England United for Justice and facilitated by One Square World, which leads community-centered planning and policy development rooted in equity and sustainability.

The process was also supported by NRDC, Building Electrification Institute, Institute for Market Transformation, and other partners in the American Cities Climate Challenge.

“This indicates how serious we all understand the climate crisis to be for the city,” Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, the city’s Environment and Energy Chief told The Boston Globe.

Although the new ordinance is a collection of updates made to the original Building Energy and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO), it intends to play a major role in ensuring the city meets its goal to be net zero by 2050. As additional measures, the new ordinance is also reported to be modeled after similar, existing measures taken in New York, St. Louis and Washington D.C.

In order to best determine emissions standards based on Boston’s varying building types, the city contracted with Synapse Energy Economics, which analyzed energy and emissions data and estimated cost impacts for mandatory greenhouse gas emissions targets. Using data submitted by Boston’s largest buildings in accordance with the Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance, Synapse and its partners came up with policy recommendations for developing carbon targets, pathways to decarbonization, and cost analysis.

“It’s a great step the city council took today,” Anastasia Nicolaou, Vice President of Policy and Public Affairs for NAIOP Massachusetts, the Commercial Real Estate Development Association, told GBH News.

To meet the new standards, buildings will likely use a combination of:

  • Retrofitting buildings to be more energy efficient and reduce overall energy use;
  • Eliminating the use of fuels that cause greenhouse gas emissions (e.g., combustion of fossil fuels); and
  • Producing or purchasing clean energy to power building operations.

For each pathway, Synapse quantified the potential energy and emissions savings associated with implementation, and estimated lifecycle costs and savings.

Should owners be unable to meet the new standard, fines of up to $1,000 per day have been established within the ordinance for those alleged to be in violation of the benchmarks.

“Energy efficiency is always the greenest, cheapest renewable energy, and Boston’s aging large buildings are the Saudi Arabia of wasted energy for us to tap,” Audrey Schulman, President of the Home Energy Efficiency Team, a Cambridge-based environmental advocacy group, told the Globe.

Previous Legislation

While this is the first time Boston has passed such an ordinance, it is not the first time that it was considered. In 2018, O’Malley was reportedly preparing to introduce a proposal that would incentivize developers to incorporate more net-zero designs in the city’s building boom.

While details were still being worked out at the time, The Boston Herald reported that the incentives would work through the city’s zoning code and that a group of councilors, city officials, climate advocates and industry representatives are drafting several proposals that would be brought before council in the coming months.

Former Mayor Martin J. Walsh had set a goal for Boston to be carbon neutral by 2050 but has said that the challenge to getting there lies within the implementation of such incentives. He did not comment directly on O’Malley’s future proposition at the time of publishing.

More recently, earlier this month the California Energy Commission announced its adoption of the 2022 Building Energy Efficiency Standards (Energy Code) for newly constructed and renovated buildings.

The new energy codes are slated to produce benefits to support the state’s public health, climate and clean energy goals.

Taking an approach on a potentially all-electric future, the 2022 Energy Code focuses on four key areas in newly constructed homes and businesses:

  • Encouraging electric heat pump technology for space and water heating, which consumes less energy and produces fewer emissions than gas-powered units;
  • Establishing electric-ready requirements for single-family homes to position owners to use cleaner electric heating, cooking and electric vehicle (EV) charging options whenever they choose to adopt those technologies;
  • Expanding solar photovoltaic (PV) system and battery storage standards to make clean energy available onsite and complement the state’s progress toward a 100 percent clean electricity grid; and
  • Strengthening ventilation standards to improve indoor air quality.

In addition, each updated code guides the construction of buildings to better withstand extreme weather, lower energy costs and reduce climate and air pollution.

The 2022 update is slated to be submitted to the California Building Standards Commission, where it is scheduled to be considered sometime in December. If approved by the CBSC, the update would go into effect on January 1, 2023, giving builders, contractors and other interested parties a year to gear up for the changes.

In February, Seattle City Council unanimously approved Commercial Energy Code updates set forth by Mayor Jenny Durkan that seek to advance electrification throughout the commercial and residential building sectors.

The new ordinance bans natural gas for space heating in new construction of commercial and multi-family residential buildings that are taller than three stories.

Durkan proposed the legislation in mid-January as part of a broader city effort to reduce greenhouse gas emissions—including a carbon-neutral goal by 2050. However, the code does not extend to construction of single-family homes, which have energy codes set by the state that continue to allow natural gas for heat.


Tagged categories: Building codes; Building operations; Building owners; Commercial / Architectural; Commercial Buildings; Condominiums/High-Rise Residential; Emissions; Good Technical Practice; Government; Greenhouse gas; NA; North America; Regulations; Residential

Join the Conversation:

Sign in to our community to add your comments.