Energy & Environment

Boston lawmakers approve zero emissions for large buildings by 2050

Boston, Mass., is seen overhead on Monday, August 16, 2021.
Greg Nash

The Boston City Council on Wednesday approved an ordinance requiring buildings larger than 20,000 square feet to cut emissions completely by 2050.

A spokesperson told the Boston Globe that acting Mayor Kim Janey (D) plans to sign the unanimously approved ordinance. The ordinance will apply to roughly 3,500 commercial buildings, which account 60 percent of the city’s building emissions, The Globe noted.

“After a decade serving in elected office, I can honestly say that this is my most proud legislative achievement,” City Councilor Matt O’Malley tweeted.

“Developers, industry folks, & the real estate community always had a seat at the table (& will continue to) and made this a better product. We worked collaboratively without sacrificing our principles and, as a result, ended up with a unanimous vote of support,” he added.

“This is going to make sure that Boston leads on not only energy efficiency, but building a cleaner, greener, safer city, commonwealth, country and planet for generations to come,” O’Malley told reporters before the measure passed, according to a local NPR affiliate.

The measure will permit buildings to incrementally reduce their emissions, with the expressed goal of cutting them in half by 2030, according to the affiliate.

Boston’s environment chief, The Rev. Mariama White-Hammond, told The Globe she is “ecstatic” about the ordinance, which she said has roots in similar plans in Washington, D.C., and New York and St. Louis.

“This indicates how serious we all understand the climate crisis to be for the city,” White-Hammond said.

“What we really want is for folks to decarbonize their buildings,” White-Hammond added. “We hope this gives the building sector and development the clarity they need … but we know what the future looks like. We can pay for it now, or we can pay more for it later.”

Tamara Small, chief executive of NAIOP Massachusetts, a lobbyist for developers and building owners told The Globe in a statement that her organization plans to “engage with the city of Boston throughout this process to advocate for industry representation, share critical expertise, and provide thoughtful feedback to ensure the adoption of clear, predictable, and achievable rules.”

Meanwhile, environmental groups cheered the ordinance.

“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 Cambridge-based Home Energy Efficiency Team (HEET), told The Globe.


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