Boston Finalizes Regulations To Ensure Large Buildings Achieve Carbon Neutrality by 2050

Mayor Michelle Wu and the City of Boston’s Environment Department have finalized regulations for Boston’s Building Emissions Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO). The updated regulations were adopted by the Air Pollution Control Commission during their December hearing. These rules set the standards for implementation of BERDO, which sets carbon targets for existing buildings that decrease over time with all buildings achieving net zero emissions by 2050. This vote for adoption marks the end of the third and final phase of BERDO 2.0 regulations development. Additionally, the City of Boston has invested $3.5 million in the Equitable Emissions Investment Fund. The Equitable Emissions Investment Fund is an innovative funding tool that will support emissions reduction projects in Boston buildings, while prioritizing benefits to Boston’s environmental justice communities.

Buildings in Boston account for nearly seventy percent of citywide greenhouse gas emissions. BERDO buildings are responsible for five percent of the building stock in Boston and account for over forty percent of the total greenhouse gas emissions.

“Policy is only as strong as its implementation, so I’m very grateful to the team for working hard over two years to translate the landmark BERDO ordinance’s mandate into specific regulatory details that will make implementation clear and accountable, with dedicated resources to ensure equitable progress across the city,” said Mayor Michelle Wu. “The official vote on these BERDO regulations marks a critical milestone and turning point in building a greener and healthier city for everyone. The properties covered by this mandate are the 5% of buildings that comprise 40% of Boston’s total emissions, so full implementation to decarbonize this sector will be the most significant step we can take. Our charge is to lead the way on climate action for cities, and Boston will continue to accelerate decarbonization through every means possible.”

In 2021, the amended ordinance was unanimously approved by the Boston City Council with the goal of significantly reducing greenhouse gas emissions, encouraging efficient use of energy and water, and developing investments in a green economy. The BERDO ordinance sets emissions targets and reporting requirements for non-residential buildings greater than or equal to 20,000 square feet and residential buildings that have 15 units or more. The ordinance also established the BERDO Review Board with community representation to increase accountability and transparency, as well as an environmental-justice focused Equitable Emissions Investment Fund. In order for buildings to reduce their emissions, building owners may choose to carry out: energy efficiency improvements, switch to clean, efficient and electric heating systems, or fossil fuel free systems, purchase clean energy, and/or make alternative compliance payments into the Equitable Emissions Investment Fund. Building owners must reduce emissions from their buildings below a sector-specific emissions standard, or limit, and all buildings are expected to reach net-zero by 2050. Buildings must begin complying with these emissions limits in 2025 or 2030 depending on their size.

“The final regulations were designed to accomplish significant emissions reductions while paying attention to equity and affordability,” said Reverend Mariama White-Hammond, Chief of Environment, Energy and Open Space. “I am thrilled that Mayor Wu has committed to investing in the Equitable Emissions Investment Fund that will ensure that environmental justice communities have the resources needed to decarbonize and retrofit their buildings.”

The finalized regulations range from topics that address complex building portfolios, individual compliance schedules, hardship compliance plans, fines and enforcement, compliance with emissions standards, and the Equitable Emissions Investment Fund. The new investment fund will collect all alternative compliance payments and penalties made to BERDO and invest them in local building carbon abatement projects that support environmental action while directing funds towards environmental justice communities. In addition to funding carbon reduction projections in buildings, projects supported by the Equitable Emissions Investment Fund may have supporting benefits including improving or promoting affordable housing and tenant protections, local air quality improvement, indoor environmental quality and health for building tenants, economic inclusion, training, and technical assistance for Minority, Women, and Disadvantaged Business Enterprises (MWDBE) and cooperative contractors, equitable workforce development training programs for residents who have been disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change, projects with community ownership of housing and renewable energy infrastructure, and reduced energy burdens. All funding awards will be overseen by the BERDO Review Board, a nine-member independent board of volunteers who monitor, enforce, and make decisions on the day-to-day operations of BERDO. The Review Board is charged with ensuring projects funded by the Equitable Emissions Investment Fund directly benefit the communities that disproportionately bear the burden of climate change.

The regulations and policies that guide the implementation of BERDO were developed in collaboration with a Community Advisory Group composed of ten community-based organizations and leaders in environmental justice, climate action, affordable housing, workforce development, and social justice. Community leaders frequently collaborated with the City to identify the potential impacts of BERDO on environmental justice communities and to provide advice on how to integrate equity into the rules of BERDO. Additionally, over the past two years, the Environment Department hosted seven working sessions and thirteen focus groups with hospital and healthcare institutions, commercial and multifamily real estate, affordable housing, cultural institutions, universities, Boston residents, and various other stakeholders across the City.

“With the finalized regulations for BERDO, the City of Boston is taking a crucial step to equitably achieve net zero emissions by 2050,” said Lee Matsueda, Acting Chair of the BERDO Review Board. “I am grateful to the Mayor, the Environment Department team, and all of my colleagues on the Review Board for working to secure a just transition to a more sustainable future.”

The ordinance was originally passed in May 2013, and required large buildings to report their energy and water use to the City of Boston every year. The ordinance required the City of Boston to make this data publicly available. This revised ordinance is the single most impactful initiative to curb Boston’s carbon emissions. Building owners or managers who are looking for technical support in complying with BERDO can contact [email protected].

Mayor Wu recently announced the City of Boston’s new rates for the Boston Community Choice Electricity (BCCE) program, which is the largest municipal aggregation program in the commonwealth. Customers may choose to “opt up” to enroll in the Optional Green 100 rate, with 100% of electricity coming from local, renewable energy sources, like solar or wind. By opting up, customers can support the City of Boston in reducing carbon emissions, improving local air quality, and taking climate action within our communities. BCCE Green 100 is one compliance pathway that residents can choose to pursue in alignment with the 2025 compliance deadline. Boston Community Choice Electricity’s Optional Green 100 plan costs less than Eversource’s basic residential rate while utilizing 100% renewable electricity compared to Eversource’s 22%, which is the state requirement for renewable electricity. Residents and business owners can opt-up, down, or out of BCCE at any time with no penalties.

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