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City Council Discusses Implementing Net-Zero Carbon Requirements for New Constructions

City Councilor Matt O’Malley (District 6) proposed a hearing to discuss implementing requirements for all new constructions—residential, commercial, and industrial—to have a net-zero carbon footprint.

City Council discusses implementing net-zero carbon requirements for all new construction. Photo by Alyssa Nations.

The City of Boston pledged a commitment to achieving carbon neutrality by 2050 under the Carbon Free Boston initiative in an effort to combat climate change. In December 2019, Mayor Marty Walsh signed an executive order that required all new municipal buildings be low-energy and fossil fuel-free. Under Article 37 zoning review requirements, developers must now include a Carbon Neutral Building Assessment.

“To save our climate, we need to start with our buildings,” said Councilor O’Malley on Wednesday afternoon. “We are acutely aware that in Boston, our greenhouse gas emissions—upwards of 65-70% of our greenhouse gas emissions—come from our buildings.”

In order for Boston to achieve its lofty carbon neutrality goals, the Boston Green Ribbon Commission’s Carbon Free Boston Summary Report stated that all buildings must be net-zero carbon. Councilor O’Malley proposed a hearing to discuss how the City of Boston would ensure that new buildings would adhere to their goal of being more sustainable, resilient, and carbon neutral.

“These buildings can often save, and almost always during the life of the building do save, significant money,” said Councilor O’Malley about the benefits of net-zero carbon buildings.

A study from the U.S. Green Building Council-Massachusetts found that zero energy buildings were being built across the state with virtually no upfront costs. The Department of Neighborhood Development’s Guidebook for Zero Emissions Buildings found that there was little to no cost from net-zero carbon constructions, making these buildings less expensive to build and offering potential long-term operational savings.

“We cannot be building new buildings now that we will have to retrofit in order to reach our target,” said Councilor Kenzie Bok (District 8) regarding Boston’s carbon neutrality goals that aim to retrofit existing buildings to reduce their carbon emissions.

Aside from the various climate change benefits from reducing carbon emissions, requiring buildings to build to a net-zero carbon standard would also offer environmental health benefits. Prolonged exposure to environmental hazards produced from carbon emissions increases the levels of respiratory illnesses such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Communities of color and low-income communities are more likely to be exposed to indoor and outdoor air pollution.

“The ramifications of inaction are too numerous to count,” urged Councilor O’Malley on aggressive climate change policies such as this one.

The hearing would open the discussion on how to phase in net-zero carbon requirements for all new constructions and will be scheduled at a later date.

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