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What Building Owners Should Know About Boston’s Climate Action Plan Update

October 22, 2019

With Boston’s long-time commitment to climate action, the breadth and creativity in initiatives implemented, and its iterative approach to ensuring continuous improvement it is little wonder that the city has been heralded as the most energy efficient city in America for several years running. Since 2005, Boston has decreased citywide carbon emissions by 21 percent while at the same time experiencing an increase in population, floor space, and job growth.

In October of 2019, Boston released the second update to the city’s Climate Action Plan, which was first launched back in 2007. The update credits 45 percent of current emission reductions to the city’s transition to cleaner energy generation sources. While Boston is on track to reaching its initial carbon reduction goal of 25 percent by 2020, it is not on track to reaching the city’s carbon neutrality by 2050 goal.

Why is Boston focusing on its Buildings?

In keeping with the city’s iterative approach to achieving continuous improvements, the recent Climate Action Plan Update sets forth priority actions to be implemented between 2020 and 2024 in order to put the city back on track for carbon neutrality. Recognizing that Boston’s buildings account for 71 percent of total community carbon emissions, the city’s building stock has become a focal point of the recent Climate Action Plan Update.

Decarbonizing Boston’s building sector depends on shifting to net zero carbon (ZNC) new construction by 2030, and retrofitting and electrifying at least 80 percent of our existing buildings over the next 30 years.

Boston's Seven Strategies for Building Decarbonization

  1. Zero net carbon standard for new municipal construction
  2. Zero net carbon standard for city-funded affordable housing
  3. Strengthening of the city’s green building zoning requirements to zero net carbon standard
  4. Energy efficiency and renewable energy investments for municipal buildings
  5. Carbon emissions performance standard for privately owned buildings
  6. Workforce development programs to support building decarbonization
  7. Advocacy for statewide building standards aligned with achieving carbon neutrality by 2050

The Climate Action Plan Update states that, “[t]he City of Boston will lead by example by retrofitting municipal buildings, and will require private building owners to reduce their building emissions by introducing carbon performance standards.”

What Building Owners & Operators Can Expect

Although exact policies and guidelines have yet to be rolled out, building owners and operators can expect two major changes to existing requirements. In this episode of the Modern Energy Management podcast, Boston local and sustainability professional, Debra Shepard, reviews everything building owners need to know about the update. Debra explains that for new construction, building developers can expect a strengthening of the city’s green building zone requirements. For existing buildings over 35,000 square feet, compliance with a carbon emissions performance standard will be required.

1. Green Building Zoning Requirements

Article 37 of the Boston Zoning Code currently requires all new construction subject to Article 80B Large Project Review, typically buildings with a footprint greater than 50,000 square feet, to meet minimum sustainability standards as set forth under the LEED rating system. The Article 37 review process additionally includes compliance with a Climate Resiliency Policy requiring consideration of future climate conditions in assessing the environmental impacts of new construction projects. Compliance review occurs at Initial Filing, Design/Building Permit Filing, and Construction/Certificate of Occupancy Filing project stages.

Under the Climate Action Plan Update, Boston will strengthen its green building zoning requirements with the goal of ensuring that 100 percent of covered new construction projects are built to a ZNC standard. Beginning in 2019, building developers will be required to submit a Carbon Neutral Building Assessment as part of their Article 37 zoning review requirements. New zoning requirements and a timeline for implementation are expected to be released by the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) in 2020 with compliance to begin in 2021.

2. Carbon Emissions Performance Standard

To achieve deep carbon cuts across the city’s largest buildings, Boston will implement a carbon emissions performance standard requiring covered buildings to meet increasingly stringent reduction targets over time. The performance standard will be based on building type and will augment existing reporting requirements under the Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO) while replacing the current energy action and assessment requirement. Buildings currently covered under BERDO include (a) nonresidential buildings 35,000 square feet or larger, (b) residential buildings 35,000 square feet or larger, or that have more than 35 units, and (c) any parcel with two or more buildings with a collective square footage greater than 100,000 square feet or at least 100 total units. An amendment replacing the energy action and assessment requirement with the building emissions performance standard is expected to be enacted by 2021.

While performance standards have yet to be announced, it is anticipated that deep energy retrofits will be required in order for covered buildings to meet the reduction targets. The city has defined deep energy retrofits as retrofits achieving at least a 50 percent reduction in energy use. Examples of recommended retrofits includes (1) upgrades to mechanical systems, lighting systems, and appliances, (2) insulating walls, roofs, and crawlspaces, (3) HVAC and plumbing upgrades, (4) window replacements, (5) air sealing, and (5) installing renewable energy systems. Such retrofits are preferred to demolition and new construction because retrofitting emits less carbon when accounting for the embedded carbon in existing buildings. Although existing incentives will continue to be offered through Mass Save, Boston plans to enhance financing options available to building owners for energy retrofits.

Seven Modern Energy Management Practices to Help Plan for Deep Energy Retrofits

  1. Centralize utility and building systems data using an Energy Management Information System (EMIS) like Building Insights. This allows building owners, managers, and other relevant stakeholders to easily visualize, analyze, and share the data on which management, retrofit, and upgrade decisions are made.
  2. Implement advanced energy submetering to understand the energy-use breakdown of your building spaces and systems and to identify and prioritize savings opportunities. Energy Management Information Systems can also leverage submetering data to monitor ongoing energy consumption and catch unplanned energy spikes before they spiral out of control.
  3. Analyze energy data to understand your building’s energy-use breakdown, base load, and to monitor performance over time. Regardless of what system(s) you use, understanding your building is key to making and maintaining improvements. The following metrics are a good place to start:
    1. Energy-use breakdown: This metric tells you how much energy is consumed by building space and/or system. Energy-use breakdown can be compared against historical data or industry standards to identify opportunities for improvement. For example, HVAC systems typically account for 40 percent of electricity consumption in office buildings. If your energy-use breakdown shows your HVAC at a higher percentage, this could signal an equipment malfunction or potentially a deteriorating asset. Most EMIS’s automatically calculate and track this metric.
    2. Base Load: Building base load refers to the minimum amount of energy that is consumed by a building while unoccupied. By establishing your base load, you will have a point of comparison to understand when systems are not operating as expected. You can also use your building’s base load to benchmark progress toward energy reduction goals. Monitoring performance overtime, especially using real-time data, enables data-driven building management decisions that are based on the unique circumstances of your building.
  4. Leverage building data to optimize performance. If this sounds repetitive, keep in mind it is difficult to improve what you don’t measure!
  5. Involve facilities management early and often for improved stakeholder buy-in. Any change in the management of your building will require ongoing involvement and support from facilities management. Share your goals and ensure the right incentives are in place to prevent dissatisfaction from a purely top down approach.
  6. Engage building occupants by sharing building data to drive behavioral change. Occupants can significantly impact energy consumption, particularly with respect to plug-load and temperature settings. Energy dashboards are a great way to influence behavioral change by sharing energy data and reduction goals.
  7. Apply data-driven approach to identifying retrofits that will have the greatest impact in your desired timeline.

Unlock Savings & Efficiency with Our Commercial Building Energy Management Software

There are many ways to reduce energy usage and carbon emissions to help comply with Boston's new Climate Action Plan, but perhaps one of the most important steps is fully understanding your current energy usage – and that's where we come in. Building Insights is a comprehensive software platform that centralizes many different streams of building and energy usage data, allowing you to understand and act on data to improve operational efficiency and reduce energy consumption. Want to see how Building Insights can help improve your portfolio? Contact us today!