It’s for good reason Boston and Cambridge have earned strong reputations as leaders in sustainable building practices. In 2007, Boston amended its zoning code to become the first city in the nation to require LEED standards for all large-scale development projects. Cambridge followed suit in 2010, and along the way both cities were quick to adopt the Stretch Energy Code, an optional provision that requires greater energy efficiency in the design of most new buildings.
In May, Boston once again took the lead when its City Council approved Mayor Menino’s proposal for a Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance. Drawing on lessons learned from similar initiatives already underway in other cities, this will encourage greater efficiency measures by requiring all large and medium-sized buildings to report their annual energy and water use.
Meanwhile, on the other side of the Charles River, climate advocates and neighborhood leaders have been pushing the Cambridge City Council to go even further — by adopting a comprehensive requirement for “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions in the annual operation of all large, new buildings.
The movement for a “Net Zero Cambridge” took a big step forward Oct. 21 when the City Council approved the “Getting to Net Zero” task force framework, a proposal by City Manager Richard C. Rossi to help put Cambridge on the path toward becoming a net zero community.
This latest milestone is the culmination of a series of meetings that Cambridge Mayor Henrietta Davis affectionately dubbed “Net Zero Emissions Month” — and it comes as a direct response to the grassroots activism of some 500 residents who signed on to support the Connolly Petition, a citizens’ zoning amendment for net zero emissions that, in the words of one local reporter, “has come to dominate the city’s calendar” since being introduced to officials June 24.
The most striking feature of the net zero emissions proposal is the requirement that all of the energy consumed by large, new buildings must come from renewable sources, such as wind or solar power. In the event that fossil fuel-based energy is needed, it must be offset through the purchase of renewable energy certificates or some other form of local carbon mitigation. To help with compliance, the net zero proposal also calls on Cambridge to implement its own scheme for annual energy use reporting.
According to the city’s Community Development Department Web page for sustainable buildings, 80 percent of the city’s greenhouse gas emissions come from building energy consumption. This explains why state Sen. Will Brownsberger told the Cambridge City Council that the Connolly petition “is focused on exactly the right issue.”