Research sponsored by Boston Green Ribbon Commission highlights urgent need for bold actions on city’s building stock, transportation network; provides analytic backbone for City of Boston’s Climate Action Plan Update
BOSTON, MA (January 29, 2019) – A new independent report released today by the Boston
Green Ribbon Commission identifies for the first time the specific and measurable steps the City
of Boston needs to take to meet its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2050. Carbon Free
Boston outlines a set of bold and urgent actions required to innovate the city’s electricity and fuel
supplies, buildings, transportation and waste systems in response to global climate change as
demonstrated by recent extreme weather conditions locally and throughout the region.
The report, undertaken at the request of Mayor Martin J. Walsh, informs the City’s Climate
Action Plan update, which focuses on high-priority next steps to reduce carbon pollution and
create a healthy, thriving and resilient Boston. The Boston University Institute for Sustainable
Energy led Carbon Free Boston’s research and analysis.
The report found that to reach carbon neutrality by 2050, Boston must pursue three mutually-
reinforcing strategies in key sectors: 1) deepen energy efficiency while reducing demand, 2)
electrify as much possible, and 3) purchase 100 percent clean energy. “As we enter a new era of our City’s history, we’re planning for storms, climate change, and the environmental threats the next generation will face,” said Mayor Walsh. “We and our partners must be resilient and carbon neutral, from creating a Resilient Boston Harbor vision plan to moving forward with Community Choice Energy. I’m grateful for the partnership of the Boston Green Ribbon Commission and the experts at Boston University’s Institute for Sustainable Energy. Their work will help us continue to lead, addressing the challenge of climate change.”
“Moving to carbon neutrality is an opportunity to advance Boston’s status as a national climate
leader and global hub of innovation while creating a cleaner, healthier, more equitable Boston for
all,” said John Cleveland, Executive Director of the Boston Green Ribbon Commission. “This
analysis demonstrates that we can reach our goal by 2050, but only through a coordinated and
concerted effort among the public and private sectors – and we have to start now.”
“Meeting the challenge to be carbon neutral will create new economic opportunities and growth
for the city of Boston,” said Mindy Lubber, CEO and President of Ceres and Chair of the Boston
Green Ribbon Commission Carbon Free Boston Working Group. “Implementing actions within
Carbon Free Boston will unlock new jobs in multiple industries and inspire new momentum
around green ideas and technology – giving the city a competitive edge as we work to build a
more equitable, sustainable future.”
“At Boston University we recognize the magnitude of the challenge of climate change,” said
Boston University President, Robert A. Brown. “We are moving aggressively to be carbon
neutral based on the Climate Action Plan our Trustees adopted in 2017. And we will continue to
work closely with the City of Boston to share knowledge, find solutions, and educate so that in
close partnership we can achieve our shared goals.”
The report includes a variety of policy pathways with an emphasis on the city’s building stock
and transportation systems, which together account for more than 90 percent of the city’s
greenhouse gas emissions. The report’s framework includes criteria to determine how strategies
burden or benefit socially vulnerable communities who face disproportionate risks due to climate
change. Report findings were broken out by Buildings, Transportation, Energy and Waste –
some highlights include:
● Approximately 86,000 buildings – both commercial and residential – will require
significant energy retrofits and thermal electrification. Boston’s building stock is old,
diverse, and energy-inefficient, making up 75 percent of total city emissions. Under a
baseline scenario, buildings constructed before 2018 will make up 93 percent of building
emissions in 2050.
● Retrofits must both reduce energy use and switch gas and oil systems to efficient electric
systems. These actions will save money over time, make buildings more resilient, and
create massive opportunities for entrepreneurship and workforce development.
● To achieve carbon neutrality, the City would need to consider the implementation of new
performance-based standards for new and existing buildings, while providing building
owners, building managers, and residents with educational, technical, and financial
assistance. Socially vulnerable populations will need support to benefit from efficiency
and renewable energy programs.
● The City has the opportunity to lead by example with its own 500 municipal buildings,
making its office buildings, schools, and community spaces ultra-efficient, comfortable,
● The Carbon Free Boston report underscores some of the key findings and
recommendations in Go Boston 2030 — the City’s long-term mobility plan.
● Nearly 70 percent of Boston’s transportation emissions come from personal household
vehicles, and more than 75 percent come from trips that start or end outside of Boston.
● The pathway to carbon neutrality in transportation has three elements: 1) shift people out
of automobiles to low- and zero-carbon modes such as public transit, biking, and
walking, 2) reduce the total number of automobile trips via land use planning that encourages denser development in transit rich areas, and 3) shift most automobiles, trucks, buses, and trains to zero-carbon electricity.
● An expanded and more efficient network of transit, walking, and biking will reduce
pollution while providing large public health, social equity, and livable city benefits.
● The City can advance vehicle electrification through restricting internal combustion
engine vehicles, electrifying its own fleet, supporting MBTA bus and train electrification,
providing public charging infrastructure and requiring that new private development does
likewise, and offering equitable monetary incentives for electric vehicle adoption.
● Building off its recent adjustments to parking fines and its piloting of performance
pricing at parking meters, the City can pursue other policies that reduce congestion, such
as its proposed update to the Commonwealth's TNC (transportation network company)
regulations. In addition, it will be important to continue the focus on policies that expand
the allocation of dedicated road space to transit, bikes, and pedestrians, as has been done
recently on Washington Street, Massachusetts Avenue, and other corridors.
● Each pathway in Carbon Free Boston assumes an 80 percent clean electricity grid by
2050 as required by the Massachusetts Clean Energy Standard, a 2017 set of regulations
put in place by the Commonwealth’s Department of Environmental Protection.
● Carbon Free Boston evaluated a variety of options for the City to bridge the gap to 100
percent clean energy procurement, including local clean energy purchasing, a power
purchase agreement outside the region, renewable energy certificates, and municipal
aggregation – several of which the City is already pursuing.
● District energy systems can provide various cost and resiliency benefits but will need to
be powered by clean energy sources going forward. The generation of renewable
methane gas from the city’s food waste could drive emissions reductions in district
● To manage the transition to clean energy, the City is in a position to engage numerous
business and utility partners, energy and climate experts in academia and NGOs,
community leaders, and state government. Collaborative decision-making will ensure that
every person in Boston has equal and affordable access to fully carbon-neutral energy.
● The City is in the final stages of a Zero Waste Boston planning initiative that will lay out
strategies to reach zero-waste goals.
● Zero waste policies will dramatically reduce the emissions associated with waste, making
the goals of Zero Waste Boston complementary to the goals of Carbon Free Boston.
● A broad and comprehensive diversion plan is required to succeed; reducing emissions
from waste comes from buying less and generating less waste while increasing recycling
● The City can lead by example by implementing zero waste strategies for its operations.
The report also lays out options to address Boston’s residual emissions – those the City is unable
to reduce directly – through carbon offsets. Offsets can also be used to achieve early emissions
reductions and promote atmospheric carbon removal.
The Carbon Free Boston project team included Arup, Cambridge Systematics, All Aces, the
Applied Economics Clinic, and Lion Advisors for Community and Environment. The research
was supported through more than a dozen contributions from the public, private and
philanthropic sectors. A full list of funders can be found on page two of the report.
To inform the report’s findings, the Green Ribbon Commission formed a strategic Working
Group of its members, as well as a project Steering Committee and, in concert with Boston
University, five Technical Advisory Groups (TAGs), including one focused on social equity. For
the buildings, transportation, waste, and energy sectors, the TAGs included representatives from
various agencies in the City, energy utilities that serve the City, relevant agencies from the
Commonwealth, energy consulting firms, developers, real estate firms, non-governmental
organizations, and academia. These groups were comprised of about 90 individuals from 50
organizations. The Social Equity Advisory Group provided guidance and feedback on the
integration of social equity into the technical analysis. The technical and social equity reports
will be published and available in March 2019.
About the Boston Green Ribbon Commission
The Boston Green Ribbon Commission is a group of business, institutional and civic leaders in
Boston supporting the implementation of the city’s Climate Action Plan. The plan includes
strong recommendations on how Bostonians can increase efficiency, reduce emissions and
prepare for extreme weather and higher sea levels. Many cities have produced similar plans, but
few have also enlisted the support and leadership of the local business community as effectively
as Boston, to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. To learn more, visit
www.greenribboncommission.org or follow us on Twitter.