September 23, 2021 | Ben Silverman

Yesterday, September 22, the Boston City Council voted unanimously to pass a building performance standard (BPS): the Building Emissions Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance, or “BERDO 2.0.” This replaces Boston’s previous Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance passed in 2013. While the original BERDO was primarily a building energy benchmarking and energy audit ordinance, BERDO 2.0 will require all larger buildings in Boston to put themselves on the path to zero carbon performance by 2050. When Mayor Janey signs this ordinance, Boston will join the vanguard of leading jurisdictions on climate change as the seventh to adopt a building performance standard after New York City, St LouisWashington, D.C., the state of Washington, the state of Colorado, and Chula Vista, CA.

As one of the lead developers of BERDO 2.0 during my time with the City of Boston’s Environment Department, here are a few key takeaways from the legislation’s development process and structure that can benefit other jurisdictions looking to equitably tackle ambitious carbon reduction targets.

Taking Climate Change Seriously Means Tackling Buildings

Buildings account for over 70% of Boston’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, with the majority of those emissions originating from the largest commercial and multifamily residential buildings. According to the Boston Green Ribbon Commission, for Boston to achieve its climate goals of 50% GHG reduction by 2030 from a 2005 baseline, and carbon free by 2050,  large existing buildings need to decarbonize significantly.

In introducing the vote for BERDO 2.0, City Council President Matt O’Malley described it as the, “most impactful decarbonization law of anywhere in the country.” By setting building greenhouse gas (GHG) emission targets for 3,200 of Boston’s largest buildings, BERDO 2.0 alone has the potential to lower annual GHG emissions 60% by 2050.

Many Existing Laws Have Created Essential Data Sets

As detailed in my previous blog post, BERDO 2.0 will require all buildings with 20,000 or more square feet of gross floor area to meet a series of emissions intensity targets starting in 2025 and ending at zero carbon emissions in 2050. Boston’s passage of the first BERDO in 2013 laid critical groundwork here via benchmarking and building energy data transparency. Using data from the original BERDO benchmarking requirement, the City of Boston, in partnership with Synapse Energy Economics, developed performance targets for different building use types. These will be measured in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent (kgCO2e) per square foot per year. As more than 35 benchmarking and transparency laws have been passed across the country, many jurisdictions have at their hands a similar starting cache of valuable data.

Decarbonization Strategies Must Include Community Input

The Boston BPS exemplifies many key principles that IMT believes are critical for effective BPS policies and their development. In particular, BERDO 2.0 does much to center equity in policy and implementation.   

With support from Bloomberg American Cities Climate Challenge—including the Institute for Market Transformation, NRDC, and the Building Electrification Institute—the City of Boston staff engaged local stakeholders and residents from disinvested communities in developing BERDO 2.0. Local organizations Alternatives for Community and Environment, the Chinese Progressive Association, and City Life/Vida Urbana created a Residential Advisory Group facilitated by One Square World to inform the city on policy development. The group engaged low-income residents and communities of color, offering translation in five languages (read the C40 case study for details or view the city’s webpage). Thanks to feedback from the residential advisory group and community stakeholders, BERDO 2.0 creates earmarks for equitable project funds acquired through enforcement and creates a Review Board with two-thirds of its members representing environmental justice communities. This Review Board is empowered to oversee implementation of the ordinance and distribution of funds.

Momentum Building for BPS

The passage of BERDO 2.0 will be a massive victory for local climate action, building decarbonization, and equitable solutions to GHG emissions reduction. More and more cities, states, and counties are looking to adopt similar BPS ordinances to help lower building-related GHG emissions—including Denver, CO and Montgomery County, MD. These policies represent the most powerful tool developed to date for jurisdictions to lower energy demand and GHG emissions from buildings. IMT is excited to be part of this rapidly growing movement and we congratulate the City of Boston on its bold leadership. For more information on designing and implementing a BPS, visit imt.org/bps.

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