City of Cambridge Passes Ambitious Net Zero Building Ordinance

On June 26, 2023, the Cambridge City Council voted to amend the city’s Building Energy Use Disclosure Ordinance (BEUDO) to require large non-residential buildings to reach net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035 and mid-size non-residential buildings to do so by 2050. The BEUDO amendment sets one of the most ambitious municipal net zero building targets in the country and establishes a new benchmark for climate-focused cities—yet questions remain as to whether these goals can actually be achieved.

The BEUDO amendment applies the 2035 target to non-residential buildings of 100,000 or more square feet and applies the 2050 target to non-residential buildings of 25,000 to 99,999 square feet. It does not apply to any residential buildings. Covered buildings will be required to gradually reduce emissions, relative to a 2018–2019 baseline, over compliance periods starting in 2026 and 2030.

While other cities, including the City of Boston, have passed laws requiring net zero emissions for certain buildings, Cambridge is among the first to set any such target for 2035. By comparison, the 2021 amendment to Boston’s Building Emissions Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance, known as “BERDO 2.0,” requires non-residential buildings of 20,000 or more square feet, as well as large residential buildings, to achieve net zero emissions by 2050.

Cambridge’s BEUDO amendment passed after over two years of stakeholder engagement and debate. In February 2022, two city counselors first proposed shifting the target for larger non-residential buildings from 2050 to 2035. Some have questioned the feasibility of achieving such an aggressive goal, given technical and economic constraints. The same issues—particularly grid capacity—also present challenges to other decarbonization efforts, such as the rollout of electric vehicles. Cambridge, nonetheless, is pressing forward with the 2035 target, setting a new standard for buildings emissions reductions in the process.

Owners of covered buildings will have a variety options to comply with the new ordinance, including entering into power purchase agreements or purchasing renewable energy credits, obtaining “Verified Carbon Credits” (offsets), and improving the energy efficiency of covered buildings to reach net zero.

It remains to be seen whether the BEUDO amendment signals a broader trend among local governments to push for ambitious emissions building reductions. Further, Massachusetts could set its own state-level standards for the building sector, potentially preempting local ordinances. (The Massachusetts Legislature is currently considering several building-focused decarbonization bills.) The building sector will need to continue monitoring this fast-developing area.

Photo by Chris Rycroft

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.