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Developing carbon targets for existing large buildings

The City of Boston worked to develop a new policy to make existing large buildings healthy and climate-friendly. Large buildings in Boston are the biggest emitters of carbon pollution. Developing a carbon standard for these buildings is one of the 2019 Climate Action Plan Update strategies.

Most of Boston’s carbon pollution comes from the oil and gas we burn to heat and power our homes and offices. A couple thousand of our largest buildings account for nearly half of Boston’s carbon emissions. Our current policies cover buildings over 35,000 square feet. That’s the equivalent of a 35-unit residential building.

How would the standard work?

The City of Boston is looking to set carbon emission targets for large buildings, from offices to apartment blocks to labs. Buildings will be required to meet targets that put them on track to the citywide goal of carbon neutrality by 2050.

There are two basic ways to reduce carbon pollution from large buildings: 

  1. Update buildings so they need less energy. A range of best practices and technologies exist to reduce energy needs from:
    • lighting
    • heating and cooling
    • heating water
    • operating equipment, and
    • appliances. 
  2. Power buildings with clean energy. Moving away from oil and gas to clean energy sources, like solar and wind power, eliminates carbon pollution. Clean energy is becoming more and more affordable each day.

Potential benefits

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Living and working in healthier buildings

Cutting carbon pollution in large buildings will increase air quality.

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Lower utility bills

Energy efficiency measures help reduce energy use.

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Construction and energy job opportunities

The work to make our buildings healthier and efficient will create new, green job opportunities.

Timeline for policy development

Timeline for Boston Building Emissions Performance Standard policy development

Policy development process


The City  convened a Technical Advisory Group and a Resident Advisory Group to help shape Boston's performance standard.


We worked with Synapse Energy Economics to develop carbon targets, decarbonization pathways and analyze costs. 

resident advisory group

We partnered with One Square World and Alternatives for Community and Environment to center potentially impacted communities in the policy design process. Residents living in large buildings were convened in a Resident Advisory Group.


In 2020 and early 2021, we convened a series of open houses to provide you an opportunity to participate in the policy's development.

Open House #1: Wednesday, July 29, 2020, 6 - 7:30 p.m.
Open House #2: Monday, September 28, 2020, 6 - 7:30 P.M.
Open House #3: Thursday, November 19, 2020, 6 - 7:30 P.M.
Open house #4: TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2021, 6 - 7:30 P.M.

Our carbon neutrality goal

Our goal is to make Boston carbon neutral by 2050. The City is doing our part to keep Boston healthy and lessen the impact of climate change. In 2019, a community working group proposed that we develop a new policy that requires large buildings to cut carbon pollution over time.

We are working together to take meaningful action to reduce our city’s largest source of carbon pollution. We can create a community that is providing for the health and safety of near and future generations.

Case studies

Some large building owners are already moving forward with retrofits that cut carbon emissions. These include projects like:

  • deep energy retrofits that cut energy use in half, and
  • electrification of all building systems.

We will publish case studies on an ongoing basis. Have you taken steps to decarbonize your building? Let's develop a case study together!

Dive into the data

The City of Boston contracted with Synapse Energy Economics to develop carbon targets. To do so, we use annual energy use data submitted by our largest buildings.

Large buildings submit this data in accordance with the Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO). The City releases the full dataset each year on Analyze Boston, the City’s open data platform:


Synapse Energy Economics developed carbon targets and building pathways using BERDO data. Synapse also used data and expert feedback shared by members of the Technical Advisory Group members. The final report includes an overview of the technical methods and key inputs used in the:

  • in-depth building energy and emissions analysis
  • policy development, and
  • estimation of cost impacts for the building emissions performance standard.

Technical Methods Overview

The City of Boston analyzed Boston’s buildings to  understand their ability to cut carbon emissions. To do so, we worked with the Building Electrification Initiative and the Cadmus Group. The inventory compiles information on all buildings in Boston, including information on:

  • wall types
  • roof types
  • heating systems, and
  • much more.

Using this inventory and assumptions from building experts, they identified retrofit strategies for multifamily buildings. Building owners can use this analysis to inform their retrofit strategies.

building inventory data

Energy efficiency resources for large buildings


The Hub is a one-stop shop for large- and medium-sized Boston buildings to connect with energy efficiency services and technical support. The Hub is a partnership between the City of Boston and Eversource.

Our goal is to help large building owners and operators, as well as tenants. We want to reduce your energy use and carbon emissions while saving you money. The Hub will help you find the best solutions for your building.

Want to get help? Contact the Building Energy Retrofit consultant at 781-441-3010 or

We'll help you understand, access, and put in place Eversource’s energy efficiency services and incentives. These include:

  • comprehensive planning services and support specific to your building 
  • expert guidance, including a dedicated Eversource Energy Efficiency consultant team, vendor referrals, and specialized building technologies
  • energy efficiency offerings and incentives tailored to your building type and size, and
  • Building Operator Certification training classes for your staff.

The City of Boston and Eversource are collaborating on a Building Energy Retrofit Resource Hub. This hub will be a one-stop shop for large- and medium-sized Boston buildings and tenants to connect with energy efficiency services and technical support. Connect with the Hub.

Mass Save

The MassSave program is an initiative of the Massachusetts electric and gas utilities. It's the first step to interacting with utility companies. MassSave offers businesses support as well as custom and prescriptive incentives for investments in building energy efficiency. Learn more online.

Utility Programs

Eversource offers tools for energy efficiency. National Grid has programs for natural gas efficiency.

Virtual Energy Assessments

Virtual Energy Assessments are an emerging technology. They provide building owners a greater understanding of their building’s energy use and operations using inputs from utility meters and computer modeling. A Better City recently conducted a study that evaluates Virtual Energy Assessments. The technology was piloted with nine properties within Boston. The study investigated:

  • how useful the results of virtual energy assessments were to building operations and management staff
  • if actionable improvements and opportunities were identified
  • the limitations of the technology, and
  • if the technology was a viable alternative to more expensive walk-through audit requirements.

You can read the report from A Better City online.

A Better City Challenge for Sustainability

A voluntary program challenging members to increase their sustainability and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The program challenges and recognizes businesses, institutions, and building owners to meet a broad range of sustainability standards and practices. You can learn more and contact ABC online.

Green Ribbon Commission

The Boston Green Ribbon Commission is a group of business, institutional, and civic leaders in Boston. They work to develop shared strategies for fighting climate change in coordination with the City’s Climate Action Plan. Different working groups are focused either on solving problems and spurring action in specific sectors, or cross-cutting approaches that complement and amplify the work of the Commission:

  • Commercial Real Estate
    Use GRC leadership to enable the commercial real estate sector to meet the climate plan emissions reductions targets.
  • Health Care
    Use GRC leadership to enable the healthcare sector to meet the climate plan emissions reductions targets.
  • Higher Education
    Use GRC leadership to enable the higher education sector to meet the climate plan emissions reductions targets.
  • Climate Preparedness
    The mission of the GRC Climate Preparedness Working Group is to support the City of Boston climate preparedness planning process.
  • Carbon Free Boston
    Share best practices in technologies, policies, and strategies in meeting Boston’s goal of reducing 80 percent of its GHG emissions by 2050.

In addition to its working groups, the GRC undergoes initiatives that impact all areas of our work. These cross-cutting initiatives are informed by – and impact – all of the Commission:

  • EU Climate Innovations Study Tour
    GRC hosted leaders in policy, academics, philanthropy, and business on a Climate Innovations Study Tour. The tour focused on climate adaptation and mitigation best practices in several advanced cities in Northern Europe.
  • The Climate Finance Series
    Designed to address aspects of financing a meaningful response to impending climate change.
  • Renewable Energy Purchasing Network
    Helps GRC network participants advance their strategies for purchasing power with zero carbon content.
EPA Portfolio Manager

Portfolio Manager is an online tool used to measure and track energy and water consumption, as well as greenhouse gas emissions. It is also the reporting mechanism for the City’s Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance. Learn more about Portfolio Manager.

USGBC’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED)

A green building certification program. To receive LEED certification, building projects satisfy prerequisites and earn points to achieve different levels of certification. Prerequisites and credits differ for each rating system, and teams choose the best fit for their project.

Sustainable Business Network

A nonprofit organization based with the mission to build a Massachusetts economy that is local, green and fair. Currently, the Sustainable Business Network has over 1,000 affiliates participating in programs.

Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance

The Building Energy Reporting Disclosure and Ordinance (BERDO) requires Boston’s large and medium-sized buildings to report their annual energy and water use to the City of Boston. Explore the program, and its most recent results.

Greenovate Boston Awards

The Greenovate Boston Awards are annual awards recognizing outstanding achievement in sustainability among the Boston community.

Mayor’s Carbon Cup

A voluntary recognition program for large hospitals, universities, and commercial building portfolios committed to reducing their greenhouse gas emissions.

Better Buildings Challenge

The US Department of Energy Better Buildings Initiative supports commercial and industrial building owners by providing technical assistance and proven solutions to energy efficiency.

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