With construction projects popping up all over the city, working to reduce the city’s carbon footprint is an important factor for many. City Councilor and Chair of the Committee on Environment, Sustainability & Parks Matt O’Malley held a working session regarding net zero carbon in the City of Boston on Aug. 21.
“It’s not as simple as having an ordinance,” O’Malley said, like the one for plastic bags that goes into effect in December. “What we endeavor to do here is to come up with a series of proposals and initiatives,” through which, the City Council hopes to get new construction to “ground zero carbon,” according to O’Malley. The focus would be specifically on new construction at first, but existing and municipal buildings would get attention in a later phase.
This working session was likely the last in a series of three. A hearing was held on Dec. 11 of last year, followed by a working session in March and a second one in May. At this working session, City Councilors Ed Flynn, Lydia Edwards, and Ayanna Pressley joined Matt O’Malley and several other stakeholders to discuss top suggestions from previous sessions.
After this working session, the committee will come up with a report on “what we would like to see come out of this,” O’Malley said. “We’ve come up with really solid ideas that we can put into practice.” He also said that there are some good existing guidelines, but whether or not they are enforced becomes an issue.
One step in the process has been to take a look at what other cities have done in relation to net zero carbon. In New York City, for example, over 100 participants and 500 million square-feet of real estate have taken the NYC Carbon Challenge Pledge. And in neighboring Cambridge, the Multi-Family Energy Pilot launched to help apartments and condo buildings save energy and money with free whole-building energy assessments and free solar assessments.
Some of the top suggestions discussed at the session included incentivizing density bonuses, which would probably require a zoning code change and are used now for affordable housing. Another was lowering parking requirements, which Chris Schaffner, president of The Green Engineer, said “We need to be doing this anyway.” He said that we’re heading towards a future with less vehicles, so the demand for parking will continue to decrease. Conor McGuire, director of sustainability for Columbias Construction, suggested that parking be decoupled from housing units, so if someone does not want to have a car, they should not have to pay the extra money to have a space with their unit.
It would also be a possibility to review the Floor Area Ratio (FAR) definition in the zoning code to measure from the inside of the wall. John Dalzell, senior architect for sustainable development at the Boston Planning and Redevelopment Agency (BPDA), said that there are some “definitional updates” that they are looking at, and he said that though he doesn’t think wall thickness is a huge factor, it’s something “we can certainly look at.”
City Councilor Ayanna Pressley raised a question of “how we will hold ourselves accountable” from an equity lens in energy efficiency, not just with newer construction, but older buildings now. BHA housing would be part of a second phase that would address existing buildings.
However, O’Malley said “The incentives that we offer would make gut rehabs want to take advantage.”
Councilor Lydia Edwards said that she had met with O’Malley at an earlier point and discussed creating a public database that lists all of the green building initiatives. She said she wants it to be a “searchable thing that the public can see and understand.”
“I do hope the database becomes part of the conversation,” she said.
At the end of the hour-long session, O’Malley said that the committee will need a few weeks to work things out, but after Labor Day or the following week, they will circulate what they want to see in the committee report. It will be a more formalized version of what has been discussed at the working sessions.
The councilors will be working on putting together “a whole host of proposals and initiatives going forward,” said O’Malley.
He said they are actually more on track time-wise than they have been, and “can really begin in earnest in October, “ he said. “We still have a lot of work to do, but I’m really excited.”