The Road to Net Zero
Massachusetts is more than ready for net zero buildings. This major update to the report shows exponential growth of Net Zero and Net Zero Ready building projects across the Commonwealth. Continued data collection since 2021 increased the total known square footage in the analysis from 7.2 million GSF to 32.8 million GSF. This represents a 355% increase in just 2 years.
The bottom line is:
- The Net Zero and Net Zero Ready building stock exceeds 32.8 million square feet and is growing at an exponential rate in the Commonwealth today.
- Of the 7 million GSF with reported cost data, 81% reported <1% construction cost premium to achieve Net Zero Ready.
- Multi-family and affordable housing’s combined 11 Million GSF are leading the way for Net Zero development in Massachusetts, employing heat pumps and on-site renewables to reach their Net Zero targets. Lab / Tech / Science grew substantially in 2023 to 9.3 Million GSF, making up the majority of the found Net Zero Ready space.
- Affordable Housing makes up 44% of all residential Net Zero and Net Zero Ready square footage.
- All projects rely on heat pumps as the primary source of heat. The majority of building types utilize air-source heat pumps, with the exception of K-12 and Higher Ed which more often use ground-source heat pumps. Net Zero buildings also procure on-site and/or off-site renewable energy to offset 100% of consumption on a net annual basis.
- 13.5 million GSF reported the use of electricity for domestic hot water.
- The list of companies working on these Net Zero projects has grown substantially in the past 2 years, with a 140% increase to 320 companies working to make Net Zero buildings the standard in MA.
Still Accepting Project Data for MA is Ready for Net Zero Updates
Are you working on or have you completed Net Zero or Net Zero Ready Buildings in MA? We want to make sure that your projects and company are included in future updates.
Download the spreadsheet and answer the survey questions for project data that meets the criteria. Fields in the spreadsheet are organized by priority with orange being the highest. We recognize we are asking for a lot of information. It’s okay to provide what you have; even just the project type and GSF is useful. All data can be confidential if required.
Criteria for inclusion in report
Please note to be listed as:
- Net Zero Ready: buildings must be located In Massachusetts, highly energy efficient (25% total energy reduction vs. the ASHRAE 90.1 baseline) and all electric for building heating operation. (All electric for building heating operation means that electricity is used for heating during “normal operation” when systems are operating as intended and ambient temperature is above the ASHRAE 99% design condition. Special use buildings such as health care facilities and laboratories are given more leeway and may be included if the building relies primarily on heat pumps for building heating and through efficiency and electrification achieve ≥90% fossil fuel reduction vs. the ASRHAE 90.1 baseline.)
- Net Zero: buildings must meet the Net Zero Ready criteria and procure renewable energy (from on-site and/or off-site) equal to 100% of the site energy consumption on a net annual basis.
The State of Net Zero in Massachusetts is strong. This major update to our March 1st, 2021 report shows exponential growth of Net Zero and Net Zero Ready building projects across the Commonwealth. Built Environment Plus continues to ask the Massachusetts Building Community for data on what’s happening around net zero buildings. In one year alone, our analysis has expanded the known square footage of Net Zero or Net Zero Ready projects by 130% to 16.5 Million GSF.
The bottom line is:
- The Net Zero and Net Zero Ready building stock exceeds 16.5 million square feet and is growing at an exponential rate in the Commonwealth today.
- Of the 4 million GSF with reported cost data, 85% reported <1% construction cost premium to achieve Net Zero Ready.
- Affordable housing, Multifamily housing, K-12 Schools, and Labs & Tech are leading the way, employing heat pumps and on-site renewables to reach their net zero targets.
- Affordable Housing makes up 78% of all residential Net Zero and Net Zero Ready square footage, up from 54% in March 2021.
- Net Zero Ready buildings are highly energy efficient: 90% are at least 35% more efficient than the current stretch code baseline (up from 82% in March, 2021 with 26% more projects reporting energy data). All rely on heat pumps as the primary source of heat. Net Zero buildings also procure on-site and/or off-site renewable energy to offset 100% of consumption on a net annual basis.
- Our list of companies working on these net zero projects has grown substantially in the past year, with a 135% increase to 313 companies working to make net zero buildings the standard in MA.
The Zero Carbon Buildings Municipal Summit was an informative and interactive event organized by Built Environment Plus to discuss the present and future of Zero Carbon Buildings in Massachusetts. We invited municipal staff, committee members, elected officials, and concerned citizens to learn and share about the path to achieving Net Zero within cities and towns in Massachusetts.
According to Attendees:
The most popular zero carbon actions and goals for municipalites are:
- Lower carbon municipal buildings
- Education efforts
- Building energy disclosure
The Stretch Code and Base Code are extremely important to many municipalities. Creating a strong base code with an opt-in stretch code will allow them to set targets and begin working towards them.
It is essential to shift away from fossil fuels by reducing dependency on them, stopping the creation of new infrastructure, and changing the definition of “luxury” appliances.
The most popular short-term (0-3 years) policies include:
- adopt net zero ordinances
- retrofit incentive programs
- low carbon concrete procurement
- stop expanding gas delivery system and plan for deliberate electrification
Time. It’s taking too long. Massachusetts is ready to take on Zero Carbon policies. There is overwhelming support for the Stretch Code, and just about every supporter feels the same way: that the creation process is too long.
The current lack of the Net Zero Stretch Code is making it difficult for communities to keep pushing forwards.
On the morning of Friday, June 11th, Municipal Leaders and Building Professionals from across the state of Massachusetts came together to gain a better understanding of the complete carbon picture in buildings and why it is so important to pay attention to both operational and embodied carbon.
About 150 individuals attended from 55 different towns and cities in Massachusetts. The summit included a discussion on the tangible strategies that municipalities can implement in the long and short term to reduce the carbon emissions associated with the built environment.
We want to empower Municipal Leaders and Staff with knowledge on Zero Carbon Buildings, so that they have the context and confidence to make the necessary transition towards our Zero Carbon Future. Watch this recording above you will learn ways building designers are reducing operational and embodied carbon today in Massachusetts.
Who was involved in the making of this event?
Built Environment Plus, with sponsors Eversource + Mass Save & MassCEC, is partnering with the Boston Society for Architecture, the local Carbon Leadership Forum hub, MCAN, MAPC, NEEP, SierraClub, Mothers Out Front and RMI to pull this together.
Governor Baker Signs Climate Legislation to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions, Protect Environmental Justice Communities
March 26th, 2021
The comprehensive climate change legislation codifies into law the Baker-Polito Administration’s commitment to achieve Net Zero emissions in 2050 and furthers the Commonwealth’s nation leading efforts to combat climate change and protect vulnerable communities. The new law, Senate Bill 9 – An Act Creating a Next Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy, establishes new interim goals for emissions reductions, significantly increases protections for Environmental Justice communities across Massachusetts, authorizes the Administration to implement a new, voluntary energy efficient building code for municipalities, and allows the Commonwealth to procure an additional 2,400 Megawatts (MW) of clean, reliable offshore wind energy by 2027. Building upon the framework established in the Administration’s 2050 Decarbonization Roadmap and Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2030, the bipartisan bill allows the Commonwealth to pursue ambitious emissions reduction goals in a cost-effective and equitable manner while creating jobs and opportunities for economic development throughout Massachusetts.
Since our first release in February, continued effort has increased the total of Net Zero Ready, or Net Zero Projects, collected in the analysis to 7.2 Million GSF in MA. These represent built or in-process projects, and we have since removed out-of-state projects. It’s clear from this survey that Massachusetts is more than ready for net zero.
The bottom line is:
- The Net Zero and Net Zero Ready building stock exceeds 7 million square feet and is growing at an exponential rate in the Commonwealth today.
- The vast majority are doing this with little to no added cost. 85% reported <1% construction cost premium to achieve Net Zero Ready.**
- Net Zero Buildings span a wide range of types, with a high degree of representation from K-12, higher education, healthcare, laboratory, office, and multi-family.
- There are dozens of builders, architects, engineers and owners already bringing these projects to reality. Some are developers.
- Net Zero Ready buildings are highly energy efficient: 82% are at least 35% more efficient than the current stretch code baseline and all rely on heat pumps as the primary source of heat. *Net Zero buildings also procure on-site and/or off-site renewable energy to offset 100% of consumption on a net annual basis.
Built Environment Plus sent a request out to the Massachusetts building community for data on what’s happening around net zero buildings. We wanted to take a pulse on:
- How many Net Zero projects exist or are in development in and around Massachusetts.
- Does it cost more to build these projects?
- What building types are achieving net zero?
- Who is bringing these projects to reality?
- How are they getting it done?
The Building Community answered our call and in nine short days we released this draft report on our findings. Submissions are still flooding in. We will update this document as we gather more data. Thank you to the Boston Society for Architecture (BSA/AIA) for their partnership in collecting data, and thank you to those who have submitted!
An Act Creating a Next-Generation Roadmap for Massachusetts Climate Policy
The amendments align with Governor Baker’s concerns that lead to the first veto, which include the creation of an opt-in municipal stretch energy code and the 2030 greenhouse gas emissions target reduction. It back to the legislature, where they can choose to reject Baker’s amendments, and then if the governor ends up vetoing again, the House and Senate have the ability to vote for an override to pass the bill.
We reached out to those in this community who signed our letters and asked that they reach out to their senators and voice support of the inclusion of the stretch code as written in the bill. We also rallyed professionals working on Net Zero Buildings to submit case studies so we can address fears with realities when it comes to how we are able to make Net Zero happen in Massachusetts today.
“While I support the bill’s goals and am largely in agreement with many of its proposals, 35 hours was not enough time to review and suggest amendments to such complex legislation. Over the past ten days, my Administration has worked diligently to review Senate Bill No. 2995 and, for the reasons explained hereafter, there are certain provisions in this bill to which I cannot agree. Had this bill been presented to me with more time while the Legislature was still in session, I would have returned it with amendments to address the concerns set out in this letter. Unfortunately, because the Legislature has adjourned, I do not have that option, and therefore, reluctantly, I cannot sign the legislation as currently written…”
This is not the end of this bill and we have heard that the Governor hopes to address these issues quickly with the Legislature committed to revisiting the bill so soon. This community is keeping steady to make sure this happens.
This bill came back after six months of private talks with legislative negotiators reaching an agreement on a major bill to accelerate the state’s pace toward addressing climate change. The bill would establish in state law a “net zero” greenhouse gas emissions limit for 2050 and establish statewide emissions limits every five years over the next three decades. Learn more in the Call for Community Action message below.
Zero Net Energy Coalition: E-Z Code Proposal
The MA E-Z Code offers an alternative compliance path for building energy efficiency and an update to the existing stretch code. The alternative compliance path is a prescriptive path, which may be selected for new buildings, instead of the performance (energy model) path. The prescriptive path has been named the “Energy Zero (E-Z)” path because it enhances building energy efficiency, is simpler to apply, and supports a more streamlined regulatory review for compliance.
In addition to offering a prescriptive compliance path, the MA E-Z Code addresses the electrification of buildings, a critical strategy for the Commonwealth to reach carbon neutrality. The MA E-Z Code modifies the IECC 2021 Zero Code Renewable Energy Appendix (ZCREA) to limit renewable energy sources to those that meet ‘additionality,’ ensuring that the renewable energy will have a net positive effect on Massachusetts greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. The MA E-Z Code additionally addresses demand response, resilience, and several other topics that minimize a new building’s life cycle impact on GHG emissions. (This is an excerpt from the V2 submission)
Building + Energy Roundtable: Defining Our Vision
We held a working session to develop consensus around what we believe are the core concepts that should be included in the Net Zero Stretch Code. This drafted proposal could become the standard that which other proposals are compared to.
We reviewed precedent net zero codes and standards, gathered input from municipal stakeholders, and outlined what we believe are the core elements that should be included in the Net Zero Stretch Code. This was not be a “code language” crafting event. We focused on big picture core concepts.
Massachusetts Net Zero Stretch Code Building Industry Support Letter
The Massachusetts Net Zero Stretch Code support letter was specifically written for individuals and organizations in the Massachusetts building industry to voice their support. This web page also provides background information on this initiative, including: past legislation, progress on climate goals to date, and climate action advocacy in the Commonwealth. To read the letter, please click the button below to view the PDF.
Last updated: February 11th, 2020, 1:21 pm
Our Call to Action for Individuals and Organizations in the Massachusetts Building Industry
It was and still is a pivotal moment. Net Zero Stretch Code legislation was proposed in the Massachusetts House and Senate, and draft code language is currently being developed by the Board of Building Regulations and Standards (BBRS). The Net Zero Stretch Code is currently the greatest single opportunity to support reduced building emissions in MA. There is momentum behind the Net Zero Stretch Code, but it is far from guaranteed that it will be implemented. A demonstration of Massachusetts building industry support has a crucial role to play to ensure success.
As individuals and organizations in the Massachusetts building industry, our position on this issue carries significant weight. We asked then, and continue to ask now, that you join us in supporting the Net Zero Stretch Code.
Please note that the details of the Net Zero Stretch Code will require a concerted effort to develop, and should include input from building industry professionals. Details may include: how Net Zero is defined, what metrics are used, what strategies and criteria are included, and an appropriate timeline for implementation. Through the consensus-building process, and based on many successful built examples, we are confident that a Net Zero Stretch Code will be developed that is flexible and easily achievable with today’s technology, results in net financial savings to building owners, enhances public health, results in greater resilience, and supports economic growth in the Commonwealth. But, it would be premature to advocate for specific requirements at this time. Therefore, this letter does not address any specific suggestions. Our letter simply calls for a Net Zero Stretch Code to be developed and promulgated because it is a critical component of Massachusetts leading the way toward a livable climate.
The Massachusetts Global Warming Solutions Acts (GWSA) was signed into law in August of 2008, requiring a GHG reduction below 1990 levels of between 10% and 25% by 2020 and a reduction of 80% by 2050 (1). In 2010, Former Secretary Ian Bowles set the 2020 limit at 25% and published the Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2020, laying out the measures necessary to meet the 2020 limit (2). Since then, the state claims to be on-track to meet the required 2020 emissions reduction of 25% (3).
Is the Commonwealth On-Track?
As noted above, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts claims to be on-track to meet the required 2020 emissions reduction of 25%. The majority of the Commonwealth’s emission reductions to date are due to electric utility generation fuel switching from petroleum and coal to natural gas (4). Unfortunately, Massachusetts’ accounting methodology neglects to account for upstream methane leakage at extraction sites and distribution in other states which is approximately 9.5% (6) (an order of magnitude greater than the leakage within the state of MA, which is published at 0.6% to 1.1% (7)). It also does not include leakage at the end use locations, which further compounds the underestimation of GHG emissions (8).
In addition, Massachusetts’ GHG accounting methodology uses a global warming potential value of 25 for methane, based on the 100-year timescale listed in the IPCC Fourth Assessment Report (AR4) (9). Considering that the imperative to address climate change is on a much shorter timescale than 100 years, environmental organizations, such as Environmental Defense Fund advocate for also reporting GHG emissions based on a 20-year timescale (10), which more than triples the global warming potential of methane emissions to 84 (11).
If the Massachusetts’ emissions accounting were to include upstream and end use methane leakage and account for the 20-year global warming potential value for methane, it would be clear that the Commonwealth is falling short of the 25% reduction goal for 2020.
Climate Action in Massachusetts
Over 200 organizations in Massachusetts have joined forces, creating the Mass Power Forward coalition (12). By joining forces, they are able to focus their efforts and have a stronger, unified voice. They are working to support legislation and executive action that addresses the three major sources of Greenhouse Gas (GHG) emissions in Massachusetts: electricity generation, transportation, and buildings. In the process, they also promote resilience, climate equity, and economic growth.
As a member of Mass Power Forward, the non-profit Massachusetts Climate Action Network (MCAN) (13) is the point-organization focused on reducing building emissions. MCAN has highlighted the fact that in Massachusetts, commercial and residential building operations (including on-site combustion and electricity consumption) represent nearly half of total greenhouse gas emissions (14). MCAN has identified Net Zero buildings as a critical component of the path to carbon neutrality for the Commonwealth.
Net Zero Stretch Code
Many communities in Massachusetts are interested in Net Zero community planning and Net Zero buildings. It is important to note that under the current regulations, towns and cities in Massachusetts cannot adopt a Net Zero code, because they must follow the state-wide codes promulgated by the Board of Building Regulation and Standards (BBRS).
Therefore, MCAN has worked with legislators and the BBRS to propose a Net Zero Stretch Code. There is currently a proposed bill in both the Massachusetts House and Senate that, if ratified will raise the bar on the Stretch Code to require Net Zero for applicable new buildings by 2030 (15). In addition, witnessing the upswell of support, Chair Couture of the BBRS recently directed the Energy Advisory Committee that reports to the BBRS to develop a draft of the Net Zero Stretch Code.
Now is a pivotal moment. The Net Zero Stretch Code is currently the greatest single opportunity to support reduced building emissions in MA. There is momentum behind the Net Zero Stretch Code, but it is far from guaranteed that it will be implemented. A demonstration of industry support will play a crucial role in ensuring success.
Citations & Footnotes
1. Global Warming Solutions Act Background
2. Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2020
3. MA GHG Emissions Trends
4. MA GHG Emissions Trends: MA CO2 by Fuel Combusted
5. Responses to Comments on the Statewide Greenhouse Gas Emissions Level: 1990 Baseline and 2020 Business as Usual Projection Update
6. Methane Emissions and Climatic Warming Risk from Hydraulic Fracturing and Shale Gas Development: implications for Policy
7. Massachusetts Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2020, 2015 Update
8. Large Fugitive Methane Emissions from Urban Centers Along the U.S. East Coast
9. Statewide Greenhouse Gas Emissions Level: 1990 Baseline and 2020 Business as Usual Projection Update https://www.mass.gov/files/documents/2016/11/xv/gwsa-update-16.pdf
10. Paper Proposes Two-Value Reporting Standard for Global Warming Potential
11. IPCC AR5 Chapter 8, Appendix 8.A: Lifetimes, Radiative Efficiencies and Metric Values
12. Mass Power Forward Website
13. Massachusetts Climate Action Network Website
14. MA GHG Emissions Trends
15. Bill H.2865 / S.1935
Building + Energy Roundtable: Net Zero Stretch Code Support Mobilization
After the release of our report, we continued advocacy of Net Zero Energy Buildings by hosting the Buildings + Energy Roundtable: Net Zero Stretch Code Support Mobilization. The Roundtable enabled like-minded professionals to gather and explore specific issues, define actions, develop strategies and explore solutions related to energy in the green building industry. We focused on mobilizing our community to show support for the Net Zero Stretch Code being brought before the legislature. It was an important step in moving the needle towards a net positive environment, society, and economy.
The roundtable attendees and our greater community came together to craft our next piece of advocacy, the Massachusetts Net Zero Stretch Code Building Industry Support Letter. With 200+ undersigned companies and 1300+ individuals and building, the movement is strong. Our Net Zero Hero Jacob Knowles, seen above, presented the letter to the Board of Building Regulations and Standards.
Zero Net Energy Coalition: Cost Report Released
Zero Energy Buildings in MA: Saving Money from the Start
The report, Zero Energy Buildings in MA: Saving Money from the Start, assesses zero energy (ZE) upfront building costs, model performance, and life-cycle costs in Massachusetts. With buildings being a major source of greenhouse gas emissions, scientists, advocates, and local leaders are working to curb emissions and reduce energy use in the built environment by both retrofitting existing buildings and constructing new buildings to achieve Zero Energy Standards. While stakeholders and decision makers frequently cite high costs as the primary barrier to ZE buildings, we and report lead Integral Group found that many types of ZE buildings can be built with no added upfront cost and some commercial buildings can see return on investment in as little as one year.
“Many people already know the environmental benefits green buildings bring to our communities and our world, but few understand the economic benefits of this investment. Zero energy buildings can be constructed or retrofitted for minimal upfront costs, if any, and owners can start making money off of their investment sooner than they expect. Our hope is that this report demonstrates that owning, operating, and living in a zero energy building is within reach for many of us here in Massachusetts.”
Zero Net Energy Buildings: Municipal Roundtable
Our very first Municipal Roundtable, held in collaboration with MCAN, MAPC, and NEEP was a platform for municipal staff, committee members, elected officials and concerned citizens to come together to learn and share about the path to Zero Net Energy Buildings.
There were presentations by Bill Updike of Integral Group, Jacob Knowles of BR+A, and our own Meredith Elbaum, that provided definitions and project examples to illustrate the bennefits and challenges of ZNE.
Attendees were asked to share obstacles and solutions to becoming zero net energy communities. These conversations will be used to guide research on the cost of net zero buildings. Cost has been a question that has come up for stakeholders looking into net zero for their communities, and this was an important launching session to make the research most helpful to the community.
According to MA Clean Energy and Climate Plan for 2020, buildings consume more than 50% of energy used in Massachusetts and account for over 50% of greenhouse gas emissions. As climate change accelerates, municipalities need strategies to combat the carbon emissions from their building stock.
Zero Net Energy Building (ZNE Building) is one solution. ZNE Buildings produce as much energy as they use throughout a year. Cities such as Cambridge and Amherst are leading the way by developing ZNE plans.
The roundtable was a great success! We took all the data back to the office and synthesized all the information into a complete graphic summary below. Lessons learned at the Roundtable would be integrated into the Net Zero report.
In 2017 USGBC MA (Built Environment Plus) began gathering various stakeholders including MCAN, MAPC, and NEEP to address barriers to Massachusetts communities becoming Zero Net Energy. The coalition met several times and what was often heard was that the cost, and the perception of increased cost, is a major obstacle. With funding from the Barr Foundation, USGBC MA began work on a report to analyze the cost of Zero Net Energy buildings in Massachusetts.