City of Cambridge to preview bold strategy for Net Zero carbon emissions

The City of Cambridge has earned a strong reputation for taking action to protect the environment. We were one of the very first to adopt the state's Stretch Energy Code, and in recent years, we have become more energy efficient, earning an official designation as a Green Community.

But despite these and many other positive efforts, the reality of global climate change leads us to an unavoidable conclusion — we need to do more to limit the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

In Cambridge, reducing carbon emissions means focusing on buildings. As one of the nation's most bike friendly and densely-populated cities, approximately 80% our carbon footprint comes from the energy that is used to heat and electrify the built-environment.

Recognizing this fact, in the summer of 2013, climate activists and neighborhood leaders came together to support the Connolly, et al. petition for net zero carbon emissions, a citizen-sponsored effort to promote energy efficiency and require the use of renewable energy in all large, new buildings.

The petition was recognized as a first-in-the-nation attempt to create citywide standards for "net zero" building operations. After a series of public meetings, the petition was revised to include additional features, such an option to create a local fund to support deep-energy retrofits of existing structures.

The petition campaign was hailed as a big victory: in late-2013, the Cambridge City Council endorsed the goal of becoming "a net zero community" and last year, the city partnered with experts from the Integral Group to form the Getting to Net Zero Task Force. This past July, the council approved the first "early-action" item from the task force, a Building Energy Use and Disclosure Ordinance that will serve as a foundational component of the overall program.

Tomorrow evening, members of the public will have their first opportunity to preview a draft version of the net zero plan. Draft recommendations for "Getting to Net Zero" will be presented to the city's Climate Protection Action Committee on Thursday, January 8, from 6 to 8 pm at the City Hall Annex, 344 Broadway.

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Tonight: Public Forum on Getting to Net Zero in Cambridge


With "the biggest climate march ever" taking place in New York City earlier this week, the City of Cambridge is hosting a public forum this evening to showcase the work that we are doing to become a net zero community.

The event will feature a panel discussion on "big ideas" for reducing carbon emissions from the built environment. According to the city's Community Development Department, "the purpose of this forum is for the City to present the [Getting to Net Zero] Task Force’s preliminary ideas to the public followed by guest expert analysis and feedback."

The forum will begin at 6 pm at the Main Library, 449 Broadway, in the Lecture Hall.

It will run for about two and a half hours. Special guests will include:

    • Ralph DiNola, Executive Director, New Buildings Institute
    • Luke Falk, Sustainability Manager, Related Companies
    • Christina Halfpenny, Director, Energy Efficiency Division, Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources

Tonight's meeting is yet another milestone in the effort to put the city of Cambridge on a trajectory toward becoming a net zero community. The Getting to Net Zero Task Force is the result of a citizens' zoning amendment petition campaign that was supported by City Councillors Dennis Carlone and Nadeem Mazen, along with local groups such as Green Cambridge,, and the Massachusetts Sierra Club — not to mention some 500 Cambridge residents who added their names to "the Connolly Petition" for net zero buildings.

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$150K for "Deep Green" Consulting on Cambridge's Net Zero Task Force

There's more good news for Net Zero in Cambridge...

This evening, City Manager Richard C. Rossi will come before the City Council to request a $150,000 appropriation to hire a team of consultants who will help us put Cambridge on the path toward becoming a net zero community!

At this stage, it's looking like the project team will include policy consultants from the Vancouver, B.C. offices of Integral Group. To get a sense of the sustainability planning that's going on in Vancouver right now, take a look at this page, where the local government lays out its action plan to become "the Greenest City in the World."

Earlier this month, Integral Group's Dave Ramslie and Rachel Moscovich traveled to Cambridge to present their proposed work plan for our Net Zero Task Force. You can download slides from that meeting by clicking here.

The Integral Group is a "deep green" engineering firm with an outstanding portfolio of net zero projects, including some of the world's most advanced zero net energy bio-labs. In addition, the task force consultant team is expected in include participation from local experts at the Sustainable Performance Institute, the Peregrine Energy Group, and HMFH Architects.

This is a clear sign that we are set to make real progress on our net zero initiative. Thank you once again to the 500+ residents who helped to make this possible through support of last year's Connolly Petition for Net Zero Emissions here in Cambridge.

Here's the full text of the City Manager's request...



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Cambridge kicks off Net Zero Task Force

Tonight, the City of Cambridge formally embarks on the work of becoming a "net zero community," reducing our consumption of fossil fuel-based energy and promoting local and regional production of renewable energy alternatives and other innovative approaches to sustainable development in our densely populated urban environment.

It's truly a big deal, and it's all thanks to the grassroots work of hundreds of resident-activists who signed on to last year's Connolly Petition for Net Zero Emissions and proceeded to show up in droves at numerous city meetings, "overwhelming the planning board" and grabbing the attention of various city officials.

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Cambridge Net Zero Task Force Named

Quinton_Zondervan_Photo_Cropped-1.jpgOn Monday, December 16, 2013, as one of it's final acts, the 2012-13 Cambridge City Council confirmed City Manager Richard Rossi's appointment of the Getting to Net Zero Task Force.  

The task force is the direct result of a citizens' effort, launched by Green Cambridge and led by Cambridge resident Mike Connolly, to pass a zoning amendment to require large new construction projects in Cambridge to conform to a "net zero" carbon emissions standard.  The standard would be achieved by reducing the energy requirements of the building, producing as much renewable energy on site as possible, and purchasing renewable energy to cover the balance of energy used by the building.

Thanks to strong community support for the petition, proponents and city officials agreed to form a task force that would look beyond large new construction to encompass all buildings in the city. Can Cambridge become a net zero emissions city, a goal shared with an increasing number of municipalities all over the world, including Melbourne, Australia?  We will find out as early as April of 2014, when the first recommendations from the task force are due.  

The task force includes many leaders on sustainability and energy in Cambridge, including the outgoing Mayor, Henrietta Davis, who has been advocating for a net zero elementary school in Cambridge, the King School, currently undergoing major renovation.  Also serving on the task force is Mike Connolly, lead proponent of the net zero Connolly petition, as well as Cambridge residents Barun Singh and Andrea Love, as well as representatives from Harvard (Heather Henriksen), MIT (Julie Newman), Alexandria Real Estate (Joseph Maguire), BioMed Realty (Bill Kane), the Cambridge Planning Board (Tom Sieniewicz), and experts Caitriona Cooke (housing energy efficiency), Paul Lyons (solar energy), Marc Hoffman (energy economy & policy), Jane Carbone (affordable housing) and Shawn Hesse (architect).

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Architecture At Zero 2013 Design Winners

The winners of Architecture at Zero 2013 have been announced!

This design competition calls on students and professionals from around the world to create a design for a 150 unit mixed-use residential apartment building in San Fransisco, California.

The building must include a mix of affordable and market rate housing units, along with a neighborhood-serving grocery store on the ground level. And it must be designed to be as close to zero net energy as possible.

Click here to view the winners!

Granted, the weather in San Francisco is a just a bit warmer than it is here in Cambridge — but with so many imaginative ideas now percolating on the West Coast — and with net positive energy housing now available in Boston — could there be some net zero multifamily housing in Cambridge's not-too-distant future, too?

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Net Zero News: Task Force Deadline today, Roundtable on Thursday, and More!

Thank you once again to the 500+ residents who signed-on to the Connolly Petition and helped us advance goal of making Cambridge a net zero community. With your support, net zero went from being a mere aspiration to a legitimate policy goal in less than five months!

Here's the latest news and updates from the local movement for a Net Zero Cambridge:

First, today is the deadline to apply for membership on the City Manager's "Getting to Net Zero" Task Force. More information and instructions on how to apply via email are available by clicking here on the city's website.

Next, the city's Community Development Department is co-sponsoring an event with the Sustainable Performance Institute this Thursday, November 14, from 9:30 until 11:00 am at the Cambridge Public Library.

The event is called "The Business Case for Net Zero & Beyond." From the organizers:

Please join us for an exciting presentation by Andrea Traber, Principal of the leading Deep Green engineering firm Integral Group. She and her colleagues are in town for the EcoDistricts Summit, and will be taking a break to share their insights and 'lessons learned' from 41 net zero projects they are currently working on. They will also be discussing Living Building Challenge and District Energy projects. They will share their approach to the projects, the critical considerations, and the business case. If you are still hearing how "LEED is too hard or too expensive," this will certainly blow your mind.

Finally, last week I published a column in Banker & Tradesman, "In Cambridge, A Push for Net Zero Emissions" — this 800-word piece aims to present our work over the past five months in a broader context, and it's intended to provide more information about the practicality of net zero emissions. Banker & Tradesman requires a paid subscription — but free versions of the article are also available in the Cambridge Chronicle and on Cambridge Day, too.

In addition, Seattle's Bryn Nelson included a segment about our call for net zero emissions in his recent article, "Code Green: As Buildings Push the Sustainability Envelope, Longstanding Regulations Get a Critical Eye." Nelson is a regular contributor to The New York Times, Nature, and Scientific American.

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Cambridge Moves Forward on Net Zero!

On Monday night, more than forty residents crammed into the Sullivan Chamber to encourage the Cambridge City Council to advance the goal of becoming a Net Zero Community.

Working together, we succeeded in getting the city to move forward with the Getting To Net Zero framework agreement!

This means that "Net Zero" is now an officially recognized policy goal for the City of Cambridge, and a city-sponsored Net Zero Task Force will bring all of the stakeholders to the table to advance this goal on a clear and rapid timeline.  

It's being called a big win for the City of Cambridge, and Curbed Boston even went so far as to call it: "A big ------- deal!"

The Harvard Crimson reports that Net Zero supporters dominated the city council meeting, while also noting that our movement is comprised: "of a group varied in age, gender, and occupation."

That's really neat — and it's a tribute to the 504 people who have signed-on to our petition for a Net Zero Cambridge.

You can read more about it here ("Cambridge Starts Work on Becoming Net Zero Emissions Community") and also again here, in!

Undoubtedly, this is a milestone for our city — but nevertheless, to ensure that the promise of a Net Zero Community is fulfilled, we need to continue working together...

This was a sentiment echoed by School Committee Member Patty Nolan, who once again spoke eloquently in support of our petition on Monday night — quoting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., she reminded everyone that it would be a "tragic misconception" to simply "wait on time." 

One thing you can do right now to remain engaged is apply to be on the Net Zero Task Force — the city went live with its Net Zero website yesterday — to apply, just follow this link.

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Cambridge to Become a Net Zero Community!


Yesterday at a "Roundtable/Working Meeting" with the Cambridge City Council, City Manager Richard Rossi finally got his chance to weigh in on our petition for Net Zero.

He congratulated us for "bringing the issue of greenhouse gas emissions from buildings to the forefront," and he outlined his response — a proposal for putting the City of Cambridge on a path toward becoming a Net Zero Community!

This is a big victory for everyone who has stood with us at public hearings — and the many hundreds of people who have added their names to our online petition for a Net Zero Cambridge.

The City Council is expected to vote on the City Manager's proposed framework on Monday, October 21st. Public comment on the plan will be taken at 5:30 pm, followed by city council debate and a final vote.

Please click here to RSVP for next Monday's big vote!

City Manager Rossi stated that he will be calling on the council to appropriate significant funding to hire the consultants and technical experts that will be necessary to make this vision for a Net Zero Community a reality.

Consultants and technical experts will join with city staff and a Net Zero Task Force that will be evenly balanced between community advocates, residents, business/property owners, and developers.

The Net Zero Task Force: 1) will be up and running by the end of this year; 2) will deliver early recommendations by April 2014, and 3) will also deliver a set of final recommendations by December 2014.

Working together, our community will put the aspirations of our petition into law.

It's a big deal!

Right now, we are still gathering details and exchanging ideas — so this is still very much a developing situation, subject to approval by the full council — but I wanted to post this message as soon as possible.

Click here to read coverage of the Net Zero plan in the Cambridge Chronicle.

Thank you making this happen!

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Cambridge's Getting To Net Zero forum

On Tuesday evening, Mayor Henrietta Davis hosted a panel discussion at the Cambridge Public Library on the topic of Net Zero here in the city.

The panel discussion was moderated by Henrey Lee of John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and it featured the following distinguished participants:

  • Jane Carbone, LEED AP of Homeowner’s Rehab. Inc., Cambridge, Mass.

  • Rob Diemer, Architectural Engineer, LEED AP of In Posse LLC., Philadelphia, PA

  • Eric Friedman, Green Communities Division, Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources 

  • Christopher Knittel, Center for Energy and Environmental Policy Research, MIT 

  • Stephen Turner, LEED AP, Commissioning Expert, Stephen Turner, Inc., Providence, RI 

  • Jana Silsby, AIA, LEED AP, Perkins Eastman, Boston, Mass.

Cambridge Day was on the scene to provide the following coverage and subsequent analysis of this week's event.

Thank you to the 100+ people who attended this evening's discussion, including City Manager Richard Rossi and a number of the city's key elected and appointed officials — and thanks especially to Mayor Davis for working to elevate the ongoing discussion of Net Zero in Cambridge!

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Citizens' petition for Net Zero drafted by members of Green Cambridge.

Citizens' petition campaign organized by Cambridge attorney Mike Connolly.