"Push your own communities to adopt smarter practices. Invest. Divest. Remind folks there's no contradiction between a sound environment and strong economic growth." — President Barack Obama, June 25, 2013
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.
On 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).
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
On Tuesday evening, 52 residents came out to the the Citywide Senior Center to support our revised proposal for Net Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
Thank you to everyone who took the time to join us at this Planning Board meeting — and thanks as well to the hundreds of people who have been supporting this cause from the very beginning.
We tracked people's views during the public comment period, and the final tally was 24 speakers in support of our plan for Net Zero Emissions, and none opposed! There was a tremendous sense of unity and a wonderful range of promising ideas for how we can make this concept a reality.
We opened the hearing with a brief presentation of the latest revisions to our proposal — these changes are designed to make it clear that "net zero emissions" is a concept that we can implement right now, by promoting greater energy efficiency, on-site production of energy, and most crucially, by requiring the purchase of clean, renewable energy from off-site sources over the grid.
Planning Board Chairman Hugh Russell thanked us for our "very thoughtful" revisions, and he assured us that we've already convinced the board that we are "addressing a very important subject that needs to be addressed."
The weather might be cooling down, but we are happy to report that the Net Zero campaign is really heating up!
Last week, Cambridge City Councillor Marjorie Decker filed an order that called on the City Manager to acknowledge the urgency of the emissions issue by committing additional resources to support our cause.
By an 8-to-1 vote, the council agreed to create a Net Zero Task Force that will help us connect with stakeholders and technical experts to ensure that our vision for a Net Zero Cambridge becomes a successful reality.
When it was all said and done, Mayor Henrietta Davis declared: "October is Net Zero Emissions Month!"
Now, we turn our focus to the second Planning Board hearing on October 1st...
This is sure to be a critical moment for our campaign. We need you to stand with us and speak out in support of Net Zero Greenhouse Gas Emissions.
By net zero emissions, we mean zero net greenhouse gas emissions from the annual operation of a building. This is accomplished using the three step method: Reduce, Produce, Purchase.
Reduce the amount of energy consumed by the building's operations using the best available design techniques.
Produce as much renewable electricity on site as possible using the best available technology.
Purchase renewable energy to supply the remaining energy consumption of the building to "zero out" emissions.
2. Why "Net Zero Emissions"?
We have to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions rapidly if we are to avoid dangerous changes to the Earth's climate. The Connolly Petition is aimed at large new construction because the best time to address the Reduce and Produce aspects of net zero is at the time of building construction. And to truly achieve net zero emissions, all energy consumed by the building has to come from renewable sources.