The City of Newton is writing a bold Climate Action Plan, which is wholly appropriate in light of the urgent need to address climate change. If the City is going to meet its climate change goals, it must have a strong green building policy to match.

Indeed, buildings account for 39% of worldwide CO2 emissions: 28% for building operations and 11% for buildings’ embodied energy. Hence, we must decarbonize our buildings to avoid climate catastrophe.

With recognition of the climate crisis, and the progress made in green building practices and policy, Green Newton calls for the City of Newton, and all governments, to use the following principles to evaluate and guide building projects.

1. Minimize Building Operating Energy

The Passive House Building Standard for Boston should be the standard for all building types. Passive House qualified buildings have very low energy use intensity (EUI).

2. Minimize Embodied Carbon

Embodied carbon is the carbon dioxide produced by the manufacture and transportation of building materials. In other words, it’s “the carbon dioxide released when we construct our buildings in the first place.”

Given that the carbon footprint of construction can far outweigh the carbon footprint of operations over the first few decades of a building’s lifecycle, it’s critical that we pay attention to embodied carbon when designing and planning new buildings and renovations.

Thoughtful design and materials selection minimizes embodied carbon. For example, buildings that use less concrete and steel and more engineered lumber reduce their carbon footprints. Such buildings should be favored by City building officials.

It can be cumbersome to estimate the embodied carbon of a new building, but it’s getting easier. Good tools include Revit plug-ins, Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) and on-line calculators.

Here is a helpful resource.

3. Buildings Must be All-Electric and Off the Natural Gas Grid

The carbon footprint of the electrical grid is getting smaller year by year, as more renewable energy come on line. The carbon footprint of the gas grid, however, is staying the same or possibly increasing as methane continues to leak from the fracking network and aging distribution pipes. Also, all-electric buildings can be fully carbon neutral when owners or occupants purchase 100% renewable electricity.

When new buildings rely on a gas connection for heat, domestic hot water and cooking, they lock in a high carbon footprint.

Heat pump technologies like variable refrigerant flow, and food preparation technologies like induction cooktops, are used worldwide today. They now have favorable lifetime costs.

4. Minimize the Carbon Footprint for Transportation to and from Buildings

The carbon footprint for transportation used by building occupants and customers is also significant. Building owners must facilitate low-carbon modes of transport, such as bicycles, electric vehicles, walking, and public transportation.

The City can help by reducing or eliminating parking minimums, and instead specify parking maximums.

You can see examples of buildings that follow these principles HERE.