Green Ribbon Commission Partners with Commercial Property Owners to Meet Boston’s Climate Action Plan

The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) recently ranked Boston as the No. 1 energy-efficient city in the country. Part of the scoring criteria related to Community Wide Initiatives, and Boston scored 9.5 out of 10 points in this category. A significant contributor to this high score was the Boston Green Ribbon Commission (GRC).

The Green Ribbon Commission is a network of 33 business and civic CEOs who have voluntarily come together to support the implementation of the city of Boston climate action plan. They primarily represent the large property owners in the city—what is referred to as the “C/I” (commercial/industrial) sector, as well as city and state government leaders. They were recruited to the GRC by a local philanthropist (Amos Hostetter, a trustee of the Barr Foundation, and Mayor Thomas Menino.)

The city’s Climate Action Plan has very aggressive goals for the reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and climate preparedness. The GHG reduction goal is 25 percent below 2005 levels by 2020 and 80 percent by 2050. In addition, the city needs to prepare itself for significant climate impacts, including 2 to 5 feet of sea level rise (SLR) by 2100. (Under a 5-foot SLR scenario, our current 100-year flood will happen twice a day, and the new 100-year flood will swamp 30 percent of the city.)

The climate goals are city-wide goals, not municipal government goals, so reaching them will require actions by mostly private and institutional players. One role of the GRC is to get the large property owners in the city to align their business strategies with these goals. We recently did an analysis of the C/I property sector and found that 50 owners control 60 percent of the total non-residential square footage in the city. These owners have to integrate the GHG reduction and climate preparedness goals into their strategic plans, strategic energy master plans and capital expenditure budgets for the city to hit its targets. (Our analysis also found that getting to the 25 percent reduction by 2020 would require a modest average investment of 15 cents per year per square foot by property owners, a very achievable investment.)

The GRC works through ad-hoc “Working Groups” that bring together a combination of GRC members and other key stakeholders to focus on an issue and identify opportunities to take action. We have three Working Groups focused on specific sectors (Health Care, Higher Education, and Commercial Real Estate and Hospitality) and two focused on cross-sector issues (Transportation and Climate Preparedness). The working groups are staffed by local organizations with expertise and relationships in the issue area.

Preparing cities and their property owners for the new realities of climate change requires new long-term private-public partnerships that help key stakeholders understand that climate change is real, is happening now and requires new ways of doing business across the board. Two recent examples in Boston help illustrate this point:

  • Boston recently passed a Building Energy Reporting and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO). The ordinance is similar to that passed in many other cities and requires large property owners to report their energy consumption through EPA’s Portfolio Manager. The passage of the ordinance was controversial in the real-estate sector with some trade associations (primarily those representing smaller property owners) vigorously opposing it. However, it passed the City Council with a wide majority. Part of the reason for this is that most large property owners already use a system like Portfolio Manager and have found it very beneficial to their business strategy of cost reduction. The GRC is now working with the city to figure out how to structure the information from the ordinance in a way that helps property owners make energy reductions.
  • The GRC recently launched a Climate Preparedness Working Group. The working group is making recommendations on what property owners can do to reduce their property risk from climate impacts and what policies the city should implement to support them in this work. Many of the trade associations that opposed the energy disclosure ordinance are participating in this working group because they recognize that it is just good business to reduce your risks. As the implications of escalating GHG emissions on property risk become clear, it will make more sense to them that we need to take actions on that front also.

Commercial and industrial property owners are key partners in achieving climate goals. They have to be engaged in strategies from the beginning. Efforts like the Green Ribbon Commission can help make this happen.

About the Author

John Cleveland
John Cleveland is executive director of the Boston Green Ribbon Commission.

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