Intro background


Buildings and energy industries in Cambridge consume more than half of all energy used in the community and contribute 82% of Cambridge's total GHG emissions, so we need a clear plan for reducing emissions from buildings. Our Net Zero Action Plan outlines polices and programs that influence the two biggest factors in a building's carbon footprint: how much energy that building uses, and where that energy comes from in the first place.

Buildings are Key to Climate Action

Why Focus on Buildings?

Residential and commercial/institutional buildings are the largest contributors to the City of Cambridges total emissions profile, contributing about 20% and 37%, respectively, of all greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Combined with activities from industrial and manufacturing (12% of total emissions) and energy industries (13% of total emissions) the building sector is responsible for 82% of emissions in the community. 

There are several key ways to reduce emissions from buildings, as the graphic here illustrates. We must use less energy by investing in energy efficiency (Reduce), use cleaner energy by replacing fossil fuel-based appliances and building systems with electric versions (Replace), and ensure that all our electricity is generated with renewable, zero emissions sources like solar and wind (Renewables).

Cambridge's Net Zero Action Plan (NZAP) uses these three strategies to drive emissions down. Action Areas 1 and 2 focus on Reducing and Replacing, while Action Area 3 focuses on Renewables. Action Area 4 supports all actions by securing funding and capacity for implementation. You can learn more about these action areas on the NZAP tab of this dashboard.

Polluted city, then reduce energy use, replace fossil fuels, and use renewables for electricity to yield a green city.

Buildings are Key to Climate Action

What is Net Zero?

Residents, universities, businesses and the City are collaborating to reduce energy use in buildings and increase access to renewable energy. Cambridge has set a "net zero" target for all buildings in the community, and has created a "Net Zero Action Plan" to outline strategies  to help each building reach the net zero emissions goal.

Progress Towards Net Zero Buildings

Working Towards a Shared Goal

Cambridge developed the original Net Zero Action Plan (NZAP) in 2015 to lay out policies and programs that improve how buildings are built and operated, and where they get their energy from. The City understands that different types of buildings need various strategies, while many building owners need additional support to make changes to their buildings in support of net zero goals.  

Strategies under the NZAP have already helped to reduce the carbon impacts of Cambridge's buildings. In 2021, the NZAP was updated with everything learned from the first five years and includes new and more accelerated actions to move to Net Zero much more quickly. This update was formally adopted in January 2023.

Learn more about the Net Zero Task Force.

Front of a 4-story apartment building with street trees and cars parked along the street

The Building Energy Use and Disclosure Ordinance (BEUDO) requires larger buildings to report their energy and water data to the City annually. By making building energy use publicly available to the marketplace, property buyers and tenants can make more informed decisions and property owners are motivated to take action to achieve higher energy performance.

Nearly 1,100 buildings in Cambridge now report their energy and water use to the City annually.

Learn more about the BEUDO

Progress Towards Net Zero Buildings

Reducing Our Energy Emissions

There are two primary ways to reduce our emissions from energy: decrease our energy use and source more electricity from renewable energy. Over time, emissions from electricity have been decreasing faster than energy use as more and more electricity is generated using renewable energy. Since 2014, the energy use per square foot has increased by 4.9% while the emissions intensity of this energy use has decreased by 9%!

Ensuring buildings comply with BEUDO is critical in order to continue tracking progress toward our emissions goals. The City has a consultant team that helps supports the administration of BEUDO. This team compiles and analyzes the data that is submitted to the City of Cambridge by building owners and property managers annually. This includes a data-cleaning process to filter out data that does not pass ‘quality checks’ to ensure that the energy and water information from a building is accurate and complete. Once the data is trends can be calculated for a number of different metrics.

Emissions by Fuel Type (Thousand Metric Tons CO2e)

Represents properties reporting five of seven years since 2014. Explore BEUDO buildings.

Progress Towards Net Zero Buildings

Green New Construction

The City's longstanding green building requirements have already made a positive impact. In 2023, Cambridge strengthened these green building requirements by adopting the new opt-in Specialized Energy Stretch Code developed by the Department of Energy Resources. This new code will require that new construction of residential and commercial buildings meet higher standards for energy efficiency and provide a pathway toward electrification.

Since the City began tracking green building data in 2013, Cambridge has seen 128 projects subject to Article 22, for which 62 projects have been certified as LEED Gold, 45 as LEED Silver, and 8 LEED Platinum. Other projects have achieved certifications for Passive House, WELL, Fitwel, and Enterprise Green.

Find all of Cambridge's green building regulations, including Article 22 and the Specialized Energy Stretch Code, plus a map of all LEED-certified buildings in town, on the City's Sustainable Development webpage.

Leading by Example

Opportunities in Municipal Buildings

City-owned buildings are responsible for 72% of the energy used for all City activities. They also create 69% of the GHG emissions. While municipal buildings are not the largest emitters or energy users in the City they still have an impact on the overall community's carbon footprint.  Through the Net Zero Action Plan, Cambridge has set a goal for municipal buildings to be net zero which our buildings can then serve as a model for others. Since the tools to reduce emissions and impacts are very similar! 

Cambridge uses all the strategies of the NZAP in its own buildings, not only to cut carbon emissions and save taxpayer dollars, but also to show other building owners how to use the opportunities and comply with the requirements of the NZAP. 

A modern urban school building in spring with people biking and walking.

LEED Platinum-Certified King Open/Cambridge Street Upper Schools

Credit: Robert Benson Photography

Leading by Example

City Buildings are Targeting Net Zero

Cambridge is reducing its energy use intensity, but there's more to do to reach Net Zero in buildings. City programs are in place to improve existing municipal buildings and make new buildings perform at the highest levels. Several existing buildings underwent major renovations between 2015-2019, with significant carbon and cost savings. And in 2020, the City adopted Net Zero requirements for all new municipal buildings. 

King Open School and Taylor Square Firehouse were completed with these new requirements, and Tobin Montessori and Vasal Lane Upper School will also be net zero.

How You Can Help

Get Your Home or Building on the Net Zero Path

Sign your building up for one of Cambridge Energy Alliance’s programs. The Energy Alliance offers

  • Virtual energy assessments for renters, landlords, and homeowners
  • Energy assessments for small businesses and non-profits
  • Financial help for energy bills and energy improvements for low-income residents
  • Support with heat pumps, solar hot water, and solar PV, too!

Check out MassSave for many more money-saving opportunities for residents, landlords, and business owners.

Get Support for Efficiency in Your Home or Business
Find Cost-Saving Energy Programs
The City of Cambridge is partnering with BlocPower on a new, one-year pilot to help multifamily buildings complete upgrades that can improve indoor comfort and energy efficiency, while working towards our climate goals.