Intro background


Buildings and energy industries in Cambridge consume more than half of all energy used in the community and contribute 80% 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?

Homes and apartments contribute 14.1% of Cambridge's total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while commercial and institutional buildings are the source of 51.7% of emissions. In total, buildings and energy industries are responsible for 80% 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 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 Net Zero Action Plan (NZAP) to lay out policies and programs that improve how buildings are built and operated, and where their energy comes 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 aggressive strategies to move to Net Zero much more quickly.

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. Between 2014 and 2019, total emissions decreased 6% and energy use per square foot decreased 2%. 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 which is submitted to the City of Cambridge. This includes a process to filter out data which has been submitted but 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 filtered to these properties variables such as GHG emissions, energy use by type, and other trends are calculated. This data is gathered into an annual Time Trends Analysis. 2020 data is expected to be finished by June 2022. 

Progress Towards Net Zero Buildings

Custom Retrofit Programs for BEUDO Participants

The City is supporting Building Energy Use Disclosure Ordinance (BEUDO) participants in making energy improvements through the Cambridge Building Energy Retrofit Program. Multi-family buildings and large commercial buildings are eligible to work with a Retrofit Advisor. Advisors have helped owners pursue strategies like insulation, air sealing, and high-efficiency heating and cooling, as well as investigating heat pump and solar energy systems.

Progress Towards Net Zero Buildings

Green New Construction

The City's longstanding green building requirements have already made a positive impact. In 2019, Cambridge strengthened these green building requirements for new buildings and also made it easier to add insulation to existing buildings. Following these changes, over 700,000 sq ft of new construction have been permitted at a LEED gold level and are solar-ready.

Find all of Cambridge's green building regulations, including Article 22 and the Stretch Energy 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 70% of the energy used for all City activities. They also create 70% of the GHG emissions. While at a much smaller scale, the impact of City buildings is very similar to the impact of buildings on the overall community carbon footprint, and the tools to reduce this impact are also 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. 

Leading by Example

Municipal Buildings are Becoming More Efficient

Cambridge's municipal buildings have become more energy efficient over the last decade. Between 2008 and 2021, the City's energy use for municipal buildings decreased by 12%.

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 buildings were renewed 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

How You Can Help

Keep Your Commercial Building In Compliance

Stay up-to-date on energy use disclosure and green building requirements that may affect you or your building. 

Also, buildings subject to the Building Energy Use Disclosure Ordinance (BEUDO) can take advantage of the Cambridge Building Energy Resource Hub to make building upgrades cheaper and easier.

Get Help with Retrofits for your BEUDO-Covered Building
Review Building Energy Disclosure Requirements
Review Green Building Requirements
Aerial view of commercial buildings in Cambridge