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Here's What Boston Developers Are Doing To Get Ahead As Sustainability Deadlines Loom

Deadlines are looming for Boston developers and landlords as they struggle to meet the city's sustainability goals.

As public officials move forward with the first deadline for Boston's Building Emissions Reduction and Disclosure Ordinance 2.0, property owners say they are scrambling to meet the 2025 deadline to offset their carbon footprints and avoid fines.

Building pros who spoke at Bisnow's sustainability event on Wednesday said that as the deadline to reduce air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions from larger buildings comes closer, some landlords have begun to look at other options to extend their runway — while developers scour for new technology to help future-proof their projects.

Columbia Construction's Conor McGuire, the city of Boston's Hannah Payne, Eversource Energy's Kim Cullinane, WinnCos.' Christinia McPike, Harvard University's Heather Henriksen and AHA Consulting Engineers' Bob Andrews.

"We need to get planning right now," Harvard University Chief Sustainability Officer Heather Henriksen said at the Seaport Hotel. "We cannot miss this opportunity."

The 2025 deadline is set for nonresidential buildings that are 35K SF or larger and residential buildings with 35 or more units. These buildings must hit an "emissions intensity," which is a limit for how much carbon a building can emit.

Every year after the initial deadline, the limit gets smaller, until all buildings are expected to reach net-zero emissions by 2050. Smaller nonresidential buildings of at least 20K SF and residential buildings of 15 or more units won't have to comply with emissions goals until 2030.

So far, many landlords have opted to buy energy credits or enter power purchase agreements to comply by the first deadlines, the Boston Business Journal reported. But for others, it has become more costly and time-consuming to stay on target.

For developers that can't hit the deadline, the risk is fines of up to $1K per day until they are compliant.

WinnCos. Vice President Christina McPike said that of the company's 7,000-apartment portfolio throughout the city, half don't meet the 2025 limit, all of which are affordable and low-income housing that will require capital-intensive retrofits.

"We're trying to prioritize the kind of the worst buildings aka the best opportunities," McPike said. 

She said other projects will need to be looked at over the long term and do have an energy-efficiency component, but still not enough for the city's compliance goal.

Vicinity Energy's Rick Smith, Northeastern University's Jacob Glickel, Lendlease's Amanda Kaminsky, Jaros, Baum & Bolles's Joelle Jahn, MP Boston's Brad Mahoney and Longfellow's Lauren Ballou.

"We're sort of beyond energy efficiency in our portfolio," McPike said. "Now, we need to think about retrofitting facades and electrification and ask for hardship compliance plans in order to buy more time."

Hannah Payne, the city's director of carbon neutrality, said there is a special calculator that building operators can use to see if they are above or below the city's 2025 limit, which can help them prepare hardship applications.

"If you are above your limit, you may want to start looking at flexibility options that are available under BERDO, and there are upcoming deadlines for applying for that flexibility," Payne said.

Landlords that believe they need more time to meet these goals can apply for a hardship plan that will allow them an alternative emissions reduction target or schedule to follow. These applications are due by July 1 for long-term compliance plans of more than four years and Oct. 1 for short-term compliance plans of one to three years.

Developers of new buildings or projects under construction are also feeling the heat.

Coupled with the state's green mandates and the similar emissions plans of other major cities like Cambridge, most developers realize that reaching carbon emissions is a requirement rather than an amenity.

"These new buildings will be existing buildings the first day they are open," said Kim Cullinane, manager of new construction energy efficiency at Eversource Energy. "If we're planning for that, if we're targeting for that in the beginning, that only helps us."

The 691-foot-tall Winthrop Center, the largest Passive House office building in the world, is marketed for its energy efficiency, a component of the project that developer MP Boston said dictated most of the other planning.

Vicinity Energy's Rick Smith, Nixon Peabody's Jennifer Schultz, EOS Battery Storage's Marshall Chapin, Nuveen Green Capital's Mike Doty and TSK Energy Solutions' Gregory King.

"One lesson learned from Passive House was understanding what levers to pull, and for us, it was a change," said Brad Mahoney, director of sustainable development at MP Boston. "This was kind of like putting the energy model at the center of the project."

The 812K SF office tower has already seen major leases, including Deloitte's 138K SF and Cambridge Associates' 115K SF, which the landlord credited to its Passive House standard.

Buildings like IQHQ's 1.1M SF Fenway Center air rights project have already begun to implement new and innovative green technologies like electric steam. Vicinity Energy Director of Business Development Rick Smith, who is working with IQHQ, said the life sciences company isn't the only one that could benefit from the work Vicinity is doing along Fenway.

"We didn't just build it for IQHQ," Smith said. "We built it for that entire environment, all those new buildings coming down there, so that way we can continue to be able to support that growth."