by Kate Bubriski
As COP26 has recently wrapped up, I thought it would be good to take a moment to assess where Massachusetts is on our progress toward cutting carbon emissions in the building sector. To do so, I wanted to look back on where my net zero journey began. The year was 2014 and I was starting my first net zero project, the King Open/Cambridge Street Upper Schools. There were almost no net zero buildings in New England, the city of Cambridge was studying a potential net zero action plan, and net zero state legislation was getting no traction. It is hard to believe that was not so long ago because at the time it seemed it would take at least a decade for net zero buildings to gain traction. While big change often takes time, we have made net zero buildings mainstream in much less time than expected. This is good news since time is of the essence in the climate crisis.
Today I am designing, with my firm Arrowstreet, over 2 million sq. ft. of net zero buildings. These projects are large buildings, small buildings, schools, workplaces, and labs, and they are both public and private developments. A report by Built Environment Plus released in the spring indicates there are now over 7 million sq. ft. of net zero and net zero ready buildings in Massachusetts.
I find the breadth of types and sizes of net zero projects we are seeing really exciting. Arrowstreet is working with Midwood Investment and Development on the first net zero office high-rise in Boston. This project, 11-21 Bromfield Street, seeks to rewrite the norm expected of a high-rise project with just a 36% window-to-wall ratio as well as all-electric systems. In addition, Arrowstreet is working on over 1 million sq. ft. of net zero lab/office buildings. Labs are especially important examples because of their higher energy intensity as well as exponential growth of development.
It’s not just property owners and developers that have moved the net zero needle. Strides have been made on the legislative and regulatory fronts as well. Communities such as Boston and Cambridge have required net zero assessments and are now looking toward codifying designing to net zero in zoning codes. Building upon Cambridge’s 2015 success for a net zero action plan, I worked with USGBC Massachusetts, now Built Environment Plus, and several other organizations to bring action plans across the Commonwealth. There are dozens of such communities today. The call from these communities along with a broad coalition from the AEC-RE industry and others was integral to passage of a climate bill earlier this year which includes an opt-in net zero building code. When this code is developed next year, municipalities can elect to use it for their communities. The AEC industry is ready!
Kate Bubriski is the director of sustainability & building performance at Arrowstreet Architecture and Design.