Green projects are the future, but government must do its part

Incentives are needed to build energy efficient buildings

MASSACHUSETTS HAS ONCE AGAIN stepped into a leadership position on climate change with passage of the Next Generation Roadmap, legislation that backs up the Commonwealth’s commitment to achieving net zero emissions by 2050. The new law targets a range of sectors of the economy, including the commercial building sector. Here we will need to challenge ourselves to build innovative green projects to meet the requirements of the law – and, more importantly, to cut carbon emissions and fight climate change.

Building sustainably and reaching energy efficiency and consumption goals are steps that are necessary and achievable, but also expensive. As the co-developer of BOWER at Fenway Center, the first LEED Gold certified multi-family residences in Boston, as well as Phase II of the project, including more than 1 million square feet of office and life science lab space over the Mass Pike and Lansdowne Commuter Rail Station, I understand the cost concerns and the financial commitment required to build green projects. Our Fenway Center team is committed to constructing neighborhood-friendly mixed-use communities and civic spaces while meeting both the city’s new standards relating to green buildings and the Commonwealth’s new emissions standards.

Achieving LEED Gold certification at BOWER required meeting strict sustainability standards covering water efficiency, energy use, indoor air quality, and materials. In response, we installed energy efficient heat pumps, condensing hot water heaters, a heat-recovery cogeneration turbine, rainwater runoff collection systems, and landscaping with low water needs — features all proven to reduce energy and waste.

Beyond these traditional measures, we challenged ourselves to find other innovative and cutting-edge materials to reach our goals. Most notably, even the glass used at BOWER has sustainability, comfort, and savings in mind. The glass is designed to tint automatically, responding to weather conditions throughout the day and allowing natural light into the buildings. It keeps out unwanted heat and glare, and dramatically cuts back on electricity use. This electrochromic glass is particularly useful in urban buildings where rooftop arrays of solar panels often aren’t an option, as they are in projects like industrial office parks with expansive rooftops. This technology is also now being successfully used in Terminal B at Logan Airport, and in the new John W. Olver Design Building at UMass Amherst.

Massachusetts is a leader on renewable energy – and soon will be on wind – in large part because tax incentives made those technologies affordable. These incentives have allowed us to develop several successful commercial solar photovoltaic power plants in the Commonwealth. If we are going to build the green buildings we want, we need the same kind of support for technologies suited for urban settings.

The Biden administration and members of Congress are looking at this now, and their help will make the Commonwealth’s goals much more reachable. The infrastructure bill currently moving through Congress builds on the success of solar and wind tax credits that have driven so much green energy production – and US jobs – by adding more eligible green building technologies to the mix.

Another key bill that will help cut costs for efficient urban development is the Dynamic Glass Act, sponsored by Sen. Ed Markey. Markey’s bill would bring the cost of electrochromic glass closer to that of traditional window materials and boost developers seeking energy efficiency gains when they can’t use solar because of space constraints. Lowering the upfront cost of the glass allows developers to focus on life-cycle costs of the material, encouraging more efficient design from the start.

Meet the Author

John Rosenthal

Co-founder, Stop Handgun Violence
Roughly a third of Massachusetts emissions come from the combustion of fossil fuels in residential and commercial buildings. That means a key to climate change success is going to come from new sustainable construction. Massachusetts can regain the Number 1 national energy efficiency ranking it lost last year, and dramatically reduce carbon emissions, if new construction statewide incorporates technologies and innovations like those at BOWER. But to achieve that, we need government to step up and partner with the private sector with programs and incentives aimed at leveling the playing field with fossil fuel subsidies thereby making energy efficient and sustainable buildings more affordable to construct.

John E. Rosenthal is president of Meredith Management.