Legislators propose making large buildings more energy efficient

Media Contacts

BOSTON – Large residential and commercial buildings would become more energy-efficient over time, reducing emissions of greenhouse gasses and other harmful pollutants, under a bill filed earlier this month by state Sen. Becca Rausch (Needham) and state Rep. Dave Rogers (Cambridge).

“With large buildings accounting for a significant portion of greenhouse gas emissions in Massachusetts, this legislation is necessary climate action, aiming to improve energy efficiency and replace fossil fuel heating with cleaner alternatives,” said Sen. Rausch. “After enacting better buildings data reporting last term, I am proud to continue this successful collaboration as we advance the Better Buildings Act and move Massachusetts closer to our climate goals for a pollution-free future.” 

“The Better Buildings Act will improve the spaces in which we live and work by enabling us to regulate energy usage in big buildings appropriately,” said Rep. Rogers. “An enormous percentage of our total energy use is expended running buildings. As a new legislative session begins, I am excited to work on this legislation with Environment Massachusetts and other partners.”

Last August, the state Legislature passed a climate law that will require the owners of large buildings — including office and apartment buildings, hospitals, and university campuses — to report the amount of energy their buildings use each year. That section of the law was based on legislation filed by Sen. Rausch and former state Rep. Maria Robinson (Framingham).

The Better Buildings Act (SD.2046, HD.3246) would build on those reporting requirements by setting building performance standards, which would establish maximum levels of energy use or greenhouse gas emissions for large buildings on a per-square-foot basis. Standards would vary depending on the type of building and its use. Owners of buildings that fail to meet these standards could improve their building’s energy performance by installing more efficient appliances and lighting, reducing heat loss through walls and windows, and replacing heating and cooling systems with efficient electric technologies like heat pumps.

“The Better Buildings Act is a win-win,” said Deirdre Cummings, legislative director for MASSPIRG. “Not only will the law save tenants — including residents and businesses — money in utility bills for inefficient buildings, it will also protect our health and environment by tackling climate change.”

“Reducing the use of fossil fuels in our buildings will mean cleaner air, healthier communities, and a safer climate for all of us,” said Ben Hellerstein, state director for Environment Massachusetts. “The Legislature can take a big step toward cleaning up Massachusetts’ big buildings by adopting the Better Buildings Act.”

Massachusetts’ building code requires new buildings to be built to minimum standards for energy efficiency, but there are no statewide requirements for existing buildings to become more efficient. A study in Boston projected that 85% of the building square footage that will exist in 2050 has already been built.

On the municipal level, Boston has adopted performance standards for large buildings similar to those proposed in the Better Buildings Act. The states of Colorado, Washington, and Maryland, along with cities from St. Louis to Denver, have also adopted building performance standards.

“A quarter of the Commonwealth’s greenhouse gas emissions result from burning fossil fuels in our buildings. We need better, more efficient ways to heat our homes and places of work,” said John Carlson, senior manager for state policy at Ceres. “Massachusetts needs smart policies in place to support the transition to cleaner, more energy- and cost-efficient buildings. Policies like the Better Building Act are critical to help reach our shared climate goals.”

“This bill is part of a growing shift toward acknowledging and addressing carbon emissions from existing buildings,” said Lotte Schlegel, executive director of the Institute for Market Transformation. “We support action on reducing building energy use and encourage all jurisdictions to use this opportunity to center community voices in their policymaking and climate plans.”

Buildings are responsible for a large share of Massachusetts’ global warming pollution. Burning oil and gas in residential and commercial buildings — primarily for heating and hot water — produces 32% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, and electricity is responsible for an additional 19% of emissions.

In addition to reducing pollution, energy efficiency measures can also help residents and commercial tenants save money on their energy bills.

The Biden administration has established performance standards for federal buildings and launched a coalition of state and local governments working to implement building performance standards.