Green City Profile: Boston, The Green of the Bean

July 3, 2012

Boston is one of the greenest cities throughout the nationThroughout the United States, cities are constantly looking for a way to go green and contribute to the environment in the right way. Over the next weeks, we will be covering some of the greenest cities, how they give back to the planet and how they will continue to do so. This week, we focus on Boston and its eco-friendly initiatives.

The hue might not be visible from its skyline, but Boston is green. Be it the Hubway bike system, solar-powered decomposing trash cans or canvas shopping bags, the city and its residents are working to make Boston the greenest it can be, through action and legislation.

The green movement formally began in 1999, when Mayor Thomas Menino committed Boston to be a sustainable city through ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability, according to Jim Hunt, the cabinet chief of environment and energy for Boston.

“Boston has always been eco-conscious,” said Hunt, who went onto to describe the next event on Boston’s green timeline. In 2005 when the Kyoto Protocol, created to combat global warming, failed, Boston committed to meeting the protocol on its own. The goal was to reduce greenhouse gases by 7 percent by 2012, which Boston did – a year ahead of schedule. Municipal operations including schools, firehouses, police stations, and vehicles purchased greener power and practiced efficiency. As a result, Boston achieved the greenhouse gas reduction goal in 2011.

In 2007, Boston became the first city in the country to incorporate LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Designs) standards in its buildings. That same year the City adopted first Climate Action Plan. “It’s a multi-year process, city wide,” explained Hunt. The Plan calls for a 25 percent reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2020, and an 80 percent reduction by 2050.

To mass these efforts, in April 2012, Mayor Menino launched the Greenovate Boston movement. Including the Climate Action Plan, Greenovate also incorporates the Green Awards and Green Ribbon Commission, which respectively award Boston businesses and residents for their green actions and strategize to fight climate change.

What Still Needs to Be Done
Boston’s eco efforts already go beyond international model codes for energy efficiency, especially when it comes to construction. One example is the addition of solar panels on municipal, commercial and residential building rooftops, which have optimized the use of power, growing solar electric power from 700 kilowatts to 7,500 kilowatts (or 7.5 megawatts), said Hunt.

Jake Glickel, the chief of staff of the City of Boston’s Office of Environmental and Energy Services, explained the application of the panels. “The capacity factor refers to the potential power produced at optimal times. So on a bright, sunny day a 10-kilowatt solar system produces 10 kilowatts in an hour or 10-kilowatt hours. A typical home uses about 7,000-8,000 kilowatt-hours a year.” Thus, the installation of solar panels reduces kilowatt-hour usage.

But there are still moves to be made toward a greener Bean.

A recent article from The Boston Globe, featuring Hunt and several city experts, noted that Boston recycles less than several other large cities throughout the country; only 19 percent of all residential waste was recycled last fiscal year. The City is working hard to increase this number and resources are available including curbside and single-stream recycling as well as residential bins. And, education programs in City neighborhoods about recycling are ongoing and aimed at improving that important score across the city.

Hunt also points out efforts that aren’t always visible, such as insulating wall cavities to reduce energy consumption. Thanks to Renew Boston, a program partnered with Energy Star and National Grid to promote energy efficiency and alternate energy services, 1,700 households have had comprehensive ‘retrofits,’ according to Hunt. Direct benefits to residents include cost savings and fuel use and overall energy consumption reductions.

According to Glickel, the homes that received the retrofits were paid for by a combination of Massachusetts’s ratepayers and federal tax dollars. “Massachusetts has a system benefit charge on almost all electric and natural gas bills and the local utility company distributes the funds with state government oversight.” The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds cover the final 25 percent of the program funds, he noted.

If more residents were to have their spaces retrofitted, it would not only be a plus for the environment, but for the economy as well, presenting locals with the opportunity to work green jobs, explained Hunt.

A Few Small Steps Bostonians Can Take
1. Call for a no-cost energy audit by the city’s Renew Boston program, through Next Step Living, at 617-635-SAVE.
2. Explore adding solar to your home or business. Through the Renew Boston program, the city has set up a solar website where you can point and click on a rooftop to see the its potential for solar panels, and think about installation for long-term benefits.
3. Learn more about recycling in your neighborhood and spread the word to others.
4. Walk or ride a bike instead of taking a cab.
5. Repurpose materials you’d think you have no use for, whether it be household appliances or clothing.

This is just the beginning. Tell Eco News Network about the other things you are involved in to Green the Bean or even just in your own home. We’d love to hear from you.

-Liz Peters

Photo credit: Flickr/snappybex