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Updated: January 8, 2024 10 Things

10 things I know about ... Sustainable development, part 1

Samantha McDonald is real estate lawyer with Worcester law firm Bowditch & Dewey, concentrating on business and real estate property law.


1) Worcester is in the vanguard of the climate change fight. The City of Worcester pledged two years ago to become the nation's greenest midsize city, and it may well achieve that goal. Worcester is one of only a few dozen midsized cities in the country to adopt the specialized stretch code, a strict building code to prepare it for a fossil-free future, according to the New Buildings Institute. Almost all the other cities its size with such ambitious plans are in California and New York. As of Dec. 5, only Boston, Worcester and 29 other much smaller Massachusetts communities have adopted the rigorous code.

2) Cars are not our biggest problem. Contrary to popular belief, the largest single contributor to Worcester's greenhouse gas emissions are buildings, which make up 65% of greenhouse gas emissions. Heating, cooling, and electricity used by commercial buildings created more than 700,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide in 2019. That was 200,000+ metric tons more than Worcester's on-road transportation that year.

3) Making buildings less dependent on fossil fuels is not prohibitively expensive. While it certainly costs to make buildings more energy efficient, and even more money to prepare them to run only on electricity, these changes bring significant cost savings, too. With tax and other financial incentives, it can cost between 1%-5% more for new residential building projects to meet the highest energy-efficiency standards like Passive House, Eliza Datta, president of E3 Development, said at Bowditch's annual economic development summit in November. But operational savings can be significant, she said, with heating and cooling cost savings projected to be as much as 50% lower.

4) Green buildings do a lot more than improve the environment. These buildings offer significant health benefits, reducing indoor air pollution and noisy acoustics. Asthma rates drop in green buildings.

5) The building changes could bring more jobs to the city. The new requirements under the code will bring more work for local tradesmen, Odell said at the summit. The pipeline for such workers in Worcester is really good and will provide an increase in HVAC, solar, electricity distribution, and maintenance jobs.

The second part of Samantha McDonald's column on sustainable development appeared in the Jan. 22 edition of WBJ.

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