How district energy is helping commercial buildings meet Boston’s BERDO 2.0 requirements


Like many cities nationwide, Boston has set aggressive climate goals to curb the harmful effects of climate change. Boston aims to be carbon-neutral by 2050, meaning the City will only be able to release as much carbon as the environment can safely absorb.

But how does the City plan to make this happen?

In large part, carbon neutrality will come from decarbonizing the energy-intensive buildings that operate in Boston: commercial offices, hospitals, colleges and universities, and many others.

The Building Emissions Reductions and Disclosure Ordinance (BERDO), originally enacted in 2013, required large Boston buildings to report and disclose their emissions.

In 2021, however, the amended ordinance — BERDO 2.0 — was unanimously passed by the Boston City Council and signed into law, officially moving the ordinance beyond reporting and setting enforceable emissions standards for buildings. In 2023, BERDO 2.0 policies and procedures were finalized.

Crucially, the ordinance aims to eliminate the 70% of greenhouse gas emissions that commercial buildings contribute to the City of Boston.

What BERDO 2.0 means for Boston building owners and developers

The 2021 amendment to BERDO gives the City of Boston authority to set emissions standards for large existing buildings. The emissions thresholds will decrease to reach net zero by 2050.

BERDO 2.0 states enforceable minimum building emissions performance standards, measured in kilograms of carbon dioxide equivalent per square foot per year. These emissions standards differ by building use but will begin to apply in 2025 for already-covered buildings and in 2030 for newly-covered buildings. Based on 2022 emissions reporting, several hundred buildings in Boston are projected to exceed their emissions limit in 2025.

BERDO 2.0 also imposes changes in enforcement penalties. The amended ordinance introduced fines for failing to meet the performance standard and inaccurate reporting.

BERDO 2.0 does not just apply to commercial buildings, but also applies to the following:

  • Non-residential buildings that are 20,000 square feet or larger.
  • Residential buildings that have 15 or more units.
  • Any parcel with multiple buildings that sum to at least 20,000 square feet or 15 units.

In addition, the amended ordinance proposes potential ways buildings can achieve their required emissions reductions, including on-site energy efficiency or renewable energy measures, fuel switching, and clean electricity purchasing options like Renewable Energy Portfolio Standard (RPS) Class I eligible Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs) generated by non-CO2e emitting sources, and Power Purchase Agreements (PPAs) with non-CO2e emitting renewable sources.

To find out whether they are over the emissions limit and get an estimated emission reduction forecast, buildings can use the City of Boston’s BERDO emissions calculator. 

How district energy meets BERDO 2.0 requirements

Our team of experts at Vicinity is prepared to help building owners and developers in Boston meet the aggressive emissions reduction requirements posed by BERDO 2.0 and avoid paying alternative compliance payments.

Our clean energy future plan outlines our roadmap to reaching net zero carbon emissions across all our operations by 2050 or sooner. Central to our decarbonization plan is the innovative eSteam™ product.

To generate eSteam™, Vicinity will import carbon-free electrons through co-located substations to power electric boilers, coupled with industrial-scale heat pumps and thermal batteries, to deliver electrified, carbon-free steam, known as eSteam™, for heating, cooling, sterilization, humidification, and other thermal energy needs.

Building upon success stories in European countries like Norway, Finland, and Sweden, Vicinity is electrifying our district energy systems. Our approach is based on our ability to:

  • Leverage established technologies such as industrial-scale electric boilers and heat pumps to convert electricity into steam;
  • ​Capitalize on the flexibility of our existing assets that connect to the electric transmission system today​;
  • Take advantage of the future economics of renewable electricity to introduce green electrons to our fuel mix;
  • And utilize the agility of fuel-agnostic district energy to decarbonize, easily “flipping the switch” to greener fuels​.

By electrifying our central facilities, all our customers can access carbon-free eSteam™ to meet building performance standards and avoid costly building modifications.

Our team is actively working towards our goal of net zero. In November 2022, we kicked off our electrification plans by deconstructing a steam turbine at our Kendall facility. We are installing an electric boiler in its place, which will enter service in 2024.

In April 2023, we took another crucial step in our clean energy future plans by announcing our partnership with MAN Energy Solutions to develop low-temperature source heat pump systems for steam generation. Currently, we are designing the heat pump complex, which will occupy a space of approximately 25,000 sq. ft. and will circulate through 24.5 million to 49 million gallons of water from the Charles River each day, returning the water to the river at a lower temperature and ensuring that the river and its ecosystems remain unharmed.

Meeting BERDO 2.0 requirements with eSteam™

eSteam™ is carbon-free and recognized in the BERDO 2.0 regulations. This thermal product offers a straightforward solution for commercial landlords and developers trying to meet the ordinance’s carbon-reduction goals.

Vicinity’s eSteam™ is recognized as emissions-free by BERDO 2.0 regulations, providing customers with a compliant and cost-effective solution.

The Vicinity team assists customers in Boston with BERDO 2.0 reporting energy usage through Energy Star Portfolio Manager, one of the three reporting requirements set by BERDO 2.0.

Our team sends energy usage data and an annual energy summary to customers every month, making their reporting process more efficient and accurate.

Carbon reduction acts in Boston and beyond

While Boston is undoubtedly leading the country by reimagining the energy industry, many other cities around the U.S. are planning to enact ordinances similar to BERDO 2.0.

The City of Baltimore, for example, is currently in the implementation stages of the Climate Solutions Now Act, or SB 528. The act proposes a greenhouse gas reduction goal of 60% by 2031, with net zero carbon emissions by 2045.

Vicinity’s district energy systems are uniquely poised to help building owners and developers in Boston, Cambridge, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and more to meet building performance standards today and in the future.


Learn more about our electrification plan in our white paper.

Vicinity Energy White Paper - Revolutionizing Urban Sustainability

Scott McBurney

Scott McBurney is based in Boston, MA, and works as Vicinity’s Vice President of Business Development. He writes about topics related to energy decarbonization, meeting sustainability goals, and the power of district energy.