Have you heard of the Boston initiative called “Carbon Free Boston?” This citywide program is currently in the planning and discussion stages after being launched by Mayor Marty Walsh in 2017. In short, the initiative is the City’s long-term goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. What would this mean for you, your home, or transportation? Let’s take a closer look.

A team of experts from the City of Boston, outside consulting firms, and Boston University’s Institute for Sustainable Energy has been researching and analyzing how the city can potentially reach carbon neutrality by 2050. They are also looking at what technical and social justice challenges it’s likely to face in order to achieve this. The main sectors they are focusing on include transportation, waste, buildings, and energy. They hope to have options that will eliminate carbon emissions in these four areas by their self-proclaimed deadline. The year 2050 may feel like a lifetime away but in reality, it is three short decades. It will be here  in the blink of an eye.

What is Carbon Neutral or Carbon Free?

Let’s start with a quick explanation of the term carbon neutral. Going carbon neutral generally means having no net addition of emissions after balancing out existing carbon gases with efforts, such as planting trees, that pull carbon from the atmosphere.

Why Carbon Neutral?

The dire warnings given by the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in October 2018 pointed toward the need of governments worldwide to act in order to reduce carbon emissions and keep the global temperature from rising above  1.5 degrees C. “One of the key messages that comes out very strongly from this report is that we are already seeing the consequences of 1°C of global warming through more extreme weather, rising sea levels and diminishing Arctic sea ice, among other changes,” said Panmao Zhai, Co-Chair of IPCC Working Group I.

Key Components of Boston’s Initiative and How it Could Impact You

The Carbon Free Initiative has several main areas of focus where drastic changes would need to occur. The measures are bold even for the most environmentally conscious of us. However, these changes are what experts say need to happen in order to impact the negative consequences that are slated to happen as the global climate changes.

Building Changes

According to the report, Boston will need to undergo retrofits that dramatically reduce energy consumption. For example, existing buildings will need deep energy retrofits, well beyond energy-efficient light bulbs and window replacements. In addition, residential homes must switch from oil and gas to electricity from carbon-free or renewable sources such as solar or electric. This part of the initiative is being carefully scrutinized as it will require a lot of upfront capital. It will also be a burden for low income, middle income, and small businesses to retrofit their buildings. Big questions remain about how the city will help landlords and homeowners pay for these upgrades, manage temporarily displaced people whose homes are being retrofitted, and ensure that people aren’t priced out of newly renovated homes.

Waste Changes

Within the initiative are plans to eliminate (or at the very least reduce) the many items that end up in landfills that are contributing to carbon emissions. For example, bans on single-use plastic bags can help reduce the amount in the landfills. Another way to achieve this is to divert more food waste, paper, plastic, metal, glass, and other recyclables. Bostonians and Bay Staters, in general, are fairly good at recycling and reusing so this area may not impact residents as deeply as the other factors in the initiative.

Transportation Changes

This brings us to our question about how the initiative could impact your commute and transportation habits. According to the report, “Approximately 29% of Boston’s emissions come from the transportation sector, and 75% of those emissions come from private passenger vehicles.” Americans love their cars so this change may be the most difficult to swallow and the one that changes our transportation culture.


Creating a carbon neutral transportation system will take a whole new mindset for our car-dependent commuters. Here are some of the solutions noted in the Green Ribbon report.

Possible solutions include moving away from personal vehicles and toward public transit, walking, and biking. The city must make streets more pedestrian- and bike-friendly, improve public transit, and levy new fees on parking and driving. Solutions also mention encouraging population growth in “centrally-located, walkable, and transit-rich” areas of the city, while also reducing transit deserts. In addition, sources that don’t emit greenhouse gases will be examined for cars, trucks, ferries, buses, trains.

Are you environmentally conscious and looking for ways to contribute to green solutions for Boston? For more information on the Carbon Neutral Boston program, check out the links below.

Boston’s Green Ribbon Commission

Carbon Free Boston Policy