Net Zero Framework

Zero to 101

Net Zero Framework for Holistic Climate Planning

Many cities and towns in the MAPC region are already taking action by creating local energy action plans, becoming designated as Green Communities by the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, and investing in renewable energy. These efforts are the foundation of a net zero framework for holistic climate planning that can enable municipalities to address not just energy use, but also optimize benefits to the environment, public health, economy, and more. A net zero plan can provide an overarching framework that serves to harmonize and grow all of the sustainability efforts underway in a community.

Making the Case for Net Zero:

The reasons for adopting a net zero goal may vary depending on a community’s resources and priorities. Co-benefits can be stacked to present the case for establishing net zero strategies in a municipality. The case for net zero should encompass the most convincing and appropriate arguments for the audience. Presented below are the energy, economic, environmental, public health, and equity benefits that net zero planning can provide, offering multiple opportunities to build buy-in from community members, municipal officials, utility partners, local businesses, and other stakeholders.

Energy Benefits

Net zero planning will lead municipalities to evaluate their energy supply and demand. By choosing renewable Consumers can reduce energy costs by foregoing financial risks associated with fossil fuel pricing and supply volatility. A cleaner energy sector can also lead to a more resilient energy system that can more readily withstand future extreme weather events, like the next Superstorm Sandy3 Moreover, investments can lead to local energy production, which can bolster the economy and ensure a return on investments.

Economic Benefits

Net zero planning has enhanced economic development in cities and towns, as demonstrated in the Växjö Sweden case in which GDP grew by 90% in the decades following the city’s commitment. Investments in renewable energy can help to build an economy with green jobs. According to a 2017 report by the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Corps, the clean energy sector has created at least 4 million jobs.[1] Additionally, solar and wind jobs have grown 12 times as fast as the rest of the US economy.[2] The Department of Energy’s Energy and Employment 2017 Report estimates that the solar industry employs more people than coal, oil, and gas combined.[3] The 2016 Massachusetts Clean Energy Industry Report found 6,300 workers were added to the clean energy economy for a total of 105,212 workers, pointing to a six percent annual increase in comparison to the state’s two percent overall employment growth rate.[4] Clean energy clearly has a place in the economy of tomorrow, and municipalities are well positioned to help their citizens take advantage.

[1] “Now Hiring: The Growth of America’s Clean Energy & Sustainability Jobs.” EDF Climate Corps. (2017)
[2] Ibid.
[3]  “U.S. Energy and Employment Rate.” United States Department of Energy. (2017)
[4] “Massachusetts Clean Energy Industry Report.” Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. (2016)

Environmental Benefits

Environmental benefits are plentiful when following a net zero pathway, both in the short and long term. Net zero planning can address common sources of pollutants that power plants, industrial facilities, and cars emit. Common pollutants of environmental health concern such as Nitrous Oxides (NOx), Sulfur Oxides (SOx), and Particulate Matter 2.5 & 10 (PM 2.5 & PM 10) can be mitigated. When NOx reacts to sunlight and Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), smog, or tropospheric ozone, is created, which can hinder breathing and exacerbate asthma and other respiratory illnesses. SOx undergoes a similar process, producing acid rain and impacting public health. PM 2.5 and PM 10 are microscopic particles that can travel through airways and affect those with chronic illnesses.

Moreover, energy generated from fossil fuels typically requires large amounts of water. By increasing energy efficiency and clean energy, water use can be minimized. The U.S. Department of Energy found energy efficiency and renewable energy will lead to decreased water consumption in 36 states, saving enough water to hydrate 1.3 million households.[1] Longer-term environmental benefits include minimizing climate change impacts such as excessive heat, sea level rise, and storm frequency and volatility. One multi-benefit solution of note is the use of green infrastructure (GI). GI can help to mitigate stormwater runoff, improve air quality through reduced smog and particulate pollution, lessen habitat erosion, and reduce urban heat island impacts in addition to reducing heating loads for buildings and serving as a carbon sink.[2]

Public Health Benefits

Net zero planning can help to improve public health outcomes and general quality of life. Less climate and environmental pollution leads to cleaner air and helps to mitigate both the development and exacerbation of respiratory health diseases, including asthma, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), and lung cancer. Additionally, less fossil fuel usage can lead to more available clean water due to less spillage and leakage at fossil fuel extraction, transmission, and generation sites. Net zero plans can also promote mode shift to non-vehicular forms of transit, most notably walking and biking.[2] By promoting these practices, health can be improved while diminishing pollution. Exercising and greater access to green spaces can also improve overall mental health.[3],[4] A study conducted by Harvard University found that energy efficiency measures and low-carbon energy sources could save a region between $5.7 million and $210 million annually when accounting for public health benefits.[5]

[1] “Climate Change in the United States: Benefits of Global Action.” United States Environmental Protection Agency. (2015)
[2] “A Global High Shift Cycling Scenario: The Potential for Dramatically Increasing Bicycle and E-bike Use in Cities Around the World, with Estimated Energy, CO2, and Cost Impacts.” Institute for Transportation & Development Policy and the University of California, Davis. (2015)
[3] “The Exercise Effect.” American Psychological Association. (2011)
[4] “Green Space: A Natural High.” Nature: Natasha Gilbert. (2016)
[5] “Action on Climate Key to Global Health, Reports Say.” Climate Central: Andrea Thompson. (2015)

Equity Benefits

One of the strengths of a holistic net zero planning process is the explicit inclusion of equity. Stabilizing energy prices and offering lower prices can benefit lower-income and environmental justice communities (EJ) who are more likely to experience energy insecurity.[1] The cost savings can allow these communities to spend more money on other essentials such as food, transportation, and health care. Improving lower-income housing, which traditionally has been less energy efficient than homes of more affluent individuals, to the efficiency levels of the median household would phase out 35% of the excess energy burden in the US.[2] By including underserved communities in the movement toward net zero, municipalities can embed equity into systems that will benefit all.

MAPC’s State of Equity Report highlights existing inequalities in the MAPC region. For instance Black youth experience 2.7 times higher asthma hospitalization rates than do white youth and the rates for Latino youth have increased 22% over the past 5 years. Black and Latino youth would benefit from a net zero strategy that reduces carbon emissions and environmental pollutants. A holistic net zero strategy could also support workforce development in a region in which those without college degrees have experienced declines in their labor force participation. [3] The cleantech job boom, from solar installations and energy efficiency retrofits to the construction, operation, and maintenance of green buildings, could create local, living-wage opportunities for underserved populations in their own communities. In 2016, MassCEC reported a 17% increase in the hiring of workers who have earned associate’s degrees or high school diplomas.[4] Approximately 70% of clean energy workers earn more than $50,000, above the state’s overall median wage of $45,573.[5] Most importantly, net zero planning could help a community to avoid exacerbating pre-existing inequalities – such as those experienced in EJ communities[6] – with an explicit goal to create a more level playing field for all.

[1] Energy insecurity occurs when households spend a disproportionate amount of their income on their energy utility expenses. Lower-income families typically live in homes that lack structural improvements that wealthier families can afford which provide energy efficiency and therefore lower energy costs. For African-American, Latino, and renting households their excess energy burdens could be eliminated by 42%, 68%, and 97% respectively.

“Lifting the High Energy Burden in America’s Largest Cities: How Energy Efficiency Can Improve Low Income and Underserved Communities.” ACEEE: Ariel Drehobl and Lauren Ross. (2016)
[2] Ibid.
[3] “State of Equity Report Update.” Metropolitan Area Planning Council. (2017).
[4] “Massachusetts Clean Energy Industry Report.” Massachusetts Clean Energy Center. (2016)
[5] Ibid.
[6] Environmental justice is based on the principle that all people have a right to be protected from environmental pollution and to live in and enjoy a clean and healthful environment. Environmental justice is the equal protection and meaningful involvement of all people with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies and the equitable distribution of environmental benefits.

“Environmental Justice Policy of the Executive Office of Environmental Affairs.” Massachusetts Executive Office of Environmental Affairs. (2017)