ZERO to 101
Net Zero Process Guide
Set a Target and Make a Plan
The suggestions below are a sampling of best practices drawn from exemplar cities and towns, guidebooks, and MAPC’s experience working in the region. The steps below may not be linear and are dependent on the current stage of planning for each municipality. The process will likely look different from municipality to municipality due to governance structures, funding, staff capacity, and other resources.
For more information about Net Zero Planning, contact Megan Aki, Clean Energy & Climate Systems Manager.
Recruit Support from Community
Members to include:
- Municipal officials, staff, and related committees (i.e. energy or sustainability committee)
- Local advocates and experts
- Other relevant stakeholders (i.e. members of local utilities, businesses, and schools)
- Create an Energy Committee: This MAPC document provides guidance on how to establish a local Energy Committee either with or without municipal approval to plan for clean energy efforts and oversee energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.
- Zero Energy & Zero Carbon Community Advocacy: This webpage provides a summary of actions undertaken by zero energy and zero carbon leaders and communities including how to garner support for the cause.
- Cambridge, MA: Community members came together to create a zoning petition that asked the City to establish net zero requirements for new buildings. This led to the City convening a Net Zero Task Force in order to better understand what Net Zero initiatives were appropriate for Cambridge.
- Boston, MA: A number of stakeholder groups, including the Green Ribbon Commission (GRC), A Better City (ABC), and grassroots/advocacy groups, are working to support the City advance toward its commitments of reducing GHG emissions 25% below 2005 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050. ABC provides solutions and impacts policy around transportation and infrastructure, land use and development, and environment and energy. GRC creates spaces for private sector leaders and City members to discuss, plan, and prepare Boston for climate change.
Increase community engagement and awareness:
- Consider populations in the community who speak languages other than English who will require a translator onsite as well as materials in their own language for initial buy-in.
- Community Engagement Guide: This MAPC Guide provides strategies an organization can utilize for their community engagement efforts and outreach objectives.
- Conduct Community Outreach: This MAPC document outlines how to design and implement community outreach for energy efforts using community-based social marketing.
- New York City, NY: The City has cast a wide net, engaging residents, civic and business leaders, elected officials, and city agencies in creating the OneNYC Plan. The process has explicitly championed diversity and sought to incorporate diverse voices into the initiatives developed. The following methods were used: resident outreach, business roundtables, advisory boards, online surveys, and telephone surveys.
- Vancouver, Canada: Due to Vancouver’s diversity, city officials have conducted their communication, consulting, and engagement efforts in multiple languages, from Spanish to Vietnamese, and created culturally relevant strategies such as providing local and sustainable food options for Chinese communities, to foster stakeholder buy-in.
Create and disseminate widely a presentation demonstrating the need for net zero and its benefits, its feasibility, and the plan for moving forward.
- Framing may be dependent on what points are most salient to key stakeholders, particularly decision-makers such as municipal officials. Benefits to highlight include job creation, improvements in public health, lower energy prices, progress toward climate goals, and keeping pace with neighboring communities on climate.
Pursue Commitment from City or Town
Introduce a Net Zero initiative at town meeting or city council:
- The goal should be to convince officials to allocate funding and resources for the creation and adoption of a net zero plan
- Note that town meeting and city council meetings require different processes through which to introduce an initiative
- Town Meeting - Draft a town warrant article
- City Council Meeting - Draft a resolution
- Cambridge Resolution: In 2013, Cambridge developed a Net Zero Task Force to help Cambridge become a Net Zero Community. This work followed the Connolly Petition for Net Zero Emissions, a citizen-sponsored initiative to require energy efficiency and renewable energy in all new large buildings.
- Lexington Town Warrant 2017 Article 19: Appropriate for Advice and Analysis – Getting to Net Zero: The warrant provides language future towns can use to request funds for net zero work.
- Mass Power Forward Sample Resolution Language.
Formalize a committee and deadline for the creation of the net zero plan:
- If funding is available, a consultant may be hired to help with this process.
- If funding is not available, a local expert could volunteer time to provide guidance or a group of residents with expertise could work together.
- If funding is not available and an expert is not readily available in the municipality:
- Consider hiring a full-time, part-time, or shared Energy Manager to enhance capacity while managing costs of hiring a new staff person. By sharing an Energy Manager, municipalities can share the salary and office needs.
- Hire a Shared Energy Manager: This MAPC document enumerates how communities with part-time or intermittent energy-related staffing needs can collaborate to hire a shared position.
- Establish Energy Internship Program: Collaborating with students is an efficient and low-cost way to build capacity for net zero efforts. This MAPC document provides guidance on how municipalities can establish an ongoing internship program that will build capacity around clean energy efforts while providing a fruitful hands-on experience to interns.
Gather Necessary Information to Create Net Zero Plan
Communities should develop an energy use profile before identifying energy goals and subsequent strategies to reach those goals. Below are different strategies that may be used depending on resources and time:
- Estimate Local Energy Use Baseline: MAPC’s Local Energy Action Dashboard allows communities to see an estimated community-wide baseline of energy consumption, emissions and cost, and to compare this profile to other communities in the region.
- Track Municipal Energy Use with MassEnergyInsight (MEI): DOER provides a free online database, MEI, to municipalities to monitor their energy usage, develop baselines, and benchmark savings.
- WegoWise Guide for Housing Authorities: Track housing monthly energy usage with WegoWise’s online tracking tool. Housing authorities in MA have access to WegoWise through the MA Green Retrofit Initiative.
- Report Monthly Energy Use: After creating a baseline for energy use, municipalities should track changes over time in their energy use. This MAPC resource provides guidance on how to create monthly energy reports and institutionalize this practice to guide future energy efficiency efforts and cost-saving actions.
A GHG inventory allows for a municipality to track the sources of their GHG emissions. The inventory can be broken down by different sectors such as buildings, transportation, waste, and residential. By knowing what sources contribute most to the community’s emissions profile, municipalities can create goals and plans to reduce their emissions and track progress.
- MAPC's Community Greenhouse Gas Inventory Tool and Step-by-Step Guide: Communities can use MAPC’s Community Greenhouse Gas Inventory Tool to develop their own local inventories. MAPC developed an accompanying Step-by-Step Guide to Greenhouse Gas Inventories for Massachusetts Cities and Towns to support communities through the data collection process and best practices for developing a GHG inventory.
- ICLEI Greenhouse Gas Protocols: ICLEI developed protocols for U.S. community scale inventories, local government operations, and recycling and composting. Additionally, local government staff can use ICLEI’s ClearPath tool to create protocol-compliant inventories.
- Boston GHG Inventory: The inventory tracks GHG emissions from 2005-2013 for residential, commercial/industrial, transportation, and water and sewer. The document also provides Boston’s methodology for how they calculated emissions and how they attained data. The city is undergoing a process to update this inventory.
- Somerville GHG Inventory: Somerville’s two inventories measure GHG emissions for their baseline year of 2014. It covers all emissions that occur within city limits including transportation and solid waste generation. The inventories will inform Somerville’s comprehensive emissions reduction strategy that is currently being developed.
A line item budget can be created to estimate the costs of implementing net zero strategies. Municipalities should leverage existing resources, programs, and regulatory processes.
Line items to consider for inclusion:
- Salary for new positions, if applicable
- Regular status updates such as annual review reports
- Engagement and capacity building to execute plan elements, such as communications efforts
- Research needs from the energy baseline and GHG inventory to climate vulnerability assessments and adaptation plans
- A website to exhibit progress and update programs and initiatives.
Consider formalizing budget through town meeting or city council session:
- Challenges may include the need to spend down allocated funds by end of the year or risk losing the funds that do not roll over
- Include flexibility for use of the funds when implementing initiatives and track the use of funds to improve future budgeting
- Cambridge, MA: The City of Cambridge formalized and adopted a budget based on the cost of their enumerated initiatives. Having a set budget for five years created funding stability. The formalized budget was presented to the City Manager and other officials to help make the case for the necessary resources to enact the City’s initiatives.
Goals should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound)
- Create a long-term mission statement along with short and mid-term goals that feel attainable and continue to drive progress.
- Regulatory frameworks and institutionalized policy should support goals where possible.
- Create a baseline year for GHG emissions based off of the most accurate data to date.
- Set priorities and create timelines based on the baseline.
- Create a road map for reaching the community’s Net Zero goals.
- Vancouver, Canada: Vancouver organizes their greenest city goals into 10 goal areas with a measurable 2020 target for each.
- Seattle, WA: Seattle created Seattle Green Factor Code, a code-based policy that requires green landscaping for all new development within designated zones.
- Cambridge, MA: Cambridge utilizes an extensive Gantt Chart both to keep track of all stages of the City’s planning and to follow incrementally as a work plan. The tool visibly demonstrates that the planning approach is laddered with different actions that work stepwise to advance toward net zero. It includes the five-year review signposts, time dedicated to research, net zero targets for different sectors, and the expected timetable for the implementation of programs, policies, and municipal regulations. These inclusions allow for flexibility in planning if changes in technology, funding, or other unforeseen circumstances occur. This chart has been instrumental in helping the City to remain accountable to stakeholders and the public at large.
 “Setting 100% Renewable Energy Targets in Municipalities – Synthesis.” Renewable Cities. (2017) https://docs.google.com/document/d/1PUcwfeF2Fu-TAQV9qiqkcOnN6_0IUgSD-LsJajCOSj0/edit
- Lexington, MA: Through community engagement, a Net Zero Emissions Task Force formed with representatives from companies, large landlords who rent facilities, residential homeowners and real estate people, community leaders, Town staff and Town committee members, a member of the Board of Selectmen, and building experts. In 2017, the Getting to Net Zero Task Force submitted Article 19 to the Town Warrant asking the town to appropriate funds to hire consultants that can provide advice and analysis on net zero strategies for the Town.
Incorporate Holistic Planning
- Ensure a municipal staff member is assigned and committed to tracking progress for accountability and sustainability.
- In communities with limited staff capacity, a volunteer individual or committee could function as the tracking body. In these cases, a municipal staff member should be assigned to oversee the process and serve as the liaison to municipal officials.
- Create indicators to measure progress in regular intervals (i.e. monthly, quarterly, or annually)
- Potential metrics include:
- GHG emissions
- Energy consumption (both electric and thermal)
- Air pollution
- Water quality and/or quantity
- Green job creation
- Improvements in public health (ex. respiratory health cases)
- Cost savings
- Potential metrics include:
- Publicize progress using the selected metrics in a public and visible manner to foster trust, raise awareness, and disseminate information on actions and benefits.
- Lancaster, CA: A City of Lancaster working group came together to enumerate projects that would “enhance the community, improve government operations, and ultimately reduce GHG emissions.” The working group identified 61 projects across eight sectors: traffic, energy, municipal operations, water, waste, built environment, community, and land use. The following metrics are used to track progress: promotes alternative energy, provides long term cost savings, creates local jobs, improves air quality, improves water quality, improves energy efficiency, improves public health, reduces water use, reduces waste, lowers energy use, and preserves natural environment.
- Somerville, MA: The City of Somerville created SustainaVille to house and publicize programs and initiatives that reduce Somerville’s contribution to climate change. The SustainaVille website includes Somerville’s GHG Inventory, Vulnerability Assessment, and Carbon Neutrality Pathway Assessment, as well as the emissions reduction potential for different strategies.
- Seattle, WA: Seattle’s Office of Sustainability & Environment measures and tracks progress for climate change, buildings and energy, transportation and land use, food, waste, water, and trees and green space. The website also includes sections on programs and policies, what citizens can do to contribute, incentives and rebates, and resources.
 “Draft City of Lancaster Climate Action.” City of Lancaster. (2016) https://www.cityoflancasterca.org/Home/ShowDocument?id=32356
- Vancouver, Canada and New York City, NY: Both cities have numerous complementary plans in place that work in conjunction with one another to contribute to a holistic framework of planning for each City. For example, Vancouver’s Greenest City Strategy works in tandem with its Healthy City Strategy. The latter includes goals for active living and getting outside, thriving environments, and increased access to public transit as well as active transportation. New York City’s One City Built to Last housing plan focuses on improving the efficiency of buildings across every neighborhood and follows NYC’s overarching OneNYC plan, which commits to inclusive climate action for every citizen.
- Mainstream Net Zero planning across city departments with specific accountabilities spread across a range of local government actors.
- Consider utilizing the Net Zero planning process to influence regional planning efforts, potentially aligning communities’ goals, metrics, research efforts, and accounting for mutual benefit.
- Seattle, WA: Departments and offices across the City of Seattle have coalesced to work on Seattle’s GHG emission reduction strategies. For example Seattle City Light installs free LED light bulbs, showerheads, and faucet aerators with a focus on serving elderly and low-income residents. The Seattle Department of Transportation launched a program with Seattle Public Schools to provide transit cards to income-eligible youth.
- Metro Mayors Coalition (MMC): MAPC facilitates a collective of mayors from 14 inner core cities and towns of Metro Boston. MMC’s Climate Preparedness Taskforce adopted a regional net zero by 2050 goal in 2016. By making a regional commitment, the 14 MMC municipalities can use their platform to exchange best practices and explore opportunities for mitigation collaboration. The Taskforce has established a net zero working group to help guide the communities on effective projects and long-term strategies. The group has also developed a project tracking spreadsheet that enables municipalities to benchmark their progress on implementing mitigation strategies and makes it simple for municipalities to compare progress with their neighboring communities.
- Learn and grow from the information gathered, advances made, and technology in the field to inform actions and next steps
- Maximize opportunities for citizen participation throughout the process and encourage the development of new business and governance models
- Keep the implementation process intentionally iterative and malleable to account for shifting factors and advances, and allow for acceleration if initiatives take less time than anticipated, or vice versa.
- Cambridge, MA: The City has a Community Engagement Team (CET) that reaches out to underserved Cambridge families by connecting them to resources. Cambridge utilized CET to engage non-English speaking communities in the municipal net zero planning process. These are paid and trained community members who work as outreach workers and come from diverse backgrounds such as American Born Black, Bangladeshi, Chinese, Ethiopian, Haitian, Somalian, and Spanish and Arabic speaking.
- Vancouver, Canada: Vancouver keeps their Greenest City Action Plan up to date with annual implementation updates and presentations to the council.