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BPDA releases Mass Timber Accelerator Final Report

Apr 22, 2024

In recognition of Earth Day 2024, the Boston Planning & Development Agency (BPDA) released the final report on the Mass Timber Accelerator program which began in the fall of 2021, in partnership with the Boston Society for Architecture (BSA). The program is one of many initiatives the City of Boston is using in its mission to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050 and make Boston a green and growing city for all. Currently, building construction and materials account for 23 percent of global emissions. In a new building, the carbon emissions embodied in the building materials and products themselves can equal ten to 20 years of carbon emissions from building energy use. Finding new solutions to reduce building material embodied carbon will be a critical step in reducing carbon emissions. Building more projects with mass timber, or more simply, wood from renewable sources, has emerged as a high impact, low effort solution with a multitude of benefits.

“This is a cutting edge program focused on the next tier of sustainable development practices and I’m proud of the work that has come out of it. The work of the participating teams and the program findings will guide us moving forward to ensure we are meeting our goals for reduced carbon emissions as a city,” said Chief of Planning Arthur Jemison. “We need every tool available that will help Boston become more resilient and sustainable, and I hope more projects will embrace mass timber as a building material in the future.”

The program, which was run in partnership with the BPDA and BSA, was funded by the USDA Forest Service, the ClimateWorks Foundation, and the Softwood Lumber Board, and given technical assistance from WoodWorks. Ten project teams were selected over two rounds and awarded financial and technical assistance to explore mass timber practices for their building project. Individual project teams investigated a range of strategies and technical details to using mass timber to build their projects including: carbon reduction, building height, supply chain, and cost feasibility. The key takeaways from this program are that mass timber construction can significantly reduce embodied carbon, lower the building’s structural weight resulting in smaller foundations, reduce floor to floor height requirements, and accelerate construction time. The initial findings show that multi-family residential buildings are best suited to leverage the benefits of mass timber, but that mass timber could be applied to other uses as well.

"As a pivotal partner in this ‘first of its kind’ program, the BSA took immense pride in convening and collaborating with the City of Boston and our esteemed partners. Together, we made significant strides in advancing the knowledge and acceptance of mass timber as a critical strategy for reducing carbon emissions; a commitment we take very seriously,” said Miranda D'Oleo, BSA's Program Manager for Policy & Advocacy. “Now, we are looking forward to furthering that commitment by supporting architects, peers, and fellow cities beyond Massachusetts, to advance this impactful carbon-reducing architectural solution”.

“The Boston Mass Timber Accelerator has proven to be a highly successful model for reducing the carbon impact of buildings in the area—not only because they pair funding incentives with technical project assistance, but because of how they prioritize communication and knowledge sharing among the teams participating,” said WoodWorks President and CEO, Jennifer Cover. “We were excited to share our technical expertise with building designers who were in many cases new to mass timber, and look forward to seeing how they apply their experience to projects going forward.”

The goal of the program is to accelerate the use of low carbon mass timber; already the BPDA is seeing the demand for mass timber grow in Boston and the Northeast region. Currently the agency is tracking eight active projects, three of which are currently in construction, totaling more than 1.3 million square feet that will be constructed with mass timber materials. Six of the eight projects are participants from the Mass Timber Accelerator Program. Boston’s future projects with mass timber commitments amount to 22 buildings totaling over 4.3 million square feet.

In addition to focusing on a range of best practices to lower carbon emissions from building materials and products, embodied carbon, the BPDA’s Net Zero Carbon Zoning Initiative is proposed to update Article 37 of the Boston Zoning Code to include a net zero carbon standard. There will be a public meeting regarding this initiative on Monday, April 29. Learn more here.

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