On February 4, 2014 the BRA and the Massachusetts Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) hosted an Innovations in Sustainability and Resiliency panel discussion. Read the blog post for a recap of the event.


Boston has long been a leader in green building policies. Making the shift to green entire neighborhoods, transforming them into eco districts, is a much more complicated task with various layers of stakeholders and interests. Boston is in the midst of this challenge, responding to demands from growth, climate change, and community organizations. Eco districts will help the city grow sustainably, prepare for the impacts of climate change, and breathe new life into existing neighborhoods through innovation and green jobs. Two neighborhoods in particular are embracing the ecodistrict concept but in very different ways—the Innovation District, a new, vibrant downtown neighborhood, and the Talbot-Norfolk-Triangle, a diverse, residential neighborhood almost six miles outside of downtown.

The Hub of District Energy

The City of Boston has one of the oldest district energy systems in the world. As a mecca for higher education and health care, many of Boston’s institutions have long enjoyed the benefits of district energy, especially for its resilience qualities. The Longwood Medical and Academic Area (LMA), which is home to five hospitals, numerous biomedical and pharmaceutical research centers and multiple teaching institutions, may be the country’s first true eco district.

For over 25 years, the LMA has been supplied with steam, chilled water, and electricity by the Medical Area Total Energy Plant, LLC (MATEP), which now serves more than nine million square feet of space. The LMA is also served by Medical Academic and Scientific Community Organization (MASCO), a non-profit that brings 24 LMA institutions together to develop solutions to increase environmental sustainability through things like waste reduction programs and transportation management. For example, MASCO created CommuteWorks for employees of its member institutions. CommuteWorks is a free service that helps employees and students better plan their commutes with information about MBTA, ridesharing, shuttle, and walking/biking options. While the LMA neighborhood provides a unique case study, Boston is exploring how eco districts can form and thrive in other neighborhoods in the City.

The Innovation District

The Innovation District, with 1,000 acres of under- or undeveloped land abutting historic Boston Harbor and downtown, is undergoing a dramatic transformation into a 24-hour neighborhood that fosters innovation, collaboration, and entrepreneurship. The area has grown rapidly over the past few years, adding over 4,000 new jobs in over 200 new companies, including many green-tech companies such as EnerNOC, Fraunhofer, and Sustainserve. And more is on the way; many other companies have announced plans to join the Innovation District, and will add another 2,500+ jobs to the neighborhood.

The City is committed to ensuring this is a sustainable neighborhood. Per Boston’s zoning bylaws, all new development over 50,000 SF must be LEED certifiable. The District is home to five Hubway stations, and almost three miles of bike lanes with almost three more proposed for 2014. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts also recently announced plans to add train service connecting the neighborhood directly to the Back Bay and South Station, which will supplement the Silver Line, Boston’s Bus Rapid Transit that currently connects Logan Airport to the Innovation District and downtown. Furthermore, as this neighborhood grows, so does the demand for energy. The City recently hired an EcoDistrict Fellow to work between the City, the utilities and developers to bring district energy to the neighborhood. Not only will district energy reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with the new development, but it will also increase the resilience of this waterfront community.


The Talbot-Norfolk-Triangle neighborhood (TNT) has traditionally been an underrepresented, economically disadvantaged section of the Dorchester neighborhood. However, partially fueled by a new transit corridor—the Fairmont Line—TNT is home to a bourgeoning grassroots sustainability revitalization. With the support from many partners, a LEED ND charrette and assessment was conducted in 2012, and the TNT neighborhood is striving to achieve a LEED-ND Platinum rating. TNT Neighborhood United, the local neighborhood association, has strong partners involved, including Codman Square NDC, Boston LISC, Boston Foundation, NRDC, USGBC and others. These organizations have worked with the community to set the following sustainability goals:

  • Retrofit at least 15% of TNT existing housing to save residents money on energy related costs.

  • Build at least one new, highly efficient mixed-use transit-oriented development (TOD) project.

  • Explore local power generation models and incorporate that capacity into new and existing TOD mixed-use housing developments and other local projects.

  • Construct and program new green spaces and explore green infrastructure development in support of sustainability, including green roofs and rain gardens.

  • Measure and highlight the health and economic benefits of sustainability to residents.

This spring, the Codman Square NDC hired their own EcoDistrict Fellow to drive forward strategies to help achieve these goals. Furthermore, in November, as part of the EcoDistricts Summit, which the City is excited to welcome to Boston, there will be an EcoDistricts charrette and Equity Assessment to help strengthen future outcomes in alignment with community goals. The charrette will seek to bring a broader group of stakeholders to the table, including community members, land-owners, businesses and government officials. Stakeholders will collaborate to identify innovative governance structures and community engagement processes that will result in broad buy-in of established goals for energy retrofits, transit-oriented development, district energy, green infrastructure, quality of life improvements, and more.

Documents All Documents »