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Cambridge’s Sustainability Initiatives: Addressing Climate Change and Building Resilience

Monday, June 26, 2023

As the world grapples with the increasingly severe impacts of climate change, the City of Cambridge has emerged as a leader in sustainability. Recognizing the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protect vulnerable communities, the City has implemented a comprehensive set of programs and projects to combat climate change and enhance resilience. From transitioning to clean, fossil-fuel free energy sources to investing in renewable energy and green infrastructure, Cambridge is paving the way for a sustainable and resilient future.

Toward Net Zero: Decarbonizing Buildings

Buildings are the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Cambridge. The City is allocating $18.4 million toward its overall Climate Net Zero goal, which includes reducing building emissions.
A portion of these funds will support municipal building decarbonization and the rest will support property owners in decarbonizing their buildings through a technical assistance program. By adopting energy performance requirements for large buildings and providing resources to building owners for GHG emissions reduction, Cambridge aims to create a framework for all buildings to adapt to a changing climate.

Community Initiatives Driving Change

Cambridge is actively engaging its community through various programs and partnerships. The Cambridge Community Electricity (CCE) program offers ratepayers a price-stable and renewable energy option, contributing to significant cost savings and the generation of clean energy. Through the Cambridge Energy Alliance (CEA), residents and small business owners have access to comprehensive energy efficiency and renewable energy programs. The CEA’s innovative initiatives, including technical guidance and financial support for decarbonizing multifamily buildings, empower individuals to contribute to the City’s sustainability goals.

Building Climate Resilience

In addition to reducing emissions, Cambridge recognizes the importance of building climate resilience. Allocating $47 million over the next year, the City will focus on critical infrastructure projects such as sewer and stormwater improvements. Given Cambridge’s historical vulnerability to flooding, investments in underground infrastructure are crucial to protect the community from extreme weather events. By fortifying roofs and enhancing drainage systems, the City ensures its readiness to face future climate challenges.

Green Transportation for a Sustainable Future

Recognizing the role of transportation in carbon emissions, Cambridge is committed to greening its transportation system. The City plans to expand the Bluebikes public bikeshare system and introduce e-bikes to encourage sustainable mobility. Enhancements to transit access, including real-time arrival information and improved bus stops, aim to increase the efficiency and reliability of public transportation. Furthermore, initiatives to expand electric vehicle (EV) charging infrastructure and incentivize EV adoption are underway, ensuring that sustainable mobility options are accessible to all residents.

Building Resilient Infrastructure

Cambridge acknowledges the urgent need to adapt its infrastructure to withstand the impacts of climate change. Major investments in flood-resilient infrastructure, such as stormwater holding systems and rain gardens, are critical for mitigating localized flooding and protecting water quality. By integrating green infrastructure into street reconstruction projects and public spaces, the City maximizes the co-benefits of flood mitigation and water filtration, contributing to a more sustainable and resilient urban environment.

Zero Waste for a Sustainable Future

The City of Cambridge understands that reducing landfill waste is crucial for achieving climate goals. Through its Zero Waste Master Plan, the City has developed a comprehensive strategy to reduce waste, enhance operational efficiency, and examine the impact on greenhouse gas emissions. With a funding allocation of $7.6 million in FY24, Cambridge aims to continue its robust recycling program, increase composting efforts, and promote responsible waste management practices among residents and businesses.

Preserving Nature with Urban Forestry

Cambridge is committed to the preservation and expansion of its urban forests through its Urban Forest Master Plan (UFMP). With an allocation of $4.1 million in FY24, the City aims to further enhance its tree assets and promote the numerous benefits of urban forests. In alignment with the UFMP, the City’s Public Works Department has successfully met the goal of planting over 1,000 trees annually. Building on this achievement, Cambridge plans to plant 1,200 trees in the coming year. These new trees will not only beautify the City but also provide essential ecosystem services.

Additionally, Cambridge has embraced the innovative concept of Miyawaki microforests. In collaboration with Biodiversity for a Livable Climate, the City established a second Miyawaki microforest at Greene-Rose Park. These microforests contribute to urban heat island mitigation, support biodiversity, combat flooding and erosion, and sequester carbon. By integrating nature into the urban landscape, Cambridge is actively working toward creating a healthier and more sustainable environment for its residents.

Cambridge’s sustainability initiatives represent a comprehensive and forward-thinking approach to combating climate change and building resilience. Through investments in decarbonizing buildings, enhancing climate resilience, promoting green transportation, and implementing zero waste strategies, the City is making significant strides towards a sustainable future.  By actively engaging the community and leveraging partnerships, Cambridge ensures that residents and businesses have the resources and support they need to contribute to these efforts. Furthermore, the preservation and expansion of urban forests serve as a testament to the City’s commitment to nature and the numerous benefits it provides. As Cambridge continues to implement its sustainability initiatives, it serves as a model for other cities, demonstrating that taking action on climate change is both necessary and achievable. With continued dedication and collaboration, Cambridge is paving the way toward a greener, more resilient, and sustainable future for all.


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