Net-Zero Planning For Communities

A Net Zero municipality produces zero net carbon pollution, the pollution that causes climate change. This means the community gets as much energy from renewable sources as it uses. Getting to net zero usually comes from a combination of energy efficiency, local clean energy production, and purchasing of renewable energy.

Why would a town want to be Net-Zero?

MA made a commitment in state law (the Global Warming Solutions Act of 2008) to cut our climate change-causing pollution 80% by 2050. Cleaning up our energy supply and using less electricity in our buildings is key, and cities and towns are taking action.

What is the process for a town to get to Net-Zero?

  1. Create a Net Zero Team of advocates

    • Talk to people, groups, or businesses in town who you know will support going net zero

    • Talk to supportive town officials and see if you can find a champion who will help shepherd this through the process

  2. Introduce an initiative at town meeting or to your city or town council

  3. Create a Net Zero Task Force that includes town officials, advocates, and stakeholders

  4. Conduct education and outreach on Net Zero to all stakeholders, including climate and neighborhood groups, business and industry

  5. Do a greenhouse gas inventory for the town if one hasn’t been done already

  6. Adopt Net Zero goals for the town

    • Construct all new municipal buildings, such as schools, to be Net-Zero

    • Enact financing programs for new Net-Zero commercial buildings

    • Streamline permitting processes for energy efficiency and solar projects

  7. Conduct public forums and meetings with stakeholders

MCAN staff can help you build your team, plan your campaign, and get started on a community wide Net Zero plan! email drew (at) to find out more. 

What is a Net Zero plan?

A Net Zero Plan is a long term roadmap for steps a city or town will take to reach Net-Zero. It gives a timeline with short and long term goals, and priority actions. The plan should be created based on visioning and input from the community and all stakeholders. A common time horizon is for a community to aim to be totally Net Zero by 2050. 


A Net Zero Plan for a community generally addresses emissions from four categories:

  1. Electricity
  2. Buildings
  3. Transportation
  4. Waste

What actions should you consider including in a Net Zero plan?

First, figure out how you can reduce emissions based on your Greenhouse Gas Inventory. Then, you can see where your communities climate change-causing pollution comes from, and make choices about where and how to prioritize your cuts within those four major sectors.

You may want to consider some of these actions:

  • Buildings: 
    • Set targets and come up with strategies for improving energy efficiency in existing buildings (ie retrofitting). Running an energy efficiency program aimed at renters is important)

    • Identify targets and strategies for Net Zero new construction (see our Net Zero Buildings page here)

    • Create incentives and identify financing for energy efficiency (including deep retrofits) and Net-Zero new construction

    • Think about how you can structure your zoning, and maximize your community's incentives for more efficient, better insulated buildings. 
  • Electricity:

    • Develop and enact local ordinances and zoning favorable for producing renewable energy, such as for rooftop solar ready and for ground mounted solar

    • Identify ways to buy additional green power, such as through Community Choice Aggregation

    • Think about ways to increase the amount of clean energy coming from municipal buildings, schools, and parking lots. 
  • Transportation:

    • Set goals and develop strategies for reducing emissions from vehicle use

    • Engage your town's staff in planning what your community looks like in the future so you are addressing transit, walking, and biking. 
  • Waste:

    • Consider a community anaerobic digestor, especially if your town or city has their own wastewater treatment plant

    • Curbside composting should be available for all housing and restaurants
    • "Pay as you  throw" programs are proven to cut down on household waste
    • Recycling should be a top priority. Many communities 
  • You might also want to think about setting up a local carbon fund, or a green infrastructure fund - a tool to provide incentives to help your community move in the right direction. 

  • You also want to think about tree cover - having more trees means less heat island effect, less storm runoff, and more shading in the summer months on buildings, lowering the cooling needs.
  • Process:

    • Come up with strategies for long-term community and stakeholder engagement

    • Develop strategies to measure and verify emissions reductions.

Success Stories


Cambridge has been a leader in going Net Zero for buildings, having started the process in 2013. A Net-Zero team filed a citizen’s zoning petition requiring that all new buildings be Net-Zero. According to Quinten Zondervan, the main goal of doing this was to get the public’s attention, to start considering a net zero goal for the city. From that point


forward, the team conducted outreach to businesses, property owners, and other stakeholders, and then put a representative Net-Zero task force together. Working groups were set up to focus on:

  •  Engagement and behavior change

  •   Incentives and financing tools

  •   Regulation and planning approaches

  • Energy supply and offsets

The proposed actions to meet the Net-Zero objective are categorized into five key areas:

  • Energy Efficiency in Existing Buildings
  • Net-Zero New Construction

  • Energy Supply (low carbon and renewable energy)

  • Local Carbon Fund

  • Engagement & Capacity Building (communication and resources)

Within each of these areas, the plan identifies short, medium, and long term actions, as well as what the projected greenhouse gas emission reductions are for each action. Early in the process Cambridge found from a detailed Greenhouse Gas Inventory that 80% of their climate change-causing pollution comes from buildings, so they decided to focus their planning process there. 


The net zero team in Lexington began the process by holding a meeting open to the public and having Quinton Zondervan and Henrietta Davis from Cambridge present about their net zero process in Cambridge. According to Lisa Fitzgibbons and Mark Sandeen from the Lexington Global Warming Action Committee, this “established doability in the minds of the town,” and demonstrated a clear path toward achieving Net-Zero. It also reassured the town that they didn’t need to reinvent the wheel in order to do it. The response from the first meeting was overwhelmingly positive, and after receiving a lot of input from the Board of Selectmen, the Planning Board, and various committees, the team wrote a warrant article asking for funding to hire a consultant to establish a baseline of greenhouse gas emissions. They presented the article at town meeting, it passed, and they have hired Peregrine Energy as a consultant. Once they have detailed emissions data they will move forward on writing a Net-Zero Plan.


Printable Version of Net Zero Plan

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