Columnist Johanna Neumann: A lesson from the Celtics on going green

  • The Boston Celtics have advanced to the Eastern Conference finals. Massachusetts can emulate the team’s hard work and attention to detail to make a difference when it comes to climate change, writes columnist Johanna Neumann. AP

Thursday, June 16, 2022

No major accomplishment, such as a National Basketball Association championship, is possible without setting a lofty goal and then working diligently to achieve it.

Like many Bay Staters, my family and I have been glued to the Boston Celtics’ latest playoff run. The Celtics have a goal of winning a national championship. The Celtics’ path to the NBA finals required smarts, strategy, hard work and discipline — not only during the game, but in the days, weeks and months leading up to it. Away from the limelight and high intensity action at TD Garden, players, coaches and staff put thousands of hours of work into all the little things that make winning moments happen.

While few of us have the height and athletic ability of NBA players, we too can apply winning ways to reach our goals. For example, here in Massachusetts, smarts, strategy, hard work and discipline can make a difference when it comes to climate change.

It all starts with setting a goal. The Celtics’s goal is winning an NBA championship. Massachusetts has climate goals. We’ve committed ourselves to cutting the 1990 level of global warming pollution in half by 2030. Our long-term goal is to reach net zero climate pollution by 2050.

With a goal in place, you build your strategy and action plan. For the Celtics players and coaches, that means reviewing tape, discussing and deciding strategy, hours of weight training, drilling shots from three point land and refining footwork. Massachusetts, meanwhile has set legally binding emissions limits for buildings, transportation and the electrical grid.

From there, it’s discipline. It’s doing the drill. It’s showing up. It’s working hard so that in a high-pressure playoff atmosphere, doing the little things right is second nature.

Winning on climate change is a massive undertaking and will require actions big and small. One action that can put us on a winning path is making it possible for our buildings to run on clean energy.

Here’s why we can’t downplay or ignore acting to curb emissions from buildings in our effort to fight climate change. Buildings are a big part of Massachusetts’ emissions. In fact, burning oil and gas in homes and businesses produces 27% of our state’s climate pollution. That pollution comes from fossil fuel powered appliances that burn oil or methane gas to heat our living rooms and offices and to heat hot water for laundry, dishes and showers. Electricity we use in buildings causes an additional 17% of the state’s global warming pollution, because some of that electricity comes from power plants that burn fossil fuels like methane gas.

Massachusetts can put itself on a track to reducing the amount of pollution that comes from buildings. The state already has a plan for ensuring new construction meets modern efficiency standards. Now to get the little things right, Massachusetts also needs to make sure existing buildings don’t hinder us from hitting our goal of slashing global warming pollution.

The Better Buildings Act filed by state Sen. Becca Rausch and state Rep. Maria Robinson and cosponsored by local lawmakers would put buildings on track when it comes to clean energy. The Better Buildings Act would require owners of large buildings to report their energy use to the state and reduce emissions. The standards laid out in the Better Buildings Act have the potential to cut climate pollution from large buildings by 80% by 2040.

Boston and Cambridge have joined communities and states across the country in adopting this policy in recent years. Both cities expect to yield energy savings from their building laws. It’s time for the state to follow suit. Thankfully, this policy is gaining steam at the state level. The reporting provisions of the Better Buildings Act were recently included in the Senate climate bill. Now the House needs to incorporate reporting requirements in its bill and ideally include standards to ratchet down emissions while they are at it.

In Boston and beyond, on basketball courts and in state houses, two things set winners apart: visionary goal-setting and doing the little things right to bring the goal within reach. The Better Buildings Act is one of those little things. Lawmakers should pass it so Massachusetts can have a cleaner and greener future.

Johanna Neumann, of Amherst, can be reached at columnists@gazettenet.com.